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Posts Tagged ‘liverpool’

A few weeks ago we were down south visiting my parents. A moment came, at the top of the Devil’s Dyke, when we looked north west across the Weald, across most of the landscape I still have to walk:

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More recently, we attended Journey of the Bride, the opening of an exhibition by Alice Lenkiewicz. There were readings, by Alice herself and a crew including Andrew Taylor, Cath Nichols, Janine Pinion, Robert Sheppard, Patricia Farrell, Tom George, and Ursula Hurley. And, like some grizzled beyond-hope Cinderella, even though I was meeting most of these people for the first time I got to read myself – some of my Bypass Pilgrim stuff, and a new blank-verse piece based on the part of this journey that involved walking around the perimeter of Pinewood Studios.

And went away thinking about how journeys intersect. There had been Robert Sheppard, referring to a ride on one of Brighton’s buses named after famous people. Andrew Taylor had actually lived in Woking, a place I had recently walked past, who had written a series of poems set there. A tiny picture of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the corner of one of Alice’s drawings, reminding me of the time I stumbled across a production in a Buckinghamshire village.

Tom George, fresh from a workshop in the National Wildflower Centre, a place we had driven past on the way to hospital, his Urban Beauty Shock praising a ‘solo rebel seed’ wildflower. Tiny barbs of connection in the richness of all the reading.

Then we went to Scotland for a holiday. Sometimes it looked like this,

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and sometimes it looked like this:

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.

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Today’s walk was another spur line added to my main walk from Southport to Brighton – so that I can connect Edge Hills: University, Liverpool district and battlefield. I walked from Liverpool Central (included on the main route) out to Edge Hill (the place), having previously walked to Edge Hill Uni – so it all joins up, if you follow me.

I wanted to get to Edge Hill before the bulldozers – as the area has been ‘targeted by the NewHeartlands regeneration team’, several streets are due for demolition, including houses on Durning Road, the original home of Edge Hill College.

Liverpool terraces aren’t the only buildings targeted for demolition. On my way into work at the uni, I took some snaps of buildings that will probably be knocked down soon, and the site of new developments. Edge Hill has come a long way, from a college in Liverpool, with tens of students to a university near Ormskirk with 20,000. The campus keeps developing, and soon these yellow lines may become halls where people will live, love and generally mess about.

An odd thing, seeing the skeletons of things to come.

After work I got the train to Liverpool Central, crossing territory I walked back in January.

I popped in to Worlds Apart, a comic shop on Lime Street, and bought a comic in the Final Crisis series – wherein the fictional universe I’ve been reading about since I was ten will once again be transformed and rebooted. Worlds and characters will be reborn, rewritten or edited out altogether – a sort of cosmic fictional housekeeping – ‘explaining’ why heroes whose stories started in 1938 aren’t doddering centenarians, and why, say, Batman can be a grim avenger these days, rather than the cheery fellow he was in the 1960s. As it happens the very first comic I read was one of these ‘crisis’ events, involving two versions of earth being crashed together (to create the energy to form a better world, the ultimate regeneration project) – I will never forget the spectacle of the ghost of a dead policeman stretching his ectoplasm around the two earths, cats-cradle style, to keep them apart…)

As another delaying tactic, I went to a secondhand bookshop, one of the worlds in which I feel most comfortable. I was in the mood for westerns (another world I inhabit, that of western pulp readers) but, apart from the complete works of Zane Grey, they didn’t have any. But I did get Landscape with Canals, the second volume of L. T. C. Rolt’s autobiography, including journeys on the canals I have been walking along. He makes the point that ‘The inland waterways of England are a little world of their own…’ Worlds within worlds.

Finally I launched myself towards Edge Hill itself. Being a coward, I was a bit nervous. The news feeds for “edge hill” I get every day (when they’re not talking about the University, some club in LA or a Napa Valley vineyard) occasionally mention various kinds of mayhem in Edge Hill – such that a middle-class boy from the suburbs might imagine bullets flying and blades flashing as soon as the border is crossed. (Stupid, I know, but recounted here in the cause of honesty.)

What I actually found, having walked through the University district, was a place that seemed busy with cars but empty of people. A lot of empty spaces – wide hard-to-cross roads, DIY centre and supermarket carparks. A few old-fashioned shops among the chain outlets.
Pockets of life: trees, art, a family hunkered down out of the wind in a pub doorway, the adults smoking, the kids in pastel anoraks bouncing around.

I walked up Durning Road a bit – the boarded houses just seemed empty to me, dead sockets – I couldn’t imagine meals, arguments, laughter happening inside them. I can understand the affection for the now-cancelled community, but the new estates sound good, and who is to say that they won’t be communities also? The only thing that seemed odd to me were some imprisoned bits of greenspace, as if spaces could only be any good if they were rendered inaccessible .

