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CULTURE TRAVEL FOOTBALL HERITAGE LIVERPOOL

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Blog Archive


Old Dock: a different view
Wednesday, 19 August 2015

A painting. A mystery. A ping in the inbox

Anyone can be a millionaire, claim those books by business gurus with made-up names, but I reckon it helps if you're ruthlessly driven, slightly sociopathic and, probably, a bit of a shit. When I decided to co-write (the easy bit) and publish (gumph) my own book, on Liverpool's Old Dock, I read up on product-marketing for all of 60 seconds before coming to the conclusion that, for all the define-this-and-differentiate-that maxims, it's just about who can shout the loudest, put themselves 'out there' the most and push-push-push. Not really our style.

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Old Dock: it's about time
Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Happy 300th birthday to where it really all began

Who knew the Mersey had a pink bottom? A dozen or so of us leaned over the viewing platform, peering down at the bedrock as our guides (or 'visitor-hosts' as they're officially known) Yazz and Danny cranked up the commentary. "What you are looking at," said Yazz to his rapt audience, "are the very foundations of Liverpool," and the nape of my neck went all tingly.

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Spain: art and soul
Tuesday, 9 December 2014

At the football, on the seafood, dodging conkers

In the age of Instagram have you noticed how less touchy they are about iPhone-appended idiots like us taking photos in museums and galleries? The sign here in Madrid's Museo Reina Sofia says click away to your heart's content, so long as the flash is off, and apart from one room on the second floor where it's strictly prohibited: 'Area 206 [Guernica]'.

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Somerset iron and the cinnamon river
Friday, 9 August 2013

The man who made the Shankly Gates, and other people

Under the high cirrus Sergio Fazio suddenly breaks the spell. In a world of my own in the stillness of a midsummer Sunday morning on Anfield Road I'm taking pictures of the Shankly Gates and what looks like some sort of inscription left behind on them by Ken Hall 31 years ago. Ken was the West Country blacksmith who designed and built the gates commemorating the man who designed and built a sporting institution. I tracked him down with the help of Diana Ingram, a librarian at Frome Museum in Somerset. Sergio, blithely oblivious, is just trying to get his bearings in this place of history and hokum where they stood and swayed on one great terrace in their thousands 'to cheer and to chant, to shout and to sing. And to split open the sky. The clear and starlit Anfield sky' - as author David Peace characterises Spion Kop folklore in Red or Dead. The novel is published ahead of the 100th anniversary of Bill Shankly's birthday on 2 September 2013

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All Work and No Play
Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Meaningfully employed - you're having a laugh

The devil wore Prada and behind her the imp modelled Doc Martens. Its face was hidden behind an unkempt thicket - what Dan, a work colleague of mine at the time, was wont to call a 'hairdon't' - and its upper body was draped in a big baggy jumper and a tatty old rucksack scrawled with the names of obscure indie bands. Beneath twig-thin legs in frayed black denim protruded a pair of regulation rubber-soul boots caked in all manner of gunk, samples of which would've worried biochemists.

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Peel on wheels
Friday, 14 June 2013

Peel on wheels - image of Liverpool waterfront

Mind that cyclist - the Liverpool Waters juggernaut is picking up speed

Since its restoration the lattice-girdered Bascule Bridge doesn't rattle like it used to, but the lorries still thunder past on Liverpool's Regent Road heading into the city-centre or north to the scrapyards, silos and container port. One big angry truck, oblivious it'd seem to the floral bouquets tied at the roadside with Everton-blue ribbons, honks its horn as it swerves around a couple of elderly cyclists riding side-by-side and threatening to add some injury time, literally, to their life expectancy. The nearside rider acknowledges their highway indiscretion by raising his right fist and middle finger.

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Walk on Water
Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Walk on Water

Featuring winter sunsets and local wildlife

See me, I've got the finest view of no5 Chapel Street in the whole of Liverpool. I just look up from my Mac in the second-storey office of this steel-and-glass tower and it's there through the window, a four-square vision of Venetian Gothic loveliness best observed during a half-hour intermezzo in the late afternoon/early evening of a clear autumn/winter day when the low setting sun burns fiercest like a candle about to consume itself - by my reckoning currently 5.30pm and receding. At this point no5, otherwise known as the Hargreaves Building or Racquets Club, becomes an emissary of light, its northwest-oriented façade bathed in the anamorphic glow of the sun that's emerged from the massed shade of the Liver Building only to sink behind the Mersey and Wirral peninsula. The building's 150-year-old stone blocks turn golden brown or fiery red then just as suddenly fade to grey, weary and diminished in the dusk. Ayers Rock, Scouse style.

