The 93 To Netherley

The 93 to Netherley

Has a secret history

A tale of tall topography

And mythic, beautiful vales

The 93 to Netherley

Corners oh so cleverly

Reverses slow and carefully

To disguise its hidden trails

The 93 to Netherley

Is fuelled by blood and alchemy

To navigate this territory

With all that that entails

The 93 to Netherley

Is something only I can see

Invisible to humanity

Until our eyesight fails


The Eight Towers

She drives. She drives cautiously. She drives carefully. She drives with no radio or CD on, nothing to distract her.  She parks her car in the car park of the Cuerdley Cross. She usually comes here when there are few people about, more often than not at weekends, early morning before regulars or passing trade arrives. Today though, there’s a young couple sat on the wooden bench watching their toddler play on the plastic slide in the kiddy’s play area. She is used to the strange looks she gets as she crouches low to the ground and aims her lens high to capture the brooding beauty of the nearby cooling towers, casting long shadows over this solitary pub.

She wasn’t going to come here today but on her way to work, she glanced over the river, as she does every day and the conditions were perfect. She’d been waiting almost a year for light like this; a low leaden sky, a sky that hinted at storms to come, had gathered above the power station. A silver sun hung low in the clouds, like a flattened coin, as if a hole had been punctured in the fabric of the universe showing what lay beyond physics, beyond imagination. She knew she’d have to get up close, as close as she could get without going through the rigmarole of requesting permission to actually get inside the perimeter fencing. The car park of the Cuerdley Cross pub was as about as close as you could get without a high-vis jacket and a laminated pass from the folk at Scottish & Southern Energy.

She’d also take a few shots from her usual vantage point on Wigg Island, directly opposite on the southern shore of theMerseyif she had time. Her speck by the picnic tables on this reclaimed piece of industrial wasteland gave some continuity to her work. Same spot, every week for the past four years. Same view, same angle, same focus, different conditions. She hoped that this strange morning light would last till eleven, when her shift at the local supermarket finished. The deli counter, hair net, white overall…

“Number 183”

“Number 184”

“Number 185”

…..her mind always on the weather outside. Coming out of the shop, the weather was still similar, although a little gap in the clouds had appeared to the east which threatened to ruin the atmosphere if she didn’t get over there quickly. She drove straight across the bridge in her battered Nissan, along the expressway, past the container yards, past Sammy’s  scrap mountain, a huge mound of rusting scrap metal that strangely never seemed to get any higher or lower but just remained at a constant height. Past the almost comical ThermPhos factory with its corrugated  iron skin, a child’s crude drawing of a factory come to life. She’d photographed this too, especially at night when its windows glowed phosphorous yellow. Past the derelict DIY stores and the forlorn car lots and on towards Fiddler’s Ferry.

Such an incongruous name for a power station, she always thought; ‘Fiddler’s Ferry.’  Sounded more like some twee sixties folk band than an enormous coal consuming Moloch. When she was a little girl her mum told her that it was a castle and sometimes the queen stayed there. She’d believed this and repeated it in school one day much to the amusement of one of the teachers who humiliated her in front of the whole class. They’d stuck with her those humiliations, those taunts, always the butt of some joke or other, whether that of other kids, teachers, dinner ladies or even strangers…..

‘Ginger nut’ 

Her red hair, a genetic inheritance from her mum’s side, the Noones, marked her and her sister out as objects of ridicule and scorn.

‘Ginger nut fell in the cut’

She was not ‘strawberry blond’  or ‘Titian red’ she was fucking ginger; thick, curly copper hair allowed to grow wild and bush-like as kids.

‘Ginger nut fell in the cut and frightened all the fishes.’

She begged for her mum to cut it short but it was as if she’d wanted them to get bullied. It had gone almost white now. The odd trace of the old colour around the ears and the tips, the school photos hidden away still, away from the lads’ mates and anyone else who came inside their house and felt fit to mock her for her hair colour and her freckles and her wonky ponytails. Luckily her two had inherited their dad’s dark hair DNA.

