Monday, June 29, 2015

Liverpool Diary


"I wish I was back in Liverpool, Liverpool town where I was born...


Toxteth Riots, July 1981

There isn't no trees, no scented breeze,

No fields of waving corn;

But there's lots of girls with peroxide curls

And the black and tan flows free.

With six in a bed by the old Pier 'Ead,

And it's Liverpool town for me".


Smithdown Road, Liverpool (1978)

It is not possible for me to adequately portray my love for the city of Liverpool in a blog of reasonable length. That said, despite a dozen years of expatriate life, as a native Liverpudlian, born and bred; I have not lost any sense of my own exuberance, extravagance, slovenliness, spontaneous hospitality and chippy resentment that are hallmarks of the Scouse character.


I'm eating a hot bacon roll on the 11.07am out of London Euston to Liverpool Lime Street railway station. The last time I was home was in 2011 - when I stayed at the Hilton in the new Liverpool One development. I laughed at the memory of ordering room service there. The pastrami sandwich arrived after ninety minutes covered with Colman's English mustard. The manager humbly apologized in a thick Scouse accent and deducted it from the bill.


The stone cuttings of Lime Street Station


The 11.07 from Euston edges slowly through the tunnel of redbrick arches and sandstone hallucinations to Lime Street station. I exit the first class carriage of the train, kneel on the sooty platform and put my hands together in prayer. After many adventures and mishaps overseas, I was home sweet home at last. Time to catch the changes and take stock of life. But I was also a man on a mission. I needed to buy three new pairs of Everton Football Club (EFC) shorts from the Everton Two shop in the gaudy Liverpool One shopping centre. 


The Las Vegas arcade in its heyday

I exit Lime Street and notice the absence of "Las Vegas Amusements," an old fashioned video game arcade that sat opposite the railway station for decades. 


It is now a "supermarket" that sells beers for a quid. Welcome to Liverpool.


Father Bro of St. Luke's

I turn on the Scouse accent and hail a black cab to my big brother's house in Toxteth. I was in town for his birthday - but Ambrose was busy setting up things for an all-day rave at St. Luke's Bombed Out Church on Leece Street.  He has been the curator of St. Luke's and "squatter in residence' since 2006. Single handed, he rescued this living monument to the Liverpool Blitz of 1941 from decline - and the paws of unscrupulous businessmen who wish to turn it into a ghastly theme hotel.   


Gledhill, Sefton Park. A large detached Victorian villa built in 1881. I lived here until 1975.

But Liverpudlians, with seagulls in their ears, and the smell of the docks in their nostrils, never tire of boring other people with a living tapestry of their cosmopolitan city. Alas, I am no different.  Growing up there, you could not help but fall in love with the place. In childhood, I once lived in a red bricked villa opposite Sefton Park Palm House, and, as a youth, I shambled up and down the length of Lark Lane breaching the peace at Keith's Wine Bar, the Albert and the Masonic. Lest I forget those other Victorian and Edwardian pubs of character - the Vines in Lime Street and the Philharmonic Hotel on the corner of Hope Street and Hardman.


The Vines, Lime Street (1935)

These two gin palaces are unbelievably sumptuous. The architect responsible for them both was Walter Thomas. The brewery obviously allowed him to spend the budget as he pleased. The Vines is full of elegantly carved mahogany panels and even includes a female, breasts aloft, in wood. In the bar, the ornamental ceiling has a glass dome for its crown and the walls are covered in oil paintings. 


The listed gents' bogs of the Philharmonic

The Philharmonic features mythical beasts, rosettes and baroque ornamentation above the wrought-iron gates of its entrance. Inside the noble boozer, the large, ornate rooms are full of stone carvings, copper panels and, like the Vines down the road on Lime Street, semi-nude plasterwork. The "shooting gallery", the marble slabbed gents' toilets of the Philharmonic, are listed (women can go in for a peek but not a pee) and are probably the grandest bogs in the world. 


Photograph of the Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King, Liverpool, taken in 1967.

Prominent on the Liverpool skyline are the two cathedrals and the Beacon, a 450 foot concrete pillar with gyrating windows and a panorama that extends out to the sea. The Roman Catholic Cathedral, with its concrete bust, lantern tower and crown of poniards held together with filigrees, has been long nicknamed "Paddy's Wigwam". On the other side of Hope Street is the Liverpool Anglican Cathedral,  a mighty testament to the Victorian Gothic and the largest Anglican mansion of God in the world. In the afternoon, its sandstone turn pink under the westward sun.


Liverpool's Anglican Cathedral

The dramatic cathedrals, the grey majesty of the flowing Mersey river, the restored trinity of Pier Head, the timeless elegance of St. George's Hall and Bluecoat courtyard, the brick lain byways of Hackins Hey and Old Churchyard, there is much to fall in love with in Liverpool. 


Drunken violence on Dale Street (August 2014)

However, there are factors that do not mitigate in favour of my beloved city. There is the drama of violence on the streets and scenes of nighttime ruckus and sordid delinquency. Like any other town or city in modern day England, vice, crime and drunkenness are rampant. And insensate hoodlums and drug dealers, armed with guns and knives, terrorize the populace and often escape punishment. But this is the Liverpool way and you have to be a ruddy comedian to stick the place. 