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Blue jays over Botetourt
Thursday, 12 July 2012

Blue jays over Botetourt

After the tall ships, a tranquil bower of heritage in a busy American city

Barring a bit of architectural nip and tuck every few decades I doubt the house at 227 West Freemason Street has changed much since 6 November 1865. Maybe it was quieter than usual that day, the owner being so far from home, on the Mersey taking part in the final surrender of the American Civil War. The links between cotton-junkie Liverpool and the South are well documented elsewhere. Suffice to say that Virginia's William Conway Whittle was an officer aboard the Confederate blockade runner CSS Shenandoah which, having sank or captured 38 enemy ships in a brief but truculent career, handed herself over to the British Navy off Liverpool to avoid being tried by a Union court for piracy.

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Golden Virginia
Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Golden Virginia

How the historic American port of Norfolk reclaimed its waterfront and launched a go-to maritime party

'Every waterfront city can aspire to be called superb. Human instincts to preserve and reinvent are acted out in the passion play of waterfront revitalisation, and this is an eternal dynamic'
Waterfronts in Post Industrial Cities, Harvard University conference

For a big dope like me, taking a decent photo from the deck of a boat that's bobbing up and down on the water owes more to fluke than good timing. For the crew of the Dewaruci, balancing 150ft above the waves on the slender crossbeams and tightrope rigging of their Indonesian tall ship as she rolls and pitches up the Elizabeth River is all about skill and sheer pluck. Perched in rows of three either side of her towering foremast, their smart blue-and-white uniforms like something from a stage show, what a bird's-eye view they must have: ahead, the stern of the Mexican barque Cuauhtemoc (pronounced 'Kwa-tem-uck') with her own crew on high-wire duty; bringing up the rear, the American schooner Appledore V on tour from the Great Lakes; down below and all around, a flotilla of small boats and naval vessels plus the odd low-flying helicopter piloting this magical pageant towards the crowded portside of Norfolk, Virginia, on a blue-sky morning. Talk about making an entrance. Welcome to the Parade of Sail, highlight of Harborfest, the biggest annual shindig this side of Chesapeake Bay.

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Georgia on my mind
Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Georgia on my mind

As in the Caucasian one. Three decades ago its most famous football team stormed Anfield to make a lasting impression upon those who were there

Nobody was kidding themselves on the way out of Anfield but my father gave it his best shot. "What a team that was," said my uncle with barely concealed glee. Like a fair few Evertonians he'd go to watch neighbours Liverpool if the fixture was enticing enough and here was a rare chance to wind us up. "That's you out of the European Cup - you won't beat that lot over there."

I remember staring at the pavement on that mid-September evening in 1979 as we weaved home through the crowds, all those quick-moving feet as disorienting as the display of football we'd just witnessed from Dinamo Tbilisi, the Georgian team that was making its debut in the competition. My dad must have sensed my despondency and rattled the sabre of defiance - something along the lines of Liverpool finishing the job in the second leg. I was twelve years old but already I'd seen enough matches to know that somehow we'd established a 2-1 lead while being played off the park, and our chances of winning the European Cup for a third time in four years had diminished if not vanished completely.

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Strange Magic
Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Strange Magic

How good was that? My two penneth on the mesmerising Sea Odyssey...

On the morning of Sunday 22 April 2012 I was presented with two choices: either stay in to watch the BBC's coverage of the London Marathon with a mild hangover and feeling of inadequacy; or head down to Canning Dock for some fresh air and the Sea Odyssey send-off.

I leapt from the sofa, threw open the window and climbed in (© K Dodd) then changed my mind, put the kettle on and sat back instead to count people dressed as crisp packets hobbling to the Beeb's hip-hop soundtrack past huddles of white middle-class smiley faces. In hindsight I wish I'd gone to town, but at least I'd been there for bits of the big mad paseo on both previous days: seen the Uncle being lifted out of the water and strolling up the Strand on Friday, and the Little Girl woken from her Pier Head deckchair with her pet dog Xolo on Saturday; heard the ambient/driving music and the snores.

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Nurse Gosling's book of verse
Thursday, 12 April 2012

Nurse Gosling's book of verse

From Belmont Road to Bethnal Green and lost poetry from the Great War

Liverpudlians of a certain vintage will remember Belmont Road Hospital. Previously a workhouse and latterly renamed Newsham General, it stood near Belmont Road's busy junction with West Derby Road and Sheil Road and closed for good in 1988 - one of urban Britain's network of small 'local' hospitals supplanted over time by giants like the Royal Liverpool and Guy's down in London.

During the First World War the hospital had its share of exotic inmates: American soldiers struck down by deadly influenza; 'coolies' from the so-called Chinese Labour Corps sick with mumps; and around 200 members of the British West Indies or BWI Regiment 'each suffering from the loss of either one or both feet resulting from trench gangrene' according to an October 1919 edition of the Liverpool Courier. 'Before being returned to their native islands [they] were provided with artificial feet', continued the newspaper. 'The difficulty of enabling such patients to obtain fresh air was very considerable, and it is to the credit of the children residing in the neighbourhood that they very largely undertook the duty of wheeling these patients into the parks in bath-chairs, which were specially provided for the purpose'. (Thanks to Merseyside Roll of Honour for the extract).