She still believes that Fiddlers Ferry is a castle of sorts, a castle that guards the river, that provides protection and sustenance, keeps them warm and safe from the elements. Fuck Harlech, fuckWindsor; this is truly impressive. This wasn’t built to withstand the Welsh or the Saxons or the Vikings, to preserve the lords and their stolen lands, this was built for everybody, this is a democratic structure.  

She walks past the couple who look on silently and glance at each other, angles her lens to get a closer shot, right in the shadow of the towers, ensuring that their child is in the foreground. She takes a few shots, steps back, bends down again. Takes a few more. From this position the towers are almost  invisible, each tiny brick clearly defined, brick against brick, brick on top of brick, bricks curling elegantly in a form unknown to the Greeks or the Moors.  Behind her she hears the woman whisper to the man. The man, a tall lad in his late twenties, stands up and walks over to his son, takes him by the hand and shoots her a suspicious look. She smiles at him but he doesn’t smile back.

‘Come on son’ he says and they walk inside the pub. She’s had similar reactions in the past and will usually explain to people what she’s doing and they’re usually fine with it. Sometimes though, she can’t be arsed explaining, justifying it. It’s only a few photographs for God’s sake and if there are any humans involved it’s only to provide a sense of scale, a juxtaposition of some kind. She’s not interested in people. Not in her art at least. She’s interested in structures, especially industrial structures, buildings designed, not to flatter the egos of architects or pay homage to unseen Gods but for necessity, to make things, to produce things; petrol and chlorine and fertiliser and electricity; things people actually need. She hates the Greenpeace lot, the Friends Of The Earth brigade, always moaning about pollution, as if they could all survive in some romantic medieval dreamworld.

She had never been a big fan of churches or cathedrals because these buildings celebrated man not God and God didn’t need celebrating anyway. Fuck Westminster Abbey, fuck Chartres; this is truly magnificent. This is Holy. Fiddler’s Ferry’s dimensions were massive, not in a boastful way but by necessity, its towers are no Nimrod exercises in self-aggrandisement, of poking the pride of primitive and vindictive Gods but built to a scale that would allow their by-product to float off into the ether, or at least to Warrington. She marvelled at how one structure had come to embody so many emotions in her life. After all, what was it? An electricity factory, that’s all.

She finds it strange that a pub would place a play area so close to the power station but, then again, the pub and the village would’ve been there for ages before the power station. A few thin drops of rain splash onto her face and she takes another ten or so shots, tries to capture the sky as best she can before switching to black and white and taking another twenty or thirty from different positions. This is why she loves digital technology. It has made it far easier to simply take shot after shot without worrying about costly film, an important consideration for someone like her. Yet the purists say it has diluted the craft of their medium, their ‘art’ too. Her ‘hobby’ as her husband dismissively calls it. Photography isn’t her ‘hobby’ it’s her passion. He liked her having her own thing, something to do in her spare time but in truth, he didn’t understand this strange obsession with power stations and pipes and chimneys she had. He liked photos of fields and lakes and trees and  all that shite. Granada Reports send-us-your-photos shite! Twiddle-dee-dee shite! That’s not for her. Here is the meat and bones of the matter; bricks and smoke and shit and noise.

She’s got her first exhibition coming up in three weeks. She’d entered a local photography competition on the theme of local heritage and even though she’d never considered herself a serious photographer and thought they’d never go for her leftfield view on heritage – industrial heritage – she’d won it. The prize was a new state of the art Canon digital camera with a fancy lens and tripod worth about a grand plus an exhibition of her work at the Brindley Centre down the old town. She was calling her exhibition ‘Eternal Delight’ after a Blake quote she’d come across ; ‘Energy is eternal delight’ and even though she knew Blake didn’t have Fiddler’s Ferry in mind but that restless human desire for creativity, nevertheless she felt it was a good title, a fitting title for her twenty five shots of Fiddler’s Ferry from different angles, in different weather at different times.

In bright sunlight with only the faintest whisp of vapour escaping from the tips of the funnels, in late winter with huge, billowing clouds merging as one with the sky, in early spring with mist on the Mersey making it shimmer in the distance like some ancient desert citadel, in mid summer with oil slick shadows falling across the river. From behind trees as if shamefully hiding from the world and in total darkness with only the eight red lights of the central chimney visible, a warning to passing planes en route to John Lennon airport.

