One for Jamal: Not everything is lost

One for Jamal: Not everything is lost

Behind the counter at the newsagent, Jamal looked a little worse for wear: ‘I didn’t get much sleep last night,’ he said, explaining that the start of Ramadan always tended to knock his body rhythms for six. He’d got to bed late after evening prayers, and couldn’t sleep. Knowing he would have to be up at 3am to eat before morning prayers, he’d finally abandoned all thought of sleep. We went on to have an interesting conversation.

Jamal is a scouser whose Yemeni father would once deliver the newspaper right to our door. He says he’s grateful that his mixed ancestry has gifted him with two countries where he feels at home. He says he’s travelled to many countries and what he has found is that people are pretty much the same everywhere. He says all of us, whatever our faith – Muslim or Jew, Christian or Hindu – are taught by our religion that it is right to feed a stranger or look out for a neighbour. But now he is troubled: his Yemeni homeland is being torn apart in a war between Sunni and Shi’ite. His Muslim identity is being fractured. And anyway, there is more to him than just being Muslim. He is English and proud of it; he is Yemeni and proud of that too; he is Liverpudlian and proud of it; he is European and proud of that too. He is moved to tears by the Manchester bombing – but also by the ISIS bomb that killed 15 and wounded dozens last night as Muslim families in Baghdad broke their Ramadan fast at an ice cream shop.

I said to Jamal, ‘That reminds me of something I read by a Palestinian American poet. I will bring it to you.’ Continue reading “One for Jamal: Not everything is lost”

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Public View: celebrating 300 years of the Bluecoat

<em>Public View:</em> celebrating 300 years of the Bluecoat

The Bluecoat is 300 years old. Miraculously, the oldest building in Liverpool city centre has twice survived the threat of destruction (post-war city planners thought it would be a great idea to replace it with an inner-city ring road) to become one of the UK’s oldest arts centres. Completed in 1725, after two centuries serving as a charity school, in 1907 the building was taken over by a group of artists determined to stimulate Liverpool’s artistic and intellectual life. Two years later they hosted the First Post-Impressionist exhibition that featured work by Matisse, Picasso and others. Today, the contemporary arts continue to be showcased in this Grade One listed building. I went down to have a look at Public View, the first in a series of events celebrating the Bluecoat’s first 300 years. Continue reading Public View: celebrating 300 years of the Bluecoat”

An Adrian Henri mini-exhibition: ‘The poet in him wrote poems containing images that the painter in him wanted to paint’

An Adrian Henri mini-exhibition: ‘The poet in him wrote poems containing images that the painter in him wanted to paint’

I received an email from the Victoria Gallery & Museum alerting me to the fact that an exhibition of work by Adrian Henri was ending that day. Henri has a special place in my heart because I arrived in Liverpool just at the tail-end of that moment when Liverpool in the1960s was a focal point for popular culture. Henri was the leading figure of a multimedia scene in which art, music and writing were closely connected. Continue reading “An Adrian Henri mini-exhibition: ‘The poet in him wrote poems containing images that the painter in him wanted to paint’”

After 46 years, recognition for a moment in which we can take genuine pride

After 46 years, recognition for a moment in which we can take genuine pride

A long, long time ago – 46 years to be precise – along with some 300 other students I took part in an anti-apartheid protest at Liverpool University, occupying the university’s administration building for 10 days in the spring term of 1970. The key demands we were making on the university was for the resignation of the Vice-Chancellor, Lord Salisbury, a supporter of the apartheid regimes in Rhodesia and South Africa, and for the university to divest itself of its investments in the the apartheid regime in South Africa.  There were many sit-ins at British universities in this period, but in Liverpool it led to the severest disciplinary action of the time. Nine students, including Jon Snow, Channel 4 News presenter, were suspended for two years. But one, Peter Cresswell, was permanently expelled.