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Titanic 2.0
Friday, 17 February 2012

Titanic 2.0

Opportunity knocks for six cities associated with the disaster, but have they gone overboard?

I've had a newsletter from a company that does the PR for 'Atlantic Canada' among several other North American destinations. Detailing the region's forthcoming Titanic commemorations, 15 April 2012 being the centenary of the disaster, it reports that the province of Newfoundland & Labrador has reconstructed the original Marconi wireless station at Cape Race which received the ship's distress signals, while further south in Halifax, Nova Scotia - dubbed 'the Titanic's undertaker' because 121 victims were buried in its Fairview Lawn Cemetery - the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic is displaying 'the world's finest collection of the liner's wooden artefacts from a near perfectly-preserved deckchair to a pair of child's shoes'.

I'm not a Titanic nut but I get why so many people are spellbound by the story and so many places are touting for business. It's too easy to be cynical. Deft and thought-provoking as this Guardian piece by Ian Jack is, I can't help but be provoked into thinking if there's one thing as predictable as Titanic commemorations it's a sniffy commentariat in tow.

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Love for sail
Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Love for sail

Fore and aft through Liverpool's collection of maritime art

I went to Genoa once and looked out from the glazed fourth floor of its Galata Museo del Mare. It was sunny outside and like a greenhouse behind the glass but worth the importunate warmth for the views: from the south-facing windows of this modern boxy building, the glittering Ligurian Sea; from the north, the old town's crescent of colourful buildings cordoned off from its waterfront by a sweeping, elevated dual carriageway.

This was all very well but it wasn't the panoramas that most impressed me about the museum nor the full-size replica of a galley ship and display of medieval maps. It was the 19th century sextant from Casartelli on Liverpool's Hanover Street and chronometer from J Sewill, 61 South Castle Street, 'Nautical Instrument Manufacturer'. You beauties...

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Bex maniacs
Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Bex maniacs

From skyscraper roofs to disused asylums, welcome to the shadowy and slightly odd world of the urban explorer. Mind your step...

At 40 storeys and 459 vertiginous feet, Beetham's West Tower is the highest vantage point in Liverpool and one of the country's 20 tallest buildings. Just looking up from street level makes most people dizzy. Standing outside on its exposed roof, dead of night, in the howling wind, and peering over the edge and into the void with a camera, would appear to be the preserve of the lunatic fringe, or urbexers as they're alternatively known.

West Tower is a particular favourite of The Kwan as he in turn prefers to be called. In the idiom of urbexing (a contraction of urban exploring) it's a 'live' or in-use building. The view, he says, is "something to behold" and the whole experience, he admits, was "pretty scary as we visited on a really windy night." No kidding.

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Mary, Mary, quite contrary
Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Mary, Mary, quite contrary

In search of blue plaques, hideous monsters and happy creatures

Surely there'll be something that commemorates where the mother of all monsters was born. Just finished Frankenstein and in London with time to kill. So as we're here on Euston's concourse, instead of disappearing straight down the tube escalator/crossing into Bloomsbury/moseying over to the British Library and St Pancras, let's hang a double left out onto Eversholt Street, past the sex shops and student lettings agencies and into deepest Somers Town, to see if Mary Shelley's birthplace on Polygon Street has been blue-plaqued.

Frankenstein may have been published in the same year, 1818, as Jane Austen's Persuasion, but genteel Hampshire this ain't. Sandwiched between the arse-ends of two mainline stations, Somers Town was formerly home to a colleague and pal of mine from Leith whose claim to fame was sharing a squat with Wattie from punk legends The Exploited and whose party-piece was clambering onto restaurant tables to perform rousing renditions of Hail, Hail, the Hibs are here. Of Somers Town he was wont to say, "They should knock it down and build a slum."

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Wings of desire
Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Wings of desire

Up close and personal with the artist whose book gives billionaires sleepless nights

Records fell at auction in New York and London this week, with two sensational prices made in very different fields. Taking pride of place [in New York] was a marble bust of Antinous, the beautiful youth beloved of Emperor Hadrian... The bust's $2m-$3m estimate was left in the dust when a European collector, during an 11-minute three-way bidding battle, was forced to pay $23.8m for the prize.

On the same day in London, a four-volume double-elephant folio of Audubon's Birds of America also flew to great heights at Sotheby's sale of printed books. It made £7.3m ($11.5m), a new record for a printed book at auction, trouncing the previous record set for a different copy of the same work: that one went to Sheikh Saud Al-Thani of Qatar in 2000, who paid $8.8m (£5.6m) at the time.