Shots taken from Bold Heath on one side of the Mersey across flat, rutted fields, looming ominously in the winter dawn and taken from Kingsley on the other side of the river, out over the Cheshire plain with just the very top of the cooling towers and central chimney visible over the horizon as another spring evening turned the sky a purple blue. Taken in Daresbury to the east with the cooling towers re-aligned in a different formation, the central complex and the weird space shuttle launcher tower set back at a distance from the two sets of four towers and taken by the bingo hall where they seem to form part of the shopping centre itself. Her favourite was the one she took on the footpath over the Runcorn bridge so that the steeple from All Saints church replaced the central chimney to make the power station look like some strange sci-fi cathedral. The Eight Towers!

She’d never heard of Fiddlers Ferry referred to as ‘The Eight Towers’ before they built a pub up by the big roundabout in Widnes by this name. She liked it though, it sounded not only factual, but also folkloric, like a Walter Scott or a Tolkien story. Kind of medieval, in keeping with its castle like qualities. Ever since she could remember The Eight Towers had been there looming in the distance from their small, squat bungalow on Castlefields. Its presence provided some kind of comfort, some vague sense of continuity to her life, their lives. They’d moved to the sprawling Castlefields estate from Liverpool when she was seven, in 1974 and even though the power station had only just been built, she assumed it had been there for ages, for ever. A new life in a new town that wasn’t even new and was far from the rural idyll promised to her mam and dad. Flanked by the giant ICI complexes of Castner Kelner and Rocksavage at one end of the town and the various chemical factories of  Widnes and Warrington across the river, their new home on their new estate quickly resembled just another slum. Yet, even as a kid she’d sit for hours on the landings of the flats watching the sun set over this cancerous landscape. Fiddler’s Ferry dominated her topography and her dreams.  

In 84 one of the cooling towers collapsed in high winds and she became physically ill. It troubled her and she didn’t understand why. She couldn’t really rationalise it or explain it to anyone. It sounded mad. As if the landscape of her life only made sense with all eight towers standing. Yet when the Twin Towers fell on 911, she began to understand herself a little better. We need our buildings to provide stability, familiarity, to place us in time, to root us to the land, to each other. When things are removed, when they collapse or burn down, or are bombed, when they are destroyed by nature or man, when very big things like skyscrapers and power stations come tumbling down, we are reminded of or own frailty, our flimsy attachment to the universe. At least that’s the best explanation she could come up with and it did make a certain kind of sense and it consoled her a little.       

She returns to her car, sits in the front seat and looks at the fifty or so shots she’s just taken. There are four or five that she really likes. One or two will maybe make the cut once she’s printed them off and placed them with the thirty or so she’s whittled down from three or four hundred in this series. She doesn’t print that many off as it’d be far too expensive. She only takes home seventy quid a week as it is, three hours every morning Monday to Friday, the odd Saturday if it’s offered. She refuses to work Sunday, not because she’s religious but because she regards it as a basic human right to have one day per week dedicated to something other than earning or spending money.

And Billy’s not on good money, not since they moved half to factory over to Poland and the rest of the lads had to take pay cuts to save their jobs. He wasn’t on a decent take home to begin with, only his shift allowance and the odd bit of ovies paying for the occasional luxury; a holiday now and then for them and the lads. Only camping but they enjoyed it; Wales, the Lake District, they did Cornwall once. The lads loved Cornwall, wanted to move there, so they could go surfing. Even Billy was half considering it, reckoned he could get work far easier in Falmouth or Truro than round here. She wouldn’t entertain it though. The countryside freaked her out after a few days. She didn’t like the quiet, the darkness, the smells, the people. She only felt comfortable with the noise, the fumes, the stink of home, of a town, of a city. She felt safe here.

