NORTHERN SPIRIT

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As Ever the Phoenix

November 30, 2012 in A WONDROUS SPACE, LIVERPOOL, Wondrous Cities

As Ever The Pheonix

His mind felt like it was cracking open, his eyes were puffy and red, and his skin itchy and sticky. He lay cocooned in his cheap, battered leather jacket and a t-shirt stuck to him by three days worth of sweat.

He held his head in his hands, keeping his burning, swollen eyes closed for as long as possible, only looking up occasionally to see the couple of Arab ladies opposite chatting through all his suffering.

The sound of the many washing machines turning was reassuring, though barely enough to drown out the brooding thoughts that threatened to career into his mind.

The laundrette had a stifling atmosphere. Strip lights on even in the day, walls plastered with brightly-coloured flyers advertising long past events and every surface covered with a thin, sickly-static residue of detergent.

He felt like he was breathing it in, the powder going deep, searing away at his already cigarette-abused lungs, slowly suffocating him as he sat beneath the grim yellow fluorescence. He put his head back in his hands again for a long time. Squeezing his eyes hard to try and take control of the throbbing, trying to take control of the feeling in his body.

When he looked up again the two ladies had gone and he found himself looking straight out through the large front window of the shop that looked across the junction of Upper Parliament Street, Catharine Street and Princes Avenue.

Cars, vans, buses, bikes and people all moved rapidly in all directions through the crossroads, all speeding along their own paths through the city. He felt a little better now, and continued to stare out at the never-ending flow through the window that was scarred around the edges with the dust and grease of a million washes.

He stared unblinking until his eyes started to stream and the Escorts and Polos and Hyundais and Transits began to blur. Blue and chrome became brown and plastic; the back of one car began to connect with the front of another.

As he watched, the pedestrians began to walk slower, their every action becoming long and fluid. Every single movement of every body could be seen in minute detail, dragged out and fractured. Eventually, their whole forms began to fragment and disintegrate.

The cars became viscous, their components stretching and flexing before losing their forms and turning into fluid shapes. These too began to flux and bend, breaking into pieces and floating off in many directions.

He saw a bird rise out of the now cracking tarmac on Princes Avenue, a Phoenix that struggled hard to free itself from the fragmenting road surface, eventually, violently, pushing its body outwards and turning the remaining tarmac to dust. It stretched out its brilliant red and gold wings as it rose away.

As he looked back to the road, he saw it had turned into a foaming torrent of a river, roaring forwards without pause down where the avenue had been. In it floated the last few forms of vehicles that quickly sank.

The Georgian terraces that lined the road began to crumble, their facades falling in on themselves to reveal thick jungle, soaring golden temples and, in the distance, jagged, snow-tipped mountain ranges.

The remaining people on the streets turned there, in the bright sunshine, into lions and stags and dragons and mermaids.

And, as the last vestiges of Liverpool 8 erupted, he saw the drive-in NatWest consumed by a waterfall and, far across the plains, the Renshaws factory was shunted aside by an emerging volcano.

Here were a million colours and forms rising before his eyes. Animals grazed on the rich plains and leaped through the surging waters now deep blue, then viscous green, now crystal clear.

It all became too much and, his eyes aflame, he closed them, squeezing them tighter than ever, but still he saw the colours on the inside of his closed lids, burning into his mind.

He concentrated all of his thoughts, all of his energy, on containing what he had seen: the sounds of the volcano; the continually rumbling drums from far away; the vivid, liquid brown of the stag’s eye; the flock of small, bright birds emerging from the dense, damp undergrowth.

All surged inside his head for what seemed like an age. When he eventually peeled open his dry, sticky eyelids again, he was confronted with only the dirty window of the launderette and a shrunken old woman gently snoring on the bench opposite.

Through the window, a Hackney Carriage honked and careered down Princes Road; but behind it, in the corner of his vision, he could see a Phoenix still rising.