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World cities works of art: some offcuts
Wednesday, 26 October 2011

World cities works of art: some offcuts

Dear Liverpolitan, we have no idea what you're on about, hence...

Thanks again to all those good sports from art galleries around the world, from Sydney to Madrid to Philadelphia, who nominated their favourite paintings of their towns for my previous blog. It was a terrific response: everything from medieval triptychs, watercolours and oils on canvas to silkscreen prints, serigraphs and chromolithographs (I didn't have a clue what they were either).

Not everyone could or would oblige, which was understandable given the fact that they didn't know me from, er, Soft Joe. The press department at Barcelona's Museu Nacional D'Art De Catalunya, for example, were awfully sorry but their director of five years had just left and was yet to be replaced. 'Nada.

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World cities: some works of art
Monday, 17 October 2011

World cities: some works of art

As chosen by gallery directors and curators from around the globe

Who doesn't love a good John Atkinson Grimshaw? Those evocative paintings of Liverpool's dark, rain-drizzled docklands in the second half of the 19th century bathed in silvery moonlight and the golden glow of gas lamps, are now owned by galleries as far afield as Tate Britain in London and the Philadelphia Museum of Art - and they're in both fashion and demand.

In October 2010 his painting of Liverpool's Salthouse Dock from 1892 fetched £185,000 at auction, and following an opening spell at the Mercer Art Gallery in Harrogate, the exhibition Atkinson Grimshaw: Painter of Moonlight is now at the Guildhall Art Gallery in the City of London (19 Sept 2011 to 15 Jan 2012).

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'I have no idea what other people do'
Monday, 26 September 2011

'I have no idea what other people do'

Through the looking glass with Vivienne Westwood

Seeing as we're here, have you got time for a quick lesson in Scouse?
"Yes, of course."
Do you like the accent?
"I think it's an attractive accent. People try to copy it. [There follows a valiant but frankly poor attempt at the word 'alright'] I can't do it."
Do you know what kecks are?
"Kecks? No."
They're trousers. How about a bevvy?
"A bevvy. That's a drink, no? Beverage, bevvy."
And if someone said to you, 'Have you seen the kip of that?'
"Seen the what? The kip? No."
It means the way they look.
"Like 'Have you checked it out?' Yeah. 'Seen the kip of that?' That's a nice little expression. I'll remember that…"

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Raiders of the well looked-after Ark
Friday, 16 September 2011

Railroad blues

A journey into Liverpool Judaism with Dicky Lewis and Mr Spock

She's a terrible tease is Naomi Hoyland. There must be 40 of us huddled inside the dimly-lit foyer of the Liverpool Old Hebrew Congregation Synagogue and still our tour guide waits for two more names from the list that are yet to arrive. To pass the time she tells us about the tiles beneath our feet, similar to those in St George's Hall but coloured-through rather than merely surface-painted, so no need to keep them perpetually covered up from public gaze and scuffing shoes.

She runs through the synagogue's history: completed in 1874, the work of William and George Audsley, two Scottish architects who'd earlier designed the altogether different Welsh Presbyterian Church on the opposite side of Princes Road not far from the Greek Orthodox Church of St Nicholas that looks like something out of Thessaloniki, right here in Toxteth.

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Railroad blues
Monday, 5 September 2011

Railroad blues

Or: going loco just past Watford Costco

TICKETS FOR FUTURE TRAVEL says the sign at Euston Station, but when I ask for a return to Mars on a hydroshuttle I'm met with short shrift.

The 19.07 to Liverpool pulls away, creeping along a North London siding colonised by Triffids and dappled with late sunshine, and for once there's no mad round of musical chairs. I've even got a table to myself. The only other passenger in my line of vision is a kid across the aisle wearing a skewed baseball cap and baggy T-shirt with a basketball on the front and the slogan No Blood No Foul. He's wearing headphones and the music sounds like trays being bashed together in a faraway buffet car.

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Blog on the grog
Friday, 26 August 2011

Blog on the grog

Basically an excuse to use the word 'fo'c'sle' in this sentence

It's long lost, of course, thrown out probably with the Higsons beermats and Charlie Rich LPs, but my dad had a docker's hook. It belonged to his father and perhaps his father before him. Stevedores used it to load and unload cargo. My grandfather, who dropped dead of a heart attack on Park Road when I wasn't much more than a newborn, took his with him on the long trek from the Dingle to the docks, under the Overhead Railway if it was raining (hence), to queue for the chance of casual labour. Yeah, people haven't half got it tough these days.

Dockers were a different breed, the wellspring of the sort of Scouse humour that only survives in small pockets today. They had nicknames for each other like The Reluctant Plumber - because he never did a tap. When you were drunk you were 'k-legged'. I love this little passage from Heave A Bit, Driver by Tony Sanders and Lorraine Sanders (authorHOUSE 2009), which describes a terrifyingly close call when a steel loading cable or 'fall' suddenly snaps:

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Did you hear that too?
Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Did you hear that too?