She has the twenty five needed already sorted in her mind. Imagines how they’ll hang in the gallery of the Brindley. Hopes they’ll go down well but is also a bit unsure and nervous that they won’t regard her as a ‘professional’, whatever that is, whoever ‘they’ are. She doesn’t know anyone who actually makes a living from photography and even though digitalisation has opened the art form up to millions of ordinary people just like her, there’s still this snobbery around. She doesn’t know what makes a good photograph, she doesn’t study it, she doesn’t theorise about it. It’s entirely instinctive with her. You get these ponces from the photography societies and the media who go on and on about composition and rules but she took no notice. She knew at once if one of her shots worked or not. She never changes a photograph once it’s taken, never crops them, photoshops them, fucks about with what was actually there, what she actually saw. She despises people who do that, who are cheating yet call it ‘enhancing’. It’s like all those airbrushed family portraits that hang in vainglorious front rooms. Who are they fooling?

She’s not very good at explaining herself and her ideas and she gets nervous in front of posh people, clever people, people who want answers, demand answers. It reminds her of school. Of being teased and tormented and treated like an idiot and she isn’t an idiot. She has ideas. She has skills. TALENT. It’s all there in her work.  She’s reluctantly written a bit of a thing to go with the photos, got her mate Andrea to proof read it for spelling and grammar and she’s pleased with it, she thinks it gets over why she thinks The Eight Towers is a worthy subject for an exhibition based around heritage but she doesn’t want to be explaining it all night, why should she? She thinks she needs to get more assertive, just wants to say ‘just look at the fucking photographs and decide for yerself.’

She thinks they’ll sneer at her.

‘Ginger nut’

They’ll walk around and nod and wink at each other. They’ll pretend they like it and then take the piss behind her back and embarrass her in front of her family. In front of her mam. In front of her sister. In front of her husband. In front of her kids. She wishes she’d never won that fucking competition now. She feels sick. Bricks and smoke and shit and noise.

‘Ginger nut fell in the cut..

She drives out of the car park and back along into Widnes, past the Eight Towers pub, down past the derelict B&Q and Homebase stores and the comical Thermphos factory, past Sammy’s scrap mountain and the container yards and onto the bridge. She turns on the radio. She speeds up. She drives carelessly, she drives erratically. She comes off at Astmoor towards Wigg Island so she can take a few more shots by the picnic table, her usual speck.  Same view, same angle, same focus, different conditions. She stops at the red light by the Old Quay swing bridge. The ‘Long Delay’ lights over the Manchester Ship Canal onto Wiggsy’s. She’d chanced it once, drove onto the bridge when the light was on red and met a huge lorry delivering cement coming the other way. She panicked and stalled the car. Just sat there as the lorry driver beeped his horn and swore at her. She froze completely. A fellar walking his dog had to intervene, had to reverse her car back to the lights so the lorry could get past. So now she waits for the green light. Now she waits for her real life to begin. She feels faint. She breathes deeply. She almost pukes. She messes with her hair, her ginger going grey curly fucking hair.

‘Ginger nut fell in the cut and frightened all the fishes.’

Navvy Chic

I used this photo for the first fanzine I did, ‘Hang Loose’ back in the late 80s. Growing up in Runcorn, the Ship Canal (The Cut) has always figured large in our collective iconography and the landscape of the town itself has largely been shaped by the Bridgewater and Manchester Ship Canals. Many of us are descendants of the ‘navigators’ or ‘navvies’ who cut the canal and so an interest in the navvy way of life, not only their unique fashions and propensity for brawling but their political and social mores has carried on over a century later. Here are some boss photos of Manny Ship canal navvies at work and play.  

And this is an excerpt from Dick Sullivan’s ‘Navvyman’ published in 1983 by Coracle Press. The riots described may place recent shennanigans into context. Where there are groups of men, boredom and mind altering substances in one place then violence is bound to follow.  

In 1904 I was at Tidworth, building the barracks. You had to be per fumigated before you could start work there and we lodged in Brimstone Bottom. A navvy was killed in the summer-shot in the Ram public house.

(‘Mates!’ cried Mrs Garnett, ‘don’t cross a threshold red with blood!’)