I wandered down to Edge Hill, ‘the oldest passenger railway station in the world’, which I’ve been through on trains many times. There is a nascent art centre in the station, with an installation on the approach road – ‘a network of posts that grow in stature as they cascade downwards towards the station – recalling the moorings for ships which suggest the idea of travel from the past’ – and people with wine glasses spilling out from a private view. A good feeling that new things were happening and an atmospheric place getting acknowledged. (As a bonus they had Dudley and Dowell draincovers from Cradley Heath.)

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Ironically, the exhibitions just opening (that I was too late to see that day) both have a theme of exploration – Katriona Beales Into Far Lands, ‘Drawing inspiration from early map-makers attempts to depict new worlds and the history of Edge Hill station as the place where the first railway journeys began’, and Guided by the echo by Nelson Guzmán, ‘an outsider navigating a new city by the sites and stories that absolve reason and understanding; where the word ‘evil’ is the simplest answer’. Reckon I’ll have to ‘get off at Edge Hill‘ again soon.

A train was pulling in so I got on to it and was back at Lime Street in a few minutes. An hour had passed since I left Worlds Apart. A young guy in a pinstripe suit was reading the Financial Times – I felt younger than him, with my satchel full of comics and purposeless journey.

I decided to walk along to Liverpool One, a new shopping centre. I had heard it talked about, in the hushed, excited tones of pilgrims returned from an ineffable spiritual experience. All I knew on a practical level was that it did (or perhaps didn’t) have a branch of Primark, so I decided to find out more. Whether or not there is a Primark, there are many clothes shops, arranged in a pleasing way in an environment of light, curves and angles. I felt drawn through the flowing walkways, desire paths where there was no desire. Helpful men in branded leisure/work wear maintained a Singapore-like purity. If it’s shops you want, this seems like a nice enough way to encounter them. Liverpool might be a separate country, but if so, like many places in the globalised world, it has the same shops as everywhere else.

As befits the fruits of the Paradise Project, Liverpool One makes promises of an elevated nature: soon it will give me ‘everything I love’ – a rash promise to make, as I happen to love some pretty esoteric stuff. Bring it on.

The combination of Edge Hill (regenerating) and Liverpool One (regenerated) left me unexpectedly miserable, as I took stock later in a nearby Wetherspoons (beer: George Wright Blue Moon). I have always inhabited multiple worlds, or at least multiple social circles. Take my 18th birthday party, for instance – a mixture of middle-aged lefties (from my Anti-Nazi League involvement), teenagers I was at school with (a few miles away at Hove Grammar School) and teenagers from where I lived (Portslade). A strange mixture of people, baffled (or bayfield) by finding themselves together, worlds colliding over a Party Seven. In a way I’ve made a career out of veering between worlds – Another Girl, Another Planet is the national anthem of my biography (but without the girls, planets or heroin). My university job involves working with various different disciplines, without pursuing any of them. Flickering between worlds and not actually settling into any of them is a wearying affair. Somehow these Liverpool spaces left me feeling sapped, vampire-sucked, adrift – painfully conscious of my provisional identity, my drifting diffident and uninvolved in the many worlds I inhabit, my ectoplasm stretched out to breaking point.

An image of a shark floated inside a giant video screen.

I got the train home from Central.

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Itinerant puppeteer and social commentator Walter Wilkinson visited Liverpool in the mid-Thirties. In the brief account of the visit (in Puppets through Lancashire, 1936) he and his partner Winifred remark on the Merseyside penchant for building on a massive scale: “The Mersey Tunnel is the largest sub-aqueous work of its kind in the world. The Landing Stage is the largest floating structure in the world. The spot cotton market, whatever that is, the largest in the world. The great arch of the cathedral is the amongst the largest Gothic arches ever constructed. St. Georges Hall is one of the greatest edifices in the world, and the clock on the Royal Liver Friendly Society’s building is the largest in England.” Were they to return (contributing a welcome vegetarian Socialist Punch and Judy element to the year of culture) they would find the tradition continuing: Liverpool One, for instance, will be “the biggest and most imaginative retail and leisure development in Europe.”