Notes on some obscure Liverpool delights #2

Where was I? Ah yes, ghosts and stuff… It was a world's-end kind of day, deep midwinter and dismal with it. I was trudging through Liverpool's gloomy, rain-stained streets past people with bloodhound dispositions and pigeons scavenging for St John's wort outside Holland & Barrett, as all the seagulls had flown off to see their mates in Lanzarote.

On Fenwick Street just off Castle Street I called into the Corn Exchange to see if they still had the 12 signs of the zodiac, made from plaster casts, on the wall of their old newsroom, having read as much in Terry Cavanagh's excellent Public Sculpture of Liverpool. (You'll find horoscopes on a few Liverpool landmarks, like the old Exchange Station on Tithebarn Station and the Cunard Building on the waterfront - astrology was an ancient tool for navigation and this was, after all, the erstwhile HQ of a great shipping line).

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A cherub astride a what?
Monday, 22 August 2011

A cherub astride a what?

Notes on some obscure Liverpool delights #1

I still remember the look on the woman's face when I brought up the turkey (in conversation, not physically) at the offices of the South Carolina Historical Society on Charleston's Meeting Street last year.

We'd been getting on famously, more or less, me spouting forth upon the cotton trade, Civil War and blockade-runners built on the Mersey, she displaying exemplary southern charm and hospitality in the face of another excitable idiot from the mother country. I was on a roll. An hour earlier at City Hall, following a guided tour of the building and its George Washington portrait, the building's head of security had clocked my accent, produced a mug emblazoned with the Liverpool FC crest and proclaimed, "You'll never walk alone." Is right, lad.

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A time to dance
Wednesday, 10 August 2011

A time to dance

In Georgian Liverpool there was only one place to throw the freshest shapes

If I ever feel pretentious enough to write Liverpool: The Mythography I know which scholarly extract I'd stick upon page seven or thereabouts, after the titles and imprint and dedication and heaped encomiums from critics and writers ('I have read this book and much like it' - Simon Schama; 'Fills a much-needed gap' - Will Self). It'd come from WG Sebald's Austerlitz, a novel about an orphan of the Second World War tracing his roots in Eastern Europe:

It does not seem to me, Austerlitz added, that we understand the laws governing the return of the past, but I feel more and more as if time did not exist at all, only various spaces interlocking…between which the living and the dead can move back and forth as they like, and the longer I think about it the more it seems to me that we who are still alive are unreal in the eyes of the dead, that only occasionally, in certain lights and atmospheric conditions, do we appear in their field of vision…

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Ghosts of Mount Urgull
Friday, 29 July 2011

Ghosts of Mount Urgull

Forgotten and all but forsaken in a resting place far from home

'Existence had become a tunnel whose walls were death and within which prevailed no hope of rescue or deliverance. The sky had ceased to be, and the sun and stars. All that remained was the earth, the churned riven dirt which seemed to wait at each man's feet to receive his spilling guts, his shattered bones, his blood, his life'…

Sorry to give you the horrors, but Gates of Fire, the epic novel by Steven Pressfield, is full of stirring passages like that. It's a fictionalised frontline account of Thermopylae, the historic battle first chronicled by Herodotus in the 5th century BC; the story of Spartans versus Persians and still a powerful and dangerous metaphor for the fault line between west and east, democracy and despotism, reason and mysticism.

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Postcard from San Sebastian
Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Postcard from San Sebastian

Weather fine, natives friendly, food fantastic. Please don't say that's a Big Mac…

I'll have the grilled hake, please, caught by that fishing boat over there, with sautéed potatoes and a bottle of that light, lemony white wine - Albariño, is it? And can I have a panoramic view from the quayside, thanks, a bit like this. Yes, I am a spawny get.

San Sebastian is set in a horseshoe bay with golden sands, green headlands either side and a pretty little island right in the middle. Just getting here was a treat. The main highway from Bilbao is knotted with viaducts and tunnels, each signposted with their own name and distance in metres, which glide over shallow gorges and punch through pine-covered hills tumbling down to the Costa Vasca, or Basque Coast.

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El Camino, with knobs on
Monday, 25 July 2011

El Camino, with knobs on

Far from the madding crowd and its parking attendants on Spain's Pilgrims Way

El vehiculo matricula 7322-HBW ha sido retirado de este lugar por el Servicio Municipal de Grua. Para recuperario debera Ud. Pasar por el deposito de vehiculos del Parking de C/ San Roque, frente al Palacio de Justica. Sotano 1°. Puede comprobar si vu vehiculo esta en el deposito llamando al telefono 948 420 444 o en internet en www.pamplona.es/grua.

Perfect, couldn't be better.