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Kenn Taylor

Kenn Taylor is a Liverpool based arts project manager and writer with a particular interest in community, culture and the urban enviroment. For much more information about Kenn's fiction writing, journalism and numerous community arts projects visit http://kenntaylor.wordpress.com. A separate site - http://urbantransitionuk.wordpress.com - is dedicated to Kenn's work around culture, cities and regeneration.

Anarchy Row

November 29, 2012 in A WONDROUS SPACE, LIVERPOOL, Wondrous Cities

Anarchy Row

Daybreak on Anarchy Row

Hard sun

brings out the best

Long

bent

streets

Buildings

grand and shit

Scarred

by thousands of bombs

Real and

those imagined

by people who

mistakenly thought

they had the answer

 

The young

form into groups

for protection

and dominance

Shuffling

in bus stops

Long spliffs

burning through the day

Eyes

smiling with power

Kings of their own world

and

always ready

to come into yours

 

Help them

Condemn them

Say those with powerful places

to place words

Wringing their hands

in broadsheets

over lost communities

they never knew

nor understood

Communities that

have better things to do

than read them

 

Beats blare out

from bohemian neighbours

who keep doors locked

firmly shut

from the ones

who’ve been

running around

these streets

since childhood

Short on innocence

and peace

 

Down the road, the economy grows

Shiny flats and restaurants boom

Clean, honest, our bright future

Expensive lattes and

colourful
breakout

workstations

A world away

from

running down

shooting

 

Big people

Big ideas

Big machines

Coming for you

Do-gooders

and money-grabbers

try to intervene

To save

or

exploit

But everyone

just carries on

 

Anarchy Row

however much they try

will not conform

Respectability

is not required

Supplying as it does

drugs

women

all the

good times

All the needs

of those respectable folks

with respectable jobs

respectable houses

respectable families

All of it

lies

 

If you have mean eyes

second-hand guns

You can earn big money

If you do as you’re told

A tinted BMW

and a skinny blonde

If you do as you’re told

And

never

ever

GRASS

 

Stupid

or strong?

Organised

Refusing to

absorb the lies

You can’t shift cocaine from

Mexico

to Islington

by being a fool

 

As the light dims on Anarchy Row

people hit their stride

Taking the profits

down town

Glass and steel bars

where money

is all that matters

Italian suit

two bottles of Crystal

Not long before

the ladies

swarm around

 

Back on the darkening roads

and decay

Old men

from the times of

marches and strikes

still loud

but bitter

sit ranting

in the

few pubs left

But no one is listening

anymore

 

Older ones

from a different world

cower behind

still-clean

net curtains

while the kids

stalk around

 

‘Watch lad, we’ve got guns round here’

They do

but they also have bullshit

in tonnes

To justify the attacks on

those not locally born

and

shitting on their own

if they fail to conform

 

Fear is not permitted

Failing to question

until it’s too late

Blood on hands

A fate sealed

Just another bad example

that no one takes heed

 

Back out soon

kudos increased

moves up the food chain

till someone bigger

has their next meal

 

This is the law

that’s governed people

since the start

I’m the fucking hardest

so I’m in charge

The rest of you come and try

As a system

it’s not pretty

but it works

 

Not everyone

though

falls into line

Every second building

a community centre

of some kind

 

Forces fight

for souls

Both sometimes winning

But for every one

who gets out

two more

fall down

 

This is Anarchy Row

Infinitely richer

and poorer

than you can possibly imagine

 

Avatar of Kenn Taylor

Kenn Taylor

Kenn Taylor is a Liverpool based arts project manager and writer with a particular interest in community, culture and the urban enviroment. For much more information about Kenn's fiction writing, journalism and numerous community arts projects visit http://kenntaylor.wordpress.com. A separate site - http://urbantransitionuk.wordpress.com - is dedicated to Kenn's work around culture, cities and regeneration.

245 Aigburth Drive

November 28, 2012 in A WONDROUS SPACE, LIVERPOOL, Wondrous Cities

245 Aigburth Drive

The room was long and high, but dark and thick with silence. A lack of sound so heavy as to stupefy anyone caught inside it.