Tidworth, an Imperial Army town, is in the valley of the Bourne, a seasonally wet/seasonally dry tributary of the Salisbury Avon. Every day while the town was being built, the Ram brimmed with drinking navvies, milling and swillicking ale by the bucket in what is now the car park bounded by the brook. Then, one humid morning late that hot summer, work was rained off, and they packed in even tighter.

All morning there was an undertow of violence. A half-blind navvy called McHann engaged in brief pointless fights with barmen and the landlord. The landlord, Arthur Thomas, was uneasy all the time — he carried a navvy-stopping pistol to bank his takings — and that afternoon he closed the taps early. He was counting money at the till when Jukes, a barman, came in dirty from his last fight with McHann. A pewter pot broke a window. Angry men with blood on their faces threatened to dynamite the place. Thomas locked the doors and ran upstairs. ‘I’ve got this for you bastards’, he called from a bedroom window, showing them the navvy-stopper before firing, twice. Jukes followed with a double-barrelled shot-gun which he steadied on the window-sill. Some unknown navvy — possibly McHann — flung a pewter pot which hit the gun barrel, fired the gun, and killed a middle-aged Norfolk man called Shaw (or Sharpe, accounts differ) leaning against a tree, now gone, by the river.

‘I’m pleased you’ve come,’ Thomas told the police when they [124/125] came. ‘You can see how I’m situated.’ Outside was a litter of dented pewter and broken glass. ‘I thought they’d smash up the bally show.’ He was taken, cigarette in mouth and fingers, to Pewsey jail in a brougham.

Thomas and Jukes were freed, their trial stopped half-way through. With them there ended a long, long trail of riot, murder, random bloodshed and mass multi-navvy brawls dating back to the eighteenth century. All public works were blood soaked. Blood dripped, spurted, trickled or just steadily flowed, mainly from accidents, but also from knees, knuckles, hobnail boots, spades and pick helves. Violence was everywhere, casually vicious.

Rioting was endemic in eighteenth and early nineteenth century Britain in any case. The upper classes were callous, the lower were riotous. People rioted against new machinery and the price of grain, for Parliamentary democracy, against the price of theatre tickets. In the summer of 1795 canal navvies joined bread rioters, unhappy at the price of corn, near Barrow-on-Soar in the Quorn hunting country. A volley ot musket balls stopped them, some of them for good. ‘The brown bread was very good,’ said the Gentleman’s Magazine ‘but this, it should be recollected, was among that newly created, and so wantonly multiplied set of men, the diggers and conductors of navigations.’

On top of that, navvy rioting was often a kind of revenge by people who felt outside the law and outside society. ‘Us behaves to folks according as they behave to us,’ a man once told Anna Tregelles. ‘Tell the navvy dogs the lock-up’s too good for them and us’ll rampage for the fun of giving them the trouble of putting us there.’

On top of that, navvies were often wild men doing hard jobs, hardened by death and calamity all around them. They were also men who lived by their strength and gloried in it. Fighting was a semi-organised sport with them. (Prize-fighting, in fact, was the national sport in the days of the canal men.) In 1805 Ned the Navigator fought and killed Sam Elseworth, butcher, behind the Ben Jonson’s Head in Stepney. Men building the Redmires dam near Sheffield in the 18305 fought in a meadow, still called The Fighting Field, behind the Three Merry Lads. Prize fighting was the Sunday pastime on the Long Drag, and spontaneous rings of men formed wherever navvies were idle. There was even a style of boxing called Toe-the-Line, the rules of which were simple — you faced each other across a line scratched in [125/126] the dirt and took it in turns to fist-hit each other’s head. You couldn’t defend yourself: each in turn was an open target.

At the Llangyfellach tunnel there was a bloke what they called Toe-the-Lme. He used to work all day, stay in a pub till throwing out time, then go and sleep outside on the grass winter and summer. He was a quiet bloke until somebody hit him. He never knew he could fight a fore that.

But even given the tendency to violence, must riots had specific causes. Irishmen to begin with were the common factor in nearly a third of them, either because they undercut wages, because of religion, or because of the resentments between people of different cultures. Drink was a cause of many riots and a factor in most. Tension between navvies and the police caused trouble — not so much full-scale rioting, perhaps, as small-scale affrays in which the police were often badly damaged. A lot of navvies were themselves part-time criminals (if only as poachers and food-thieves) happy to make public works into ready-made hideaways for full-time delinquents.