Yesterday, in an emotional ceremony following two decades of lobbying for restitution, Pete Cresswell, now aged 68 and retired from a career in social work, was at last awarded an honorary degree. His expulsion was finally recognised by those who spoke for the University as an injustice. As Pete observed in his acceptance speech, time had shown the protestors to be ‘on the right side of history’. Continue reading “After 46 years, recognition for a moment in which we can take genuine pride”

Inside Princes Road Synagogue: prepare to be dazzled

Inside Princes Road Synagogue: prepare to be dazzled

For several years, when the Heritage Open Days come round, I’ve wanted to see inside Princes Road Synagogue. But tickets for guided tours go so fast that I’ve always been disappointed – until this year. This time I got a place, and I was dazzled by what I saw.

The synagogue is a Grade II listed building which was completed in 1874. It was designed by two architect brothers, William and George Audsley, who created an unusual confection of Oriental, Moorish and Gothic features after they had travelled around Europe to gain inspiration for the design with its richly painted and gilded interior. The brothers went on to pioneer some of the first skyscrapers in New York.

The building cost £13,000 to build, a huge sum – over £100m in today’s money – entirely funded by members of the congregation, which, as our lively guide pointed out, was far removed from the image some might have of one composed of impoverished refugees from eastern Europe. The synagogue is a testament to the wealth and social position of Liverpool’s nineteenth century Jewish magnates, a group with wealth and taste that included David Lewis, founder of Liverpool’s once-famous Lewis’s department store. Continue reading “Inside Princes Road Synagogue: prepare to be dazzled”

Toxteth’s cathedral beneath the water

Toxteth’s cathedral beneath the water

Liverpool in 1847 was a grim place to be if you were poor, perhaps a recent immigrant fleeing the famine in Ireland. Being poor meant whole families living in single rooms in ramshackle tenements or in damp cellars, with no sanitation or fresh air. Drinking water – from a well with a pump if you were lucky – was often contaminated by raw sewage from a leaking cesspit. One historian, Gerry Kearns, has described Liverpool at this time as having been ‘created in haste by commerce – by men intent on immediate gain – reared without any tender regard for flesh and blood.’

But that year Liverpool Corporation did something remarkable, appointing the first Medical Officer of Health in the country, Dr. William Henry Duncan, who for the next fifteen years oversaw a programme of works that would see clean water supplied to the poorest areas of Liverpool for the first time, the installation of sewers, and a significant reduction in the number of families living in cellars and other unhealthy dwellings.

Alongside Dr. Duncan the Corporation appointed the first Borough Engineer, James Newland, who, together with the city’s first water engineer Thomas Duncan (another Duncan, but no relation) gave practical effect to Dr. Duncan’s vision by constructing a series of city reservoirs fed by gravity from a major new reservoir at Rivington Pike, twenty miles away in the Lancashire fells.

The Heritage Open Days this month gave me the opportunity of taking a look inside one of the city reservoirs designed by Thomas Duncan to hold water from the Rivington reservoir. The Toxteth Reservoir is still there at the top of High Park Street, a Grade II listed building completed in 1850. Inside the massive external walls of sandstone you enter a massive space, floored in brick with high vaulted brick ceilings supported on cast iron columns. This Victorian cathedral of brick columns and arches was submerged under water until it was finally decommissioned in 1997. Continue reading “Toxteth’s cathedral beneath the water”

Hillsborough: exposing the criminals

<em>Hillsborough</em>: exposing the criminals

Unless I forget my law, altering a person’s statement is a criminal offence, without their knowledge or consent. And I don’t like criminals.

That’s Martin McLoughlin, one of the policemen on duty at Hillsborough on 15 April 1989, speaking in last night’s documentary film Hillsborough about discovering that his statement about that day had been unknowingly altered.

Hillsborough, finally screened last night by the BBC two years after being seen on an American ports channel, was a truly outstanding documentary produced and directed by Daniel Gordon. It could not be shown in Britain for legal reasons until after the Hillsborough inquest was completed – ruling on April 26 that all 96 victims of the 1989 stadium disaster were unlawfully killed, and that no responsibility for the disaster was in any way due to the behaviour of the Liverpool fans. Continue reading Hillsborough: exposing the criminals”