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Travelling towards the ferry on a cold, clear February morning, I too was struck by the bigness. Once commodities like tobacco and tea, and abstractions like finance and religion were housed in buildings of scale and decorative splendour to rival the world’s Hermitages, Red Forts, Alhambras; these now now mirrored in newer stupendous structures; the glass towers of retail, leisure, and ‘urban living’. I walked through nearly-deserted, first-reel-of-last-person-alive-movie streets where traffic lights signalled to no traffic. Above me on the stone buildings, mythical creatures, heraldic beasts, infinite Celtic knotwork. At eye level, newer symbols: internet access, disabled access, CCTV, smiley customer care emoticons. And here and there, randomly altered signs like fragments of a concrete sermon: COVE_T GARDENS, _OWNING, a row of giant &&&

I was early and I wanted coffee. There was a place open, run by a London expat, who wished me well on my Wirral walk. This was nice, but his coffee was two thirds foam (that’s London for you, all promise…), so I headed to Starbucks to consolidate my caffeine. Their current slogan: GEOGRAPHY IS A FLAVOUR. This struck me as a rather stark bit of corporate/consumer honesty, a bit like saying FOREIGN PLACES TASTE NICE, or LET’S HAVE A GIGANTIC APPARATUS OF INTERNATIONAL TRADE OPERATING TO DELIVER A MILD FRISSON OF PLEASURE TO ONE OF OUR SENSES. (The sort of thing a modern Marquis De Sade with ADHD might demand.) Still, say what you like about global megacorps, their portion control is excellent, so I had a brimming beaker of spicy caffeine milk to eke out the remaining minutes until the ferry departure.

The ticket office had people in it, but oddly they couldn’t open their own doors, so I was waved towards the boat. No-one asked for tickets or money, so even though I won’t have walked every step of the way at least I won’t have paid fares.

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Finally I was leaving Liverpool. Seeing it framed and diminishing I made a last attempt to form some thoughts about it. It’s hard not to write some kind of ‘city of contrasts’ cliche. Perhaps the title of Samuel Delany’s unfinished novel,
The splendour and misery of bodies, of cities, will serve for now. Like any city, lots of stuff happens there; it’s a place for great cascades of stuff to happen. Surprising, warm friendly encounters like the ferryman talking about how great walking the Wirral would be; pointless actions like the comedy approximation of a flying scissor kick aimed to just miss the face of a man outside the comic shop; giant clock faces and an empty file blowing past.

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Photos.

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I meant to stroll, drift and dream the city around me. In fact I rushed, like a droplet in a torrent, following any green man crossing chance, snatching blurry pictures in the evening light.

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Liverpool’s outdoor spaces didn’t feel like places to linger, more like places to move. I first came here nearly 20 years ago, for the opening of the Tate. I was in a rush then, but not so much that I didn’t get an impression – of a city on a large scale, a European city. I’ve been rushing through it ever since, always finding myself outside some giant ‘Building’ …

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I did stand still long enough to grab a picture of St Georges Hall. Back in 1885, a meeting of philanthropists founded Edge Hill Training College, the precursor of the institution where I now work. (Earlier that day I took a picture of the newest part of the Campus, so in a way I’d staked out the two extremes of Edge Hill history.) The original college, aiming to educate ‘a better class of schoolmistress’, is now a university, expanding and evolving, traceable to that moment in 1885, now with eight years of my own history bound into it. The campus buildings, described by Toby Litt as having a little bit of the atmosphere of J. G. Ballard, coexist with grounds that were landscaped as a horticultural experiment in the 1930s. Steel and glass curves and grids overlook rock gardens, old roses and played-out orchards; the trees show the height reached by each species in a three-score-and-ten span. The destruction wrought by the creation of the new buildings opens up fresh vistas on long-neglected spaces; different eras mingle and cross-fertilise – as long as people walk around, look and breathe – the kind of thing I was trying to do in Liverpool.

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I suppose one drive to keep moving whilst walking through cities such as Liverpool is an urge not to get embroiled in conversation with strangers – people on slower time, wanting things. On this trip I could have spoken to a Gouranga person, a shabbily-dressed man approaching me with a question, a Big Issue salesman. I did speak to a guy in a wheelchair, wanting to swap a stack of two-pences for silver to use in a phone box (to report a broken collarbone), and a kid in a hoody wanting directions – so I’m not completely misanthropic. However I doubt this journey will be full of encounters with amusing tramps, interviews with village elders or discussions with local historians. (I wrote the ‘Why?‘ page today, coming to the conclusion that this is an exercise in self-portraiture.)

The practical details of the walk: I ran an errand to News from Nowhere bookshop (delivering a poster for a series of public lectures on the ethics of torture, which was received with unfeasible delight); bought a Wonder Woman comic in Forbidden Planet; looked at Lent books in the window of the Pauline bookshop (a much loved place with customer-care empowered nuns); cut through an alley to Renshaw Street (where schoolgirls were pouring drink into an innocent-looking container); skirted St Geoges Hall; had a beer in Doctor Duncans…

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…zig-zagged though Tithebarn and Water Streets, had another beer in the Lion (a pint of Banks’s, from Wolverhampton, a future destination: earlier that day they finished a barrel of ‘Sussex Gold’ from Arundel; had I arrived earlier, I could have sketched out the whole journey in beer form); peered up at Exchange Station/Mercury Court (huge and white, like a cliff); reached the docks and located the ferry office for future reference.