Two hours, 112 Euros and one sour-faced mare behind the counter later, our hire car is retrieved from the pound in Pamplona and we're back on the road - with a farewell Tweet from a sympathetic but amused taxi driver who'd taken a photo of the parking ticket which I'd playfully stuck to the front of my T-shirt and posted it on his Twitter page. Humour, universal language.

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'Of the city, by the city, for the city'
Monday, 18 July 2011

'Of the city, by the city, for the city'

Exclusive: what you need to know about the new Museum of Liverpool, from the man in charge

With a name like Matthew Sweet [sic], you'd think that the presenter of BBC Radio 3 show Night Waves might take a shine to Liverpool. He begins his piece about its new museum with this line: "The city has a reputation for its uneasy relationship with the rest of Britain, its political separatism and its intense pride - and for talking about its uneasy relationship with the rest of Britain, its political separatism and its intense pride.

On a guided tour of the building, he makes obligatory reference to the Guggenheim Bilbao and poses three questions: "Does Liverpool need validation?" "Is Liverpool all mouth?" "To whom is this statement being made?" Then he ends by morphing into Alan Partridge and saying: "It all 'kicks off' at the Museum of Liverpool next week [and] 'you'll never walk alone' if you remember that you can always download four of these programmes from our website and our 'well-hard' arts and ideas podcast..."

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Guggenheim Bilbao: as good as it gets?
Monday, 18 July 2011

Guggenheim Bilbao: as good as it gets?

Everyone loves Gehry's titanium-clad toy, but the locals care more for their football stadiums - old and new

Bilbao this, Bilbao that. No longer just the name of a city but a blueprint for new cultural buildings everywhere since that museum opened in 1997. In the past places like Liverpool have compared unfavourably if at all, and in truth the doomed Fourth Grace would've been not so much a poor man's as a perfect fool's Guggenheim. Perhaps, as Christopher Lambert said while stood in his kilt, there can be only one. I'm fortunate enough to be in northern Spain for a few days, so I've come to find out for myself.

The travel guides to Bilbao describe a gritty port-city of just under half-a-million people, all iron and steel and leadworks with a history of pollution. Everywhere I look is green and fragrant, so it's either unfairly characterised or has cleaned up its act and re-invented itself in the last few years.

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Still small voice
Friday, 15 July 2011

Still small voice

The churches of Llyn are celestial in their simplicity, whatever the season

Years ago I saw Julian Cope at a place called Dingwalls in Camden, north London. The former Teardrop Explodes frontman was giving a spoken-word performance about the 'sacred landscape' in his new persona as pre-historian/acid-age shaman. At one point I seem to recall him blowing into some kind of didgeridoo.

Just when I was wishing I'd stayed in to watch the semi-finals of Mastermind, he moved onto the subject of ancient sites. We'd be surprised, he said, at how many there were in Britain and how close they were to everyone - even people in the capital and other big cities. "It's all there, just below the surface," he said in a subsequent newspaper interview. "You can peel it away like the skin of an onion."

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On the waterfront
Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Raise the botanic

From Fourth Grace to Museum of Liverpool, featuring chain-smoking Frenchmen, furious Danes and long-suffering Scousers

Is Anderson's Bar, or whatever it's called these days, still there on Exchange Street East down the side of Liverpool's Town Hall? I wouldn't even know. It was here anyway, on Friday 15 November 2002, that I got the scoop on the Fourth Grace that never was.

I say scoop, I mean soft soap, from the architectural practice which would ultimately win the coveted right to build a new 'iconic' waterfront building which they planned on christening The Cloud. It never happened of course - almost a decade on and we have the Museum of Liverpool instead - but how the process got so far beggars belief.

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Raise the Botanic
Monday, 11 July 2011

Raise the botanic

Flowers on the Mersey, in a space-age garden, two centuries after Liverpool opened its first exotic hothouse. Just a crazy dream...

"Let's put a controversial building on Liverpool's Pier Head and call it the Fourth Grace." Why? "Because we need something big and iconic for 2008 and all that." And what exactly will it do? "Don't quite know." Failed.

"How about one of those shiny new skyscrapers that have gone up in every other British provincial city?" Why? "Because it'll be a spectacular new addition to the Liverpool skyline." And what exactly will it do? "Have loads of flats in it with breathtaking views, and some offices and cafés and...stuff." Passed, for want of something marginally more imaginative.

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Old man of the sea
Friday, 8 July 2011

Old man of the sea

Fifty years ago Liverpool's last great sculptor carved his last great pieces for his native city...

I'm missing Liverpool's Central Library and particularly its Record Office, and I'm sure I'm not the only one. It's still there, of course - it's just that operations have been scaled down temporarily and moved to World Museum and a hut near Sandhills Station while the main building on William Brown Street undergoes its spectacular facelift in time for late 2012.