‘Well, you see,’ a navvy once told Anna Tregelles, ‘it’s one of the ways of the line never to suffer a police to pick a chap off the work: and maybe now there’s a dozen or more on ’em up there,’ he went on, pointing along the unmade railway, ‘as wouldn’t know but the police was after they; so they’d all set on ‘en, and do for ‘en pretty quick.’

(Army deserters were sometimes hidden too — not always successfully. A gunner, recaptured on the Beckenham line in the 1850s, was sent back to his regiment with ‘D’ for Deserter branded on his chest.)

Their Betters were not above using their lawlessness, either, when it suited them. During the 1796 Parliamentary elections, for instance, Lancaster canal cutters were recruited by Lord Stanley’s agent to intimidate the opposition. Any heavies would have done and navvies were heavier than most. ‘We are going on very ill with the work in their neighbourhood,’ grumbled the canal engineer, ‘Not a man has been at work since the Canvassing began &. I doubt it will be the case as long as the Election continues.’

(A clutch of Peto’s men started a riot when he stood for Parliament as a Liberal in Norwich in 1847. They turned up, loyally [126/127] cheering, outside his committee rooms as the polling booths closed. Somebody from a rival party threw a stone. The riot ran into the market square where a gang of navvies, outnumbered, hid in the Cattle Market Hotel. Windows fragmented, mirrors splintered, a man’s scalp was gashed open. Peto won, too.)

Navvying’s last thirty years were riot-free, the first thirty were probably riotous, but the in-between years were like bomb-bursts, particularly during the manias of the 1790s, 1840s, 1860s.

What seems to be one of the earliest recorded canal riots broke out casually in 1794 on the Hereford and Gloucester. Police were assaulted and a navvy called Dyer was arrested. (Perhaps the same Dyer who’d been fired a few months earlier for the idle way he and his men fed Mr Carne’s Machine at the Oxenhall tunnel.) Other cutters were jailed for felony. It was ugly enough to stir the canal committee into paying to have them prosecuted as an example and a terror to the rest. The committee, after all, hoped to live profitably with an unalienated countryside once the navvies had gone. Next year there was a riotous affray, rather than a riot, on the Dearne and Dove about which we know little except it was quickly put down when the ringleaders were snatched. The cavalry, though called out, was never used. Some canal riots seem to have been against authority, others came out of a fellow-feeling with the down-trod, like the time in March 1795 when diggers from the Leicester and Northampton Union attacked a column of the Leicester Fencibles as they escorted a couple of deserters back to town. The deserters deserted again while the Volunteer Cavalry coralled the cutters in the Recruiting Sergeant, a pub in Newton Harcourt, where pike-armed navvies stood at bay, blocking the doors, until the horse soldiers winkled them out with sabres. Among the people arrested were Red Jack and Northamptonshire Tom, ‘two fellows,’ said the Leicester Journal, ‘notorious for being a terror to every country they have resided in.’

Given a choice of fines or jail, the rioters — like most navvies — went inside. Others were offered jail or the Navy.

Some years later, in 1811, a disagreeable shopkeeper in Sampford Peverel was enough to start a riot on the Grand Western in mid- Devon. It’s probably true to say most navvies detested shopkeepers as mean and unmanly creatures and this particular one, called Chave, they found particularly despicable. He had recently bought a shop with a sitting tenant living above it. To scare him away, [127/128] Chave hired a ‘ghost’ to rattle chains and beat drums next door. At dusk one evening in April, the day of Sampford’s yearly cattle market, some navvies who had been idle and drinking for three days spotted Chave on his way home. They followed, jeering all the way, then threw stones at his house. His wife shot a man dead, and hurt another. ‘It’s impossible,’ said the Taunton Courier, ‘not to feel the deepest abhorrence for the proceedings of a savage ungovernable banditti, whose ferocious behaviour we hope will be visited by the heaviest punishment of the law.’