The plan to spot Liver Birds was totally abandoned, but the most famous ones were hard to miss (on the Royal Liver Building.) Again the sense of everything gigantic. Like Edge Hill, older and newer coexist and are interwoven. Buildings witness to times dominated by trade (then), leisure and lifestyle (now); they stand there, just sort of existing, massively, with the Mersey flowing past.

So that was it – Liverpool passed through, a logical start for another wander established.

I finished up near Central Station in the Globe. The last time I was in here was also a Thursday, when it was so empty that I sat in the corner texting (desperate for human company after all it seems.) This time it was a riot, a kaleidoscope of people, drinking, singing – even dancing. The barmaid was serving drinks like a stoker fueling a desperately speeding engine. Once again, ‘I Walk the Line’ came on the pub tannoy at the end of the walk – Johnny Cash becoming the journey’s patron saint.

I’ll hold back on the urban paramythology. Except to say: there could be the starting point for a new Tarot deck in the places I went: Mercury, the Doctor, the Exchange, Nowhere, Forbidden, the Globe, Lion, Ferry, Station – accompanied with minor suits of Beer Glasses, Regeneration Builders’ Hoardings, Two-pence Pieces and Purple Bins Behind Restaurants.

All pictures from this leg

Distance travelled: about a mile

February 7th 2008

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Paul Morley describes Liverpool as ‘…An island set in a sea of dreams and nightmares that’s forever taking shape in the imagination, more a mysterious place jutting out into time between the practical, stabilising pull of history and the sweeping, shuffling force of myth’ (in Living, Mersey Minis Volume Two). My journey needs to include a mile or so between Central Station and the Pier Head, so that I’m ready to make an early start for the Wirral on some future Saturday. Perhaps this will be a chance to know the ‘mysterious place’ a little better. It’s hard to plan a way through the streets that might do justice to the multiple-world metropolis alluded to by writers like Morley and Russell, dreamed by Jung as ‘the Pool of Life’. I feel as if soaring through the streets on Pegasus, or spending a faerie-time century following tunnels and culverts beneath the streets to read the secret inscriptions of the City’s builders, would still be a somewhat superficial approach.

So I turn to maps – and find them both essential and inadequate. I have plenty – A-Z maps, Ordnance Survey maps, an 1841 map (reminding me that the view from my rear window is of a hill called ‘Devil’s Wall’), tourist maps, University maps, maps enumerating special items of interest such as pubs with nice beer, ghosts and stories. I could take a rucksack filled with maps if I wished, and no doubt buy several more on the way. However ‘The Map is Not the Territory’, as Count Alfred Korzybski pointed out – even the experiment in cartographic exactitude recounted by Borges was only a partial success:

In that Empire, the Art of Cartography attained such Perfection that the map of a single Province occupied the entirety of a City, and the map of the Empire, the entirety of a Province. In time, those Unconscionable Maps no longer satisfied, and the Cartographers Guilds struck a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it. The following Generations, who were not so fond of the Study of Cartography as their Forebears had been, saw that that vast Map was Useless, and not without some Pitilessness was it, that they delivered it up to the Inclemencies of Sun and Winters. In the Deserts of the West, still today, there are Tattered Ruins of that Map, inhabited by Animals and Beggars; in all the Land there is no other Relic of the Disciplines of Geography.

(I cannot resist pointing out that the laminated versions available today are great at resisting ‘the Inclemencies of Sun and Winters’.) Linear and sensible as they are, I doubt that maps, or for that matter histories or guidebooks, will ever serve me up Liverpool as a rational package. In some ways, it might be best just to walk and trust, crafting my own fugitive map as I go (and probably arriving back home having missed the Docks altogether.)

Having said that, I’m tempted to use David Cottrell’s ‘The Little Book of Liver Birds‘ as an aide to some provisional routeplanning, and a necessary prompt to do something other than hike from A to B; a prompt to look up and pay attention. The book comprises photographs and descriptions of 100 Liver Birds, which exist in many forms spread across the city, ‘a gazetteer of secret sentinels’. Maybe invoking the ‘authentic Liverpudlian chimera, a Scouse griffin borne from unbridled imagination …a creature of protean forms and composite pieces’ as my guide will enable me to find some kind of meaningful way through this ‘Pool of life’. Worth taking, not a rucksack filled with complete maps, but one partial one, as much mythography as geography.

After all, as poet Jean Sprackland indicates (in a poem titled after Korzybski’s phrase, in her great collection Tilt), maps are precious as well as unreliable:

The pirates would swarm aboard
slashing throats and seizing the maps.
Without maps, all the black pepper, all the slaves,
might as well be thrown into the sea.

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