She lived at the top of the house, the bit where the mid-sized Victorian mansion spiralled off into intricacies of points and towers and chimneys.

Flats since the 1960s, these attic rooms had once housed the servants. Country boys and country girls packed off to attend the merchants of the city. Now it was home to just her, alone.

On the windowledge, a once bright flower, now a mass of fraying brown matter, slowly decayed in a thick, glazed pot that retained a brightness even through its dust coating. Behind it, she sat at her desk staring out of the long sash window that let through the filtered cold light of the day.

She had held her pen poised over the pad for so long that her hand ached. As she struggled to write down her story once more, it all seemed gone, lost in the depths of her memory.

Her spirit, though bright, had not escaped the passage of time, her body even more so. She had lived a high life of intense emotions, passions, dreams and excitement. In her time, she had seen and done all; partied for days, travelled far and alone, attended protests, attacked the system. She had been there at the beginning of things, seen great arts at their inception and history in the making.

In the end though, it was all too much. New young idealists began to fill the space. Idealists as yet unlined by the stress of it all, as yet un-jaded by the pain caused by all of these beautiful people. She chose to pull away from all the excitement. Retreat. Retreat.

Decadence burns you up faster, till there seems to be nothing left but a longing for peace. Now that she had peace though, she lived in replays of past glories: sights, faces, feelings, places.

Since then, she had tried many times to recapture her experiences, but there was no way of recording it all. Too much had occurred. To be there was to be there and not to have been there meant that it didn’t matter. For the joy was all in the moment itself, now long past.

Some of the best times though, still remained in her head. Small spots of brightness that cut through the thick fug of greyness and confusion that now filled so much of her mind. Things that had once seared through her were now just a vague tingle, a snatch of a memory drying her throat and dilating her pupils a little on recollection.

Yet, even though so much was gone, she felt some satisfaction that this state had been brought upon her by seeing, doing too much. Even if it was all lost, there was still the contentment of that, a cooling sensation in her body that collapsed the tension and gave her comfort.

She remained poised, fading into those dreams, her desire to recapture them for others, fading also, always flawed because they would never see through her eyes. All that mattered now was the memory and that was all that remained as the trinkets and the people and the places faded away, such as beautiful things always do.

As she retreated further, she lowered the pen slowly down onto the desk and carried on looking out of the dusty sash window, long after the view had turned to absolute black.

Avatar of Kenn Taylor

Kenn Taylor

Kenn Taylor is a Liverpool based arts project manager and writer with a particular interest in community, culture and the urban enviroment. For much more information about Kenn's fiction writing, journalism and numerous community arts projects visit http://kenntaylor.wordpress.com. A separate site - http://urbantransitionuk.wordpress.com - is dedicated to Kenn's work around culture, cities and regeneration.

Culture

November 27, 2012 in A WONDROUS SPACE, LIVERPOOL, Wondrous Cities

Culture

Blood flowed freely from both his nose and mouth. He was forced to sniff and swallow constantly to keep it from streaming down his face. The wet metal taste sickened him and he felt pain deep in his limbs with every movement.

He forced a cough when the blood in his mouth started to drip down his throat, a cough that scattered a field of red specs across the pavement. He accepted that this was just what happened, and tonight he had been unlucky, but a raw anger still seared through his stomach, his throat, his eyes. A pure anger the likes of which he’d never felt before. He coughed another mouthful on the pavement.

The rage he felt wasn’t so much for his attackers. No, rather his employers who had demanded once more that he stay behind to help them catch up with work that hadn’t been done. So he had ended up going home in the dark, and they had ended up getting him. And he wondered again if there was any point in trying.

As muscles and bones across his body complained, he gritted his teeth hard and felt enamel jarring on enamel. He would be dammed if he was going to let them get inside his head. They could beat him up, but he would come back stronger, as always.