Next year, navvies who were straightening, deepening and widening the River Witham, rioted because a baker cheated them at a pub called the Plough, below Lincoln. They ousted the Plough’s landlord, drank his ale, stole his sign, took the baker’s basket and crossed the river to march on Bardney, armed with cutting tools. One man carried another man carrying the inn sign. In Bardney they threw bread (his own) at the baker and hung the inn sign in a tree. They stormed the Bottle and Glass, rolled out the barrels, staved in the ends, and wallowed in ale. They robbed the villagers. The village crusher hid in the village almshouses until more constables came from Horncastle. One was killed. The Riot Act was read and cavalry, jangling, herded the navvies together. Farm carts carried them to jail.

A few years later, in 1829, Joseph Hekekyan Bey, an Armenian engineer, was in the Wirral where navvies were throwing up a sea-wall to protect the end of the peninsula from sea-erosion. Because they belonged nowhere, said Hekekyan Bey, and because there were so many of them, they thought themselves beyond the law. One day they went in a body to Liverpool races where they started beating up the police and public with clubs until a posse of young bloods and merchants’ clerks rounded on them. Navvies were being arrested as far away as Congleton late into the evening.

At one time when people were paid once a month in pubs, what the newspapers called ‘riots’ were routine paroxysms, regular as neap tides, except they were usually nothing more than mass- brawls involving nobody but navvies and not harming them over much. Like the men who spoiled Mrs Garnett’s Christmas in 1881 when they ‘rioted’ in the American Tavern near the Alexandra Dock (which they were building) in Hull. ‘Oh! What a happy day for England, and for us it would be,’ said Mrs Garnett, ‘if this should pass into a proverb, “sober as a navvy”.’ Or like the fight that broke out on the Leeds-Thirsk railway in [128/129] June 1846. Beer selling in the huts was banned because men spent more time drinking than they did working. They got rid of the drink by drinking it. Drinking it got them drunk. Getting drunk got them fighting, three hundred of them, all mangled together in a meadow of unmown hay on Wescoe Hill in Wharfedale.

One man who was drunk for a week, was stripped by his friends and jumped upon, in fun. ‘Pumping upon him,’ was how the Halifax Guardian put it. After pumping on him a bit, they blacked his naked body with soot and pumped upon him a bit more. They then re-sooted him. By then, though, he was dead.

Against History : Part 1

He walks. He walks every morning. He walks the same route; Top Locks to Bates’s bridge and back. About three or four miles all in all. It takes him about two hours at his usual plodding pace. He walks to distract himself. He walks to forget yet in attempting to forget, all he does is remember. He sees ghosts. He hears voices. The ghosts of his youth. The voices of the dead. Sees things as they used to be, as they never will be again, back when the Bridgewater Canal was bustling with narrow whackers loading and unloading their goods at Top Locks. He walks through history, he hears his grandparents…

 William John Nolan. Born 1901.

Anne Margaret Jones. Born 1900.

Alfred Thomas Palin. Born 1898.

Hannah Darlington. Born 1904.

He walks as if they walk with him. He walks as if they are guiding him. They point out the old shops;

 Ahab Sayle’s butchers

Wiiliam Griffin’s chandlers

Isaac Speakman’s chemist

Franklin Goforth’s wine merchants

Grice & Sons saddlers

Eliza Brimelow’s fishmongers

Arthur Riley’s bakery

George Parkinson’s barber shop

Ellwood Smith’s tea merchants

And all the old pubs….

 The George Inn

The Barrel

The Wheatsheaf

The Nelson

The Holyhead Harbour

The Stanley Arms

The Queen’s Head

The Derby Arms

All gone now. He walks up Cawdor Street, along Brindley Street, under the arches of the railway bridge and through the subway where the Welsh Chapel used to be and up onto the towpath, opposite the Waterloo, where they film Two Pints Of Lager. He watched the first episode out of curiosity just because it was filmed in his hometown, in a pub where he once played for the pool team. He never watched it again. He walks past the RAOB club – The Buffs – where he celebrated his 18th birthday, past Top Locks garage where he used to take his car for repairs, under the bridge approach road where the pigeons shat and squabbled in their filthy recesses. Then a little further up he walks under Doctor’s bridge where he got his first wank, past the now derelict job centre where his mam used to work, past the Scala bingo hall where his ex-wife met her mum for a game every Thursday and Sunday night, a huge gaping hole in its once proud art deco roof. Left to rot, left to the pigeons and the rats. He tries not to think about all these things, tries to bury them under fresh memories but there are no fresh memories with which to displace them. Not now. 