Most of all I miss the people who work there. Proof of their worth, if needed, can be found in the outpourings of gratitude on the Acknowledgements page of practically every local history book written about Liverpool in the last few years. They're that good. And I'm especially thankful for the access they granted me to the archives of Liverpool's finest sculptor.

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What a carve up
Wednesday, 5 July 2011

What a carve up

Only London surpasses Liverpool for that most accessible of art forms, public sculpture, but are people bothered?

Like most people I was always a bit baffled by Loyd Grossman's love affair with Liverpool. What was the catch? Where was the connection? Why would the guy with the slightly grating voice and fondness for fine dining be, well, arsed championing the 2008 European Capital of Culture bid, let alone becoming chairman of National Museums Liverpool's trustees?

It's because he's also chairman of the Public Monuments & Sculpture Association (PMSA). About five years ago he presented the excellent History of British Sculpture series on Channel 5 that flitted back and forth between Liverpool and the capital. "Most of us probably walk past a piece of sculpture on our way to work, college or school," he mused. "You probably haven't looked at it properly, but you should."

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Gates to the city
Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Gates to the city

The Sailors Home: from Liverpool to Smethwick and back again, via Portmeirion and the ends of the earth...

Like a lot of people I'm made-up that the gates from the old Liverpool Sailors Home are on their way home. After quite a history and, more recently, reams of red tape, they're going to be mounted in a pedestrian space close to their original location at Canning Place, part of today's Liverpool One complex - thanks to the unstinting efforts of the city's World Heritage officer John Hinchcliffe and local historian Phil Griffiths with his Pooley Gates website www.pooleygates.co.uk.

Respect due also to Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council for their long stewardship and co-operation when the Grade II listed gates were dismantled and restored in the summer of 2010 under English Heritage supervision.

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Brand of hope and glory
Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Brand of hope and glory

In the competitive world of destination tourism, the Liverpool City Brand is exploiting its greatest asset - us

Like the Liverpool City Brand? I do, which is why it's on my website. It's clearly evolved from the 2008 European Capital of Culture logo, and I love the fact that it's simple and recognisable with no unnecessary tagline. Message: Liverpool doesn't need a slogan - it speaks for itself.

It's a kitemark of quality (I hope) and a badge of prestige but also inclusiveness - anyone can use the brand if they abide by the T&Cs. In other words, everyone can join in, and that's got to be a winning strategy. Go to the Liverpool City Brand website (www.liverpoolcitybrand.co.uk) and, sure, there's the usual stuff about 'essence' and 'values', but most of all there's one word repeated over and over again: 'people'.

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Two of a kind
Monday, 13 June 2011

Two of a kind

You wouldn't believe how hard it is to find a Venetian Gothic Victorian office building in the City of London...

Not everything over 100 years old needs a dirty great English Heritage plate bolted onto its façade, but a discreet panel would've been nice. I can't believe there's no information about this place - the only giveaway is a sign for a ground-floor winebar called Ruskins.

Anyone with a decent set of peepers would notice how this little building (nos59-61) stands out from its younger, blander neighbours on Mark Lane - a narrow thoroughfare that trundles down a gentle slope in the City of London towards Lower Thames Street and the river.

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Kingdoms of Heaven
Monday, 30 May 2011

Kingdoms of Heaven

London's historic churches are a delight to explore, but only a handful have their prayers answered...

When a building has an inscription outside that says 'The most perfectly proportioned interior in the world' it's setting itself up for a fall. Upon walking inside the Church of St Stephen Walbrook in the City of London, however, I'm in no mood to disagree.

The exterior hardly thrills - small and a touch grotty with no real approach, squeezed into a narrow space surrounded by (just now) workmen and scaffolding. But through the modest entrance it's like passing from one world to another - evidently Christopher Wren's intention when he designed and built this little place in the 1670s. (Sir Christopher Wren, architect and engineer, and Professor of Astronomy at Oxford in his spare time).

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Green and serene
Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Green and serene

Deep South style to Italianate artistry. Exploring Liverpool's leafy retreats...

'It is small wonder that he fell in love with Greenbank, for the house and its surroundings formed a most harmonious ensemble, with the dwelling perched comfortably at the head of a gentle slope that ran down to an ornamental lake, and then up again on the opposite side... It became a favourite port of call for visiting ships captains. Generous entertainers, the family often invited fifteen or twenty people to dinner. One of the guests remembered the grounds as "a garden of paradise" for children: here was a sundial set into the sloping lawn, a walk beside a sunken fence that looked out over fields, beehives, a rose garden, and behind the house a favourite large horse-chestnut tree...'

The writer, Duff Hart-Davis. The book, Audubon's Elephant, chronicling the story of American painter John James Audubon, who sailed from New Orleans to Liverpool in 1826, befriended the influential Rathbone family and eventually published his epic Birds of America, the most valuable natural history book ever printed (Liverpool Central Library has one of only 113 copies worldwide).

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Seville for divvies
Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Seville for divvies

Once, twice, three times a sucker for southern Spain's city of dreams...

September 1996: going solo

Like me, Manuel isn't a good flyer. He's got that telltale slightly demented look. He's reading the same passage in his book over and over again, looking up every five minutes or so and scanning faces for sudden tension when there's the slightest rumble in the fuselage or flutter in the air pressure.

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Ride a Black Swan
Tuesday, 19 April 2011

How the digital age is re-writing the rules of publishing

The following is a short extract from a book published in 1910 and entitled Recollections of a Busy Life: Being the Reminiscences of a Liverpool Merchant, by Sir William B Forwood:

'I may claim that my seventy years have witnessed a material progress on every side, which has been simply marvellous and has eclipsed in the brilliancy of achievement any former period in the history of our country.

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The pub on the beach
Friday, 8 April 2011

The pub on the beach

Starring seals, shells, shipwrecks and Hollywood stars...

On an offshore rock wreathed in seaweed is the graceful silhouette of a cormorant. Just as it drapes its dark wings to dry, it's spooked by a snarl and plunges below the surface. The culprit isn't a dog off its leash but half-a-dozen seals on the next outcrop.

The biggest is the most ornery, hissing and growling at the rest of the mottled-grey colony until a dinghy with two adults and two children cuts its outboard motor and bobs over for a closer look. They must be 200 yards from the mainland, but the air is so fine that every word is clear. "Look, he's scratching his face with his flipper," says the man. "You don't see that very often, do you?"

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On Savannah and Charleston
Friday, 25 March 2011

On Savannah and Charleston

Touring two Southern belles, by the book...

I'll have to sit down, can't be doing with this - forty degrees and humid like you wouldn't believe. Last night someone said you get higher temperatures in Arizona or wherever but not heat like this, like being in warm water.

The 'owl' girl said the same thing in the travel agent in town thousands of miles away. I was booking the holiday, fly-drive to Atlanta. Dates, flights, car hire, hotel, insurance, results, please wait. In comes a family wanting a fortnight in Florida. Kid with scruffy hair in last season's Liverpool top, can't keep still, swinging from something. Mam nods at him. "He's not going on holiday with his head like that." Nan desperate to take the weight off her feet. "I'll have to sit down."

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Still chasing the birds
Monday, 7 March 2011

Still chasing the birds

Research, guesswork, the odd moment of inspiration and occasionally pure fluke. All key requirements in this line of toil - which is how I've found myself outside the erstwhile headquarters of Lloyd's Register (of British & Foreign Shipping) on Fenchurch Street in the City of London, digital camera and notebook at the ready.

When it's an old(ish) building that was formerly the premises of a company or organisation with some kind of connection to Liverpool or shipping and its associated industries (insurance, underwriting etc) there's always a chance I'll find what I'm looking for.

It's ornithology of sorts, twitching with a difference. The bird that I catalogue never flies the nest to compete with gulls and pigeons for the day's scraps, and you won't find it in any conventional guidebook.

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RECENT POSTS

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appy 300th birthday to where it really all began
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At the football, on the seafood, dodging conkers
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Somerset iron and the cinnamon river
The man who made the Shankly Gates, and other people
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All Play and No Work
Meaningfully employed - you're having a laugh
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Peel on wheels
Mind that cyclist - the Liverpool Waters juggernaut is picking up speed
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Walk on Water
Featuring winter sunsets and local wildlife
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Blue jays over Botetourt
After the tall ships, a tranquil bower of heritage in a busy American city
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ARCHIVE

All Play and No work

Peel on wheels

Walk on Water

Blue jays over Botetourt

Golden Virginia

Georgia on my mind

Strange Magic

Nurse Gosling's book of verse

Titanic 2.0

Love for sail

Bex maniacs

Mary, Mary, quite contrary

Wings of desire

World cities works of art: some offcuts

World cities: some works of art

'I have no idea what other people do'

Raiders of the well looked-after Ark

Railroad blues

Blog on the grog

Did you hear that too?

A cherub astride a what?

A time to dance

Ghosts of Mount Urgull

Postcard from San Sebastian

El Camino, with knobs on

'Of the city, by the city, for the city'

Guggenheim Bilbao: as good as it gets?

Still small voice

On the waterfront

Raise the botanic

Old man of the sea

What a carve up

Gates to the city

Brand of hope and glory

Two of a kind

Kingdoms of Heaven

Green and serene

Seville for divvies

Ride a Black Swan

The pub on the beach

On Savannah and Charleston

Still chasing the birds


The Liverpolitan
Published at Brighter Design
Unit 26A, Britannia Pavilion,
Albert Dock, Liverpool, L3 4AD

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All rights reserved.