The four of them had gripped him down by the Baltic Fleet as he walked home from the function in the arena the agency had sent him down to steward. He had stayed behind reluctantly, knowing that if he’d argued, he would have been blacklisted by the agency again. Now though, he knew however late he had worked today, if he turned in tomorrow, black eye and all, they’d accuse him of having been fighting and send him home, “Can’t have your sort upsetting the guests now can we?”

They’d been waiting down a side road off Jamaica Street that he’d had the misfortune to take a shortcut down. There were four of them in big Honda. It was past eight o’clock, but it wasn’t even that dark. He’d seen them eyeing him up as he walked past. Lips pursed, watching everything and giving nothing away.

He’d picked up the pace right away, hoping they had bigger fish to fry. But they decided he was something for them to do while they waited for whatever business that had brought them to that part of town to materialise.

His mistake was to put up a fight. They probably would’ve just taken his money and left if he’d stayed down. But he wasn’t going to go down without a having a go at least. Never. Even though he knew it was stupid, he had always stood up to what he saw as badness even after being knocked down so many times. So he took the beating, lay for a while to recover and consider his situation, and then moved on as best he could. Like he always did

He pushed on up past Cains and the new arts centre where he’d been working on a function the other day, passed the wrecked looking maisonettes that still contained a few families and the big, faded posters proclaiming brand new developments. “What a mad fucking world,” he said aloud through the blood and bile that filled his throat.

His faith in the rightness of things that had once been so strong was now decaying, but with every blow his faith in himself grew stronger. And he knew that it was only by being stronger and fighting harder that he would be able to push past all that had been loaded upon him. His only fear was that this desire to escape would corrupt him, but he took solace in all those others who had made it.

He pulled at his uniform; a nylon polo top now speckled with sweat and blood, and coughed another mouthful onto the pavement. A passer-by glanced briefly at his shambling but determined figure, before quickly averting their eyes and crossing the street.

Sucking the blood back into his nose once more, he hammered intently down the long expanse of Upper Parliament Street. Cars streamed past him, but as this point he had neither care nor thought to if they saw his split lip, swollen eye, bloodied top, and he raised his head and walked faster.

As he readied himself to cross over towards his street, he noticed something odd in the corner of his eye. Something incongruous had appeared in the familiar landscape of his regular walk home. He slowed his steps and the stopped to examine the new addition. All pain was forgotten briefly as he stood and stared at the object.

It stood on a battered and pock-marked field of grass where rows of terraces had once stood. It was a collection of white, flat metal strips. The strips weaved in and out of each other to form a slightly flattened square with criss-crosses at all angles. All-together, it resembled a kids’ climbing frame that had been assembled incorrectly.

He stood stock-still, save for blinking, and carried on staring intensely at the object. Behind him, cars still continued to scream past towards the Women’s’ Hospital and Renshaws.

As he stood, he raised his hand again to wipe more of the blood from his nose and to check on its congealing process. He looked absent-mindedly at the long, black and red smear on his hand and felt again the pain in his kicked shoulder as he lowered his arm.

He stepped over the small ledge of rubble that divided the field from the pavement, the only remaining marker from the houses that had once lined the street, and, with a confident stride and a slight limp, he headed across the grass towards the object.

He walked right up to the frame and lent in close, staring hard at its poles. He moved to one side, then another. Ran his hand along the smooth, coated-steel surface and look at the ridged bits on the edge where it had been folded by machine. He squatted down, lent on the frame and felt its coldness next to his cheek, then stood up again quickly, the blood rushing to his head giving him a touch of dizziness and clear white spots in front of his eyes.

As he regained full balance he looked at the object again. It still revealed nothing of its purpose, why it was here and what it was meant to be. What it had to do with anything in fact. This item, object, thing had arrived suddenly, without consent, and had been planted without asking. Not grown, bled, eeked out, but dropped from on high.

At the other end of the object he spotted a small, tilted plaque on a pole in the ground. He went over and read it: “Playground in a New Media Universe. Coated steel structure, 2008. Otto Lucas b. New York 1974. Commissioned for Liverpool’s Community Culture Programme.”