Piss heads. Sticky carpets. Reeks of piss and puke.

Such delights can be found at one of my favorite watering holes in the city centre, the Penny Farthing, one of the roughest and grubbiest pubs in the city. Its distinctive exterior facade has had a 21st Century makeover. The interior, however, has lost none of its historic charm. The pub was still full of red faced drinkers, thugs, drug dealers, dogs on strings, the carpet was sticky and there was a horrid stink of piss and puke throughout the premises. Not only is the Penny Farthing one of the worst pubs in Liverpool, it was recently voted the worst pub in England. I can't say that I blame the panel. 


Grand Central Hall, Renshaw Street, Liverpool.


Fetid pubs. Buildings caked in bird droppings. Endless rows of grotty takeaways offering "meal deals" and "generous portions."  Liverpool is a still a disheveled city on the blink of wrack and ruin. There are crazy weeds growing out of the tiled domes of Grand Central Hall on Renshaw Street. And the Futurist Cinema, the "Lime Street Picture House, is in danger of being knocked down to make way for a generic modernist development. Mayor Joe Anderson is keen on new buildings. And more student accommodation now that Liverpool is host to four universities. They are not the only demographic to be catered for. Plans are afoot to sell off tracts of land in Sefton Park and Calderstones Park to create gated communities for multimillionaires. It begs the question, what multimillionaire would want to live in a gated community in Liverpool? On the whole, I'd rather be in Notting Hill. 


The Handymans Supermarket. In business on Smithdown Road since 1962.

Norclo Works, Micro Music, Smithdown Fish and Chips, Justin Shoes, Top Gear clutch and gearbox repairs; A.R. Tyms the butcher, Gainsborough Glass the glazier, Nora's Flower Shop, Allerton Antiques, H.W. Luxton the newsagent and stationer; Marie's Hairdresser, Axelrod's supermarket, the Liver Laundrette, Bliss Cycles; many old shops and family owned businesses from days of bygone youth are now extinct from memory on Smithdown Road. But the aquarium and the Handymans Supermarket -with its familiar nag's head sign- are still in business. Pity about the Brook House next door. The exterior is still the same but the grandiose mahogany of the interior was gutted in the early 1990s and it became, for a brief while, a shots bar with Budweiser flags and white walls.          


Arthur Dooley, Paul Dooley, me (with fuzzy hair) and my little brother.


Liverpool is famed for its characters. One figure who looms large in mind and memory is my old family friend, the sculptor Arthur Dooley. Arthur was a Liverpudlian, born and bred, and his work is all over the city. Though Arthur died in 1994, he is still much talked about. His "Black Jesus" on the Methodist Church on Princes Road, has just been taken down for restoration after hanging there, undisturbed by change, riot and political upheaval, since 1969. 


Arthur hated the Catholic Cathedral

Arthur comes to mind because of his passion for the city and his fears about the future of Liverpool. In the late 1960s, he warned about "a new chromium-plated, automated, jackpot city with a Las Vegas look... The new mentality is out to destroy not just individuality in design and buildings but in people, too. Not only is every city in the world to look like a yard of upturned Coca-Cola crates but we, the people in them, are to be drilled with the same organization worship as the Americans." Artists often see things ahead of their own time.  "Is Liverpool going to be a city tailored for the people or a city of chrome juggernauts which disintegrates the community, mangling its culture?" Arthur was no exception.



Arthur, Dad and me (1979)

In art, in politics, or down the pub, Arthur was never one to back off from a ruck. Or start one himself. 


Sgt. Dooley on duty

One night in the grainy 1970s, he was out drinking with my Dad in Liverpool. Arthur saw someone at the bar of the Everyman Theatre who looked like someone he had a beef with. Mistaken identity or not, it did not hinder Arthur from challenging the unwary man to a fight. Arthur knocked him down to the floor with a trademark one-two. Arthur walked back to the bar to cradle his pint and fire up another ciggie.  His victim had other plans and wanted a rematch. Arthur obliged and knocked the man spark out. "I like him now," Arthur said to my Dad, "he's a sportsman, a good sportsman."


Arthur Dooley: boxing champ of the Irish Guards

At the time, the two-fisted sculptor was getting into so many blood drenched fights that the bizzies (cops) warned him that he would go to jail if it carried on. Arthur was successful in most of these bouts because he used to wrap a leather belt round his knuckles - with the buckle exposed to the target. When fights got to warming, Arthur was quick on the draw at getting the belt off his waist, wrapping it round his hand, KO-ing the opponent and getting the belt back on his waist before anyone was the wiser. That drill impressed my old American Dad, another pub house brawler, very much indeed.  


Liverpool School of Language, Music, Dream and Pun (1980)


So many memories. So many changes. So little time. I am back on the train to London Euston and HQ in Notting Hill for the last leg of my UK adventure. Bon voyage Liverpool. I shall see you in my dreams.