When I did the Where Was I competition in the Sunday Times the weekend before last it was one of the easiest to solve, the answers being ‘Liverpool’ and ‘Albert Dock’ which is a coincidence because that is where I found myself last Friday.
“Not much of one,” I can hear you say, “it just planted the idea in your mind.” Not true. Me and Mrs P had one of those rare days when we were both off work and it was her idea to visit Liverpool on the grounds that it is a long time since she saw the city and neither of us had taken a gander at the Tate North.
So off we trolled down the M62 and down Edge Lane which has been a road cone forest for ages, though I’m not sure what they are actually doing to it. Setting prettier kerb stones and street lamps as far as we could tell, but not actually widening the road to allow more traffic. And any aesthetic gain from the street furniture I’m afraid is lost when you see the purple wheelie bins parked on the pavement. But never judge a city by its outskirts, but by its heart
And Liverpool has a mixed one. Like Birmingham, and Manchester to a lesser degree, there are some fine buildings interspersed with post-war tat that seems to have taken its inspiration from beyond the Iron Curtain. What did those 60s and 70s architects see in pre-fab concrete?
The Albert Dock though is an architectural wonder. Had I known I was going to be there I might have remembered the killer fact from Where Was I that it took 23.5 million bricks to construct not to mention the 47,000 tons of mortar and 13,729 piles of beech timber (equivalent to 48 miles in length) used for the foundations.
We headed for the Maritime Museum first and down the stairs to the Transatlantic Slavery Gallery first off. It should have been moving and uplifting, but it wasn’t. More depressing and gloomy really, and literally so as it was hard to read the display boards in the gloom.
The one smile spot was the board that explained that the indigenous rulers of the various African kingdoms had been happily enslaving members of conquered tribes long before us Europeans turfed up there. But this was okay though because said slaves weren’t being shipped thousands of miles away, nor was their individuality and identity being subjugated. An early example of black on black crime I guess, but it does explain how the slave trade could not have existed without the likes of King Gezo.
We went to the other exhibits. The Lusitania, Empress of Ireland and Titanic sinkings in successive years; all those who escaped the Potato Famine by fleeing to America via Liverpool; the wave after wave of migration; and the terrible toll of two world wars, particularly the second in which one in three of merchant seamen lost their lives. After that lot, Hello Sailor! – Gay Life on the Ocean Wave came as welcome light relief, especially the Julian and Sandy recordings.
After a bite to eat and a coffee, we took stroll round the dock and we finally made it to the Tate North which was a bit of a let down. It’s all that modern art stuff. It isn’t that it’s unattractive, although some of it was a bit weird, it’s the pretentious up-their-backside explanations that the artists come up with to justify their work.
I should have had a pen and notebook to jot them down, but I didn’t, unlike many of our fellow visitors. They didn’t wear anoraks but they showed every sign of being art spotters, scribbling to remind themselves what they have seen. I’m sure that the artists made it up after the event and it’s a load of Jackson Pollocks.
And I bet you think this is going to amount to anti-Liverpool post, but it isn’t. It’s a great city, especially after Saturday. Seriously, it’s an interesting and vibrant city well worth a visit, even if Liverpool: City of Culture is oxymoronic. Sorry, never could resist the cheap shot.