The penultimate day of my little adventure, spent with Fran, who lives in a house directly beneath Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral and who spends her days (employed by Mission in the Economy) among the retailers and regenerators of the city centre. So we had a good walk around a city which changes by the minute, and soaked in the complexity of it all.
In the Cathedral precincts: gates which lock outsiders out and residents in at night, something Fran can’t (and hopefully won’t) get used to, something based on a misguided notion of what makes public places safe ... surely that’s not going to be an absence of people?
Down Seel Street: the site of a new apartment block, where earlier this year one of our many Polish builders lost his life when a crane collapsed.
At what used to be the Methodist Central Hall, Renshaw Street: a goth paradise! A place I’ve been in many times for concerts and conventions, which was sold off in the nineties, became a nightclub for a while, and has now become the ‘new’ Quiggins, Liverpool’s ‘alternative’ marketplace. This ex-worship arena is an ideal place for it: underneath the (probably still playable) great organ are people selling t-shirts announcing IF JESUS RETURNS... WE’LL KILL HIM AGAIN (which is true, we would); underneath the glorious central dome, outlets are retailing lights and crystals and many other aids to people’s nascent spirituality.
Inside Lewis’s: the story of another store which has reimagined itself; cut loose from its original owners, now the vast department store which was once the city’s flagship, is filling with willing franchisees selling quality goods to quality people (like Fran and me, of course, though we didn’t, ahem, buy anything there today).
Down Ranelagh Street to the crazy massive building site which is The Paradise Project, an inversion of the city centre by the Duke of Westminster’s Grosvenor group whereby the riverside edge of the city will become the new focus for retail activity (causing the perfectly named Joe Edge, director of the Albert Dock, to gush wrongly but tellingly the other day, “We are slap bang in the middle of everything.”) Fran and I have mixed feelings about all this but we’re polite to the lady in the Paradise Project shop as she talks us through the scale model of the new city centre, and we move on helpfully when asked by security men at the gates to the vast new Debenhams site. Astonishing to see something of such scale and ambition spring to life; concerning to consider what it may do to the rest of the city’s retailers, and whether the ‘gated’ mindset will overrule any civic spirit amongst those who will take up residence here next year.
Along School Lane, one of our oldest and loveliest thoroughfares which has been for many months a mess of machinery and manic concrete-cutting activity. In the window of the shop where I bought my hair clippers, a sign reads,
THE OWNER OF McMURROUGH LTD WOULD LIKE IT TO BE KNOWN THAT, DESPITE THE BEST EFFORTS OF LIVERPOOL CITY COUNCIL, GROSVENOR HOLDINGS AND VARIOUS BUILDING CONTRACTORS TO MAKE HIS PREMISES INACCESSIBLE TO HIS CUSTOMERS, HE WILL BE TRADING FROM 35 SCHOOL LANE FOR THE NEXT TEN YEARS. THANK YOU TO ALL MY LOYAL AND CONCERNED CUSTOMERS FOR THEIR ONGOING SUPPORT AND BUSINESS.My journey (nearly through now) reaches a significant point as we cross beneath the great River Mersey by train, take time for a good cup of tea in the wondrous heritage building of Birkenhead’s Woodside ferry terminal, and have a long conversation ranging over many things pertaining to how and why a city reinvents itself, and when it does what happens to the goths and the skateboarders (our prime concerns). And then, as the light began to fade: the iconic, emotional, unfailingly splendid journey back over the water to Liverpool.
We chose to end our day like this for a view of the new waterfront, filling up with speculative apartment blocks and skyscraper hotels, the Liverpool Echo Arena (whose shape and form I really like) and the beginnings of the new Museum of Liverpool Life. In this scene The Liver Buildings still stands out, but Our Lady and St Nicholas seems to be shrinking beneath tasteless unimaginative residential towers. It’s the new Liverpool. Hallelujah. It’ll be different again in twenty years time.