He read it again, then looked at the object, then read it again, then looked at the object. As he went to read the panel again, a drop of blood landed on it; a bright, bright red spot that expanded outwards a dozen tiny lines.

This made him smile, and he sucked the blood back up through his nostril once more, turned away and walked off purposefully towards a dead tree at the edge of the field.

Beneath it was a pile of rubbish left from the demolition of the terraces; broken brick, crisp wrappers and other assorted crap. A stubby, grey steel scaffolding pole that was amongst the detritus caught his eye. He lent forward slowly and gripped it with intent. The crusting stalagmites of blood in his nose heated and his heart pounded harder with every footstep as he headed back towards the object.

Once he reached the object again, he stopped and looked hard at it once more, willing it to reveal something, to give it a chance to redeem itself.

As he heard the cars streaming past behind him once again on Upper Parly, he smiled wide and manically, raised the scaffolding pole high above his head and brought it crashing down on ‘Playground in a New Media Universe’.

Avatar of Kenn Taylor

Kenn Taylor

Kenn Taylor is a Liverpool based arts project manager and writer with a particular interest in community, culture and the urban enviroment. For much more information about Kenn's fiction writing, journalism and numerous community arts projects visit http://kenntaylor.wordpress.com. A separate site - http://urbantransitionuk.wordpress.com - is dedicated to Kenn's work around culture, cities and regeneration.

The South End

November 26, 2012 in A WONDROUS SPACE, LIVERPOOL, Wondrous Cities

Toxteth Library

Liverpool is a city of extremes and contrasts. One of these is the division that runs through the city from North to South. It may be often overplayed or misunderstood, but nevertheless, it exists in the consciousness of the city.

The traditional view goes that North Liverpool is the authentic ‘Scouse’ part of the city. Based on the area that fans out from the (in)famous Scotland Road and a population descended in the main from Irish immigrants, it is known as a place of docks, pubs, ‘angels with dirty faces’ children, and all those other pre-war clichés that form part of the identity of the city.

South Liverpool meanwhile is known for generally being the more ethnically diverse party of the city, especially Toxteth and wider ‘Liverpool 8’. It is also known as the place of students. Liverpool University has had halls in the area since the 1930s while Liverpool Hope University, once a teacher training college, and the original Liverpool School of Art on Hope Street, now the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, are all in the vicinity. The South End’s relative proximity to the Everyman and Unity Theatres and Philharmonic Orchestra Hall also contributes to it being seen as the land of the ‘arty types’.

However, as with anything the reality is much broader. The southern part of the city stretches from the suburbs of Allerton, the river views of Cressington, the village atmosphere of Woolton and the docklands of Dingle and Garston to the housing estates of Halewood and Speke and their nearby modern industry, including car factories, pharmaceutical plants and the city’s airport, to the ‘Boho’ strip of Lark Lane and Toxteth, most notorious for its 1981 riot, but an area with a much longer and richer history. Toxteth was for hundreds of years a Royal hunting park, and its large amount of green space still attests to this. When the area was developed it became home to the city’s ‘Merchant Princes’, resident in its many grand Georgian and Victorian houses, and later became arguably one of the first multi-cultural areas of the UK due to the city’s sea connections, long before the mass immigration in Post War Britain.

For my week of curating ‘A Wondrous Place’, I’ve chosen take South Liverpool as my focus. I’ve lived in the South Central area for several years now in a few different places and hope the following posts will cast a little look at the vicinity. Its locations, contrasts and contradictions have inspired a fair bit of my writing over the years, both fiction and journalism. The following posts will all be fiction and just an attempt to capture something of the reality of the area, but something of its unreality as well. They are of course just a few perspectives inspired from a few years of walking around these areas, there are many more besides.

Having planned to do a fiction-led week of curation it was pleasing serendipity that last week’s curator, Sarah-Clare Conlon, asked me:

“Which Liverpool literary figure and library would you point us towards?”

Which also fits in very nicely with my plans to look at the South End.