He stops at the Brindley, the fancy new arts centre built with Lottery money, built from exploitation, from need and greed. He never did the lottery, never bought scratch cards, never placed a bet or played the bandit. Never had. He just saw it as another con, another way to part the poor with whatever little money they had. He lights a ciggy. Ghosts. Voices.

The ice has covered the canal in a thin, pock marked skin, the textures forming strange abstract patterns, criss crossed here and there with regularly spaced indentations, too regular to be accidental. They remind him of the raised lumps of flesh on his neck, where the stitches from the bottle wound had been removed. He studies them for a few seconds, follows their apparently random paths and realises they must be footprints. Ducks probably. The ducks always gather here under the footpath bridge waiting for the usual cranks and weirdos to chuck bread for them. He often wonders how they filled the canal, this one, all the canals. Did they re-direct water or pump it from rivers or just let it fill up with rain water?  

There are tree branches and lager cans, pizza and kebab boxes, bottles and bricks on the ice. The weather has been freezing for almost a week now and the weekend revellers and the danger loving kids have left their debris scattered along the cut. He takes a deep drag on his ciggy and watches as the smoke drifts up in a vertical plume above his head, sees it swirl and disperse in the clean, cold air and remembers a time when he still felt connected to this, connected to his family and his friends and his town.  It’s one those mornings, the kind of morning that make you feel, if not exactly ‘glad’ to be alive, then at least glad to have been alive. There’s a solitary strip of cloud in the bright, blue sky, a sky so bright it hurts his eyes. The cloud tapers away in a long, thin spine like the fossilised remains of some long-lost reptile. It’s only on days like this that you notice how many planes there are in the air at one time. He counts four, the cocaine vapour streams crossing here and there and the distant metallic glint of a plane as it catches the sun recalls the times he’d travelled to Spain, to Greece, to the Canaries, with the lads, with his kids. It seems so long ago now. He throws the cigarette onto the ice and feels guilty, adding to the collection of human shit collecting under the bridge. When the ice melts it’ll sink to the bottom and add to the existing layers of mud and shit. Shit and mud. 

He walks on. Under yet another bridge, where the narrow boats are moored; Laughing Tam, White O’Morn, Cheshire Lad, all painted in that quaint, almost childish manner favoured by the boaties. The only time he’d ever been on one of these things was during a school trip when he was nine or ten.

The teacher had explained how the narrow boats were pulled by shire horses and how, when they went through a tunnel, the horses were taken over the bridge and planks had to be placed across the boat. Two people had to lie on these planks either side of the boat and push it along using only their feet against the tunnel walls. Way up the canal, further than he’d ever been, by Preston Brook, the boat went through a long tunnel and they’d all had a go at lying on the planks and pushing it along themselves. It had stuck with him, that dark, silent, musty tunnel, the smell and the heat and the feeling of claustrophobia, of being trapped and it scared him because something told him this was what death felt like. 

He walks to calm himself down. He walks to stop thinking too much about litter, about trash, about trash and litter, the trash and litter of his town, the trash and litter of his life. He passes the man on the bicycle in the Hi-Vis jacket. He passes the man on the bicycle in the Hi-Vis jacket most mornings. He thinks he’s Polish or East European at any rate. There were lots of Poles and East Europeans in the town now. He heard the old ones moan about them, how they even had their own shops but he had no beef with the Poles. They kept themselves to themselves. They were only trying to make money, trying to raise families. Give the poor fuckers a break. Small-minded people from a small-minded town. You can’t hide in a small town. Everyone wants to know your business, everyone wants to stake a claim on you. There are no secrets in a small town. He knows this from experience.

He always cracks onto him, the man on the bicycle in the Hi-Vis jacket. The man on the bicