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”

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’”

Congratulations to the Liverpool 8 Superstore, BBC Food Retailer of the Year

Congratulations to the Liverpool 8 Superstore, BBC Food Retailer of the Year

It is definitely something to celebrate when the greengrocer and general store up the road from where you live is named named Food Retailer of the Year in the BBC’s Food and Farming Awards for 2015 – and the Liverpool Echo celebrates the win with a gallery of photos taken by fellow-Liverpool blogger Ronnie Hughes. Continue reading “Congratulations to the Liverpool 8 Superstore, BBC Food Retailer of the Year”

Tricia Porter’s photographs of Liverpool 8 in the 1970s

Tricia Porter’s photographs of Liverpool 8 in the 1970s

A week or so ago I wrote about L8 Unseen, a photography exhibition at the Museum of Liverpool.  Now I’ve been to see another exhibition of photographs from Liverpool 8, this one at the Bluecoat.  Titled, Tricia Porter: Liverpool Photographs 1972-74, the show presents images virtually unseen for 40 years which provide a vivid picture of everyday life in Liverpool 8 at a time when it was undergoing significant change leading to the break-up of close knit communities. Continue reading “Tricia Porter’s photographs of Liverpool 8 in the 1970s”

L8 Unseen: picturing a state of mind, an idea, a culture

L8 Unseen: picturing a state of mind, an idea, a culture

There’s an engaging photography exhibition showing at the Museum of Liverpool at the moment.  L8 Unseen features twenty arresting large-scale photographs of individuals and groups who have made their home in Liverpool 8, and whose work reflects its vibrant and determined culture. Continue reading “L8 Unseen: picturing a state of mind, an idea, a culture”

Waiting for jellyfish on High Park Street

Waiting for jellyfish on High Park Street

Jellyfish 3

Blue light till dawn

When it’s Biennial time in Liverpool, all kinds of oddities turn up in the most unlikely places.  Walking down Park Lane by Liverpool One the other day with my daughter Sarah we encountered an avenue of trees wrapped in what can only be described as knitted woolly trunk-warmers.  They were created by an army of knitters for Yarn Bombing, part of ‘a carnival of the built environment’ to celebrate ‘the hidden creativity of the argybargy in art’. Obvious really.

Tree warmers

Leg-warmers for trees on Park Lane

Then last night the two of us were on High Park Street, a fairly desolate stretch of Liverpool 8, waiting to see a Biennial installation that had been recommended by friends.  Behind the steel shutters rolled down over one of the empty shop-fronts that pepper this once-thriving street, there were jellyfish, and at ten pm the shutters were due to rise to reveal them.

Jellyfish a1

Waiting for jellyfish on High Park Street

We had thought we would be the only ones mad enough to turn out at ten on a Saturday night to look at jellyfish in a derelict shop window.  But when we arrived there was already a small crowd, and more people gathered as we waited for the magic moment.  Clouds had rolled in off the river after another sweltering day, and rain began to fall.  Umbrellas went up. The event was late.  Then, by remote control, the shutters began to roll up, revealing a large fish tank filled with tiny jellyfish peacefully floating in gentle blue water.

Jellyfish a1a

The shutters go up

This installation, by Walter Hugo & Zoniel Burton, is called The Physical Possibility of Inspiring Imagination in the Mind of Somebody Living, though somebody alongside me muttered, ‘Where I come from, we call this an aquarium’.  The blue light and the gently shifting jellyfish were undoubtedly soothing, and drew the kids in close.

Jellyfish 5

A ‘secret, magical window’

The installation is described by the artist duo as a  ‘secret magical window’ and as a ‘psychedelic display, intended to have a discordant presence within the building and to intrigue those in the surrounding area’.  But what I found most intriguing – and what turned out to be the subject of nearly all the photos I took – was not the installation itself, or the jellyfish, but the incongruity of a crowd of people, adults and children, gathered on a darkened street as warm rain fell, staring at an illuminated fish tank.

Jellyfish 4  Jellyfish 2 Jellyfish 1

Gazelli Art House in London is supporting the project and live-streaming a video from within the tank into their gallery. They say, ‘The projection is viewable both from within the gallery but also from the street outside, creating a virtual corridor between the two cities’.  I hope David Cameron drops by.

There are more images of the installation on Gazelli’s website.

High Park Street, Liverpool 8 1982

High Park Street, Liverpool 8, 1982 (photo  by Steve Howe)

Back in the 1970s, we lived in a top-floor flat on Princes Road where, from the back kitchen door that led to the wooden fire escape, we could look out along High Park Street. As now, this was a deprived area, but then the broad street was always bustling. There were shops, pubs, a bakery – and the local social security office.  Now it’s a desert.  The controversial Pathfinder programme depopulated the area, leaving the once-homely Welsh streets tinned-up and decaying (fellow-Liverpool blogger Ronnie Hughes keeps an eye on what’s happening there; his most recent report is here). Most shops have gone, a lonely chippy hangs on, along with one pub – Ringo Starr’s old local, The Empress, a local treasure that draws Beatles aficionados from all over.

At the top of the street is another treasure – the grade II listed High Park Street reservoir. Built in 1845, it’s a rectangular structure half the size of a football pitch, with a tower at one corner. It’s one of the earliest examples of public health engineering in the world, and once held 2 million gallons of water, serving thousands of homes in the area.

High Park Street reservoir

High Park Street reservoir: outside

But since 1997, the reservoir has been redundant. Now it’s being managed by a social enterprise, Dingle 2000, which is looking at uses that could be made of it that would benefit the local community.  Ideas include growing crops on the roof and selling the produce at a farmers’ market inside the building.

Because there is an inside.  The blank external walls conceal a spectacular piece of Victorian workmanship, with high vaulted ceilings, a grid of cast iron columns and a series of brick arches, reminiscent of the Albert Dock constructed just a few years earlier.  At the moment it often serves as a dramatic backdrop for scenes in films or TV dramas.

Liverpool High Park Street reservoir building

High Park Street reservoir: inside

I’ve never been inside the reservoir (it’s sometimes opened up to the public on annual Heritage Days) but next door is another historic building with whose interior I was once familiar – the High Park Social Security office.

High Park St Social Security office 1969 www.liverpoolpicturebook.com

High Park St Social Security office 1969 (www.liverpoolpicturebook.com)

Built in 1865, this used to be Toxteth Town Hall, and it has Grade Two listed status.  Over the years it served as a register office, morgue, police cells, medical dispensary, Coroner’s court – as well as the local DHSS office for social security and unemployment benefit claimants.

Empress pub

Ringo Starr’s local – featured on the cover of his album ‘Sentimental Journey’

We left a small crowd still peering at the jellyfish installation.  On the next block the light from the open chippy door revealed that it was empty. A little further along, the door of Ringo Starr’s old pub, The Empress, had been left open to let in some air on this hot night.  A few regulars stood, illuminated in the warm glow of the interior.  Denizens of their own floating world.