The library I will point you towards is Toxteth Library, my local branch. A fine building, it sits just beneath the looming sandstone bulk of Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral, the largest cathedral in the UK and 6th largest in the world. The Cathedral is absolutely huge and well worth the few pounds it costs to go up in the lift and see the view from the tower. The library is also just up the hill from another local landmark, the Cains Brewery. One of the few Victorian breweries still in operation in the UK, its steam often gives a romantic hue to Liverpool’s rich Irish Sea skies and periodically makes the whole area smell of Weetabix.

Toxteth Library

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The library itself was recently refurbished after a National Lottery grant. The Grade II listed building originally opened in 1902. It was a Carnegie library, one of several in Liverpool and hundreds around the world.  These were paid for by Andrew Carnegie, the Scottish American steel magnate who also paid for New York’s Carnegie Hall. He funded libraries all over the UK on the proviso that local authorities would run them. He must be turning in his grave with the recent cutbacks.

A mural hidden from view for more than 50 years was revealed during the refurbishment. The artwork, known as the Lunette, a neo-classical depiction of knowledge being handed down by the Gods of Culture, had darkened with age and become obscured. The 28ft long, 8ft high mural by W Alison Martin and Clinton Balmer was originally unveiled in 1903 after being exhibited in the city’s Walker Art Gallery.

During the restoration, other features of the library such as the original sash windows and radiators were revamped. New study areas, meeting rooms, a refreshment area and a new basement space for community activities and performances were also opened along with Wi-Fi Internet access being provided throughout.

Toxteth Library also features one of the largest collections of Chinese literature in the city, reflecting the library’s close proximity to Liverpool’s Chinatown, which is Europe’s oldest. The library is worth a visit if you’re in the vicinity and, with a thousand people using it every week, represents how local libraries can still be relevant to local communities even in a multimedia age.

Sadly, Liverpool 8’s other library, Edge Hill Library on Lodge Lane at the other end of Upper Parliament Street, was closed last year as part of UK government cuts. It was the last segment of a complex that once also included a swimming pool and a public ‘wash house’ that represented the best of civic facilities that was once provided for communities across the UK. Hopefully it will find a new community use and there are tentative plans for the Liverpool Carnival Company to take over the building.

This brings me to the local author I will write about. Liverpool in literary terms is perhaps best known for its playwrights and screenwriters (Bleasdale, Russell, McGovern, Cottrell-Boyce) and poets (McGough, Henri, Patten). However it also has a rich vein of novelists, ranging from horror masters such as Clive Barker and Ramsay Campbell to children’s author Bryan Jacques and Booker-prize nominee Beryl Bainbridge.

Another contemporary addition, Niall Griffiths, was born in 1966 on Wendell Street, a stones throw from Lodge Lane, Liverpool 8. Griffiths was born to a family part of Liverpool’s historic Welsh community. Later they moved to the Netherley Estate further out of the city before emigrating to Australia.

They returned after a few years to live in nearby Wirral. Griffiths then spent many years moving between Liverpool and Aberystwyth in Wales, between periods of study, work and partying at the height of rave culture. After abandoning his MA at Aberystwyth University, he wrote his first novel, Grits, which looked the lives of a group of young people in the Welsh town. Subsequently he wrote several more critically acclaimed and award-winning novels set in either Liverpool or Wales and often journeying between both. Intense, dark, unflinching and often at the same time funny, his books look at people on the margins of contemporary society whilst also going deeper to question often the very nature of existence.

One of his novels, Kelly + Victor, has just been made into a film and is due to be released some time in the next year. I highly recommend you check both his books and the film out.

 

 

Avatar of Kenn Taylor

Kenn Taylor

Kenn Taylor is a Liverpool based arts project manager and writer with a particular interest in community, culture and the urban enviroment. For much more information about Kenn's fiction writing, journalism and numerous community arts projects visit http://kenntaylor.wordpress.com. A separate site - http://urbantransitionuk.wordpress.com - is dedicated to Kenn's work around culture, cities and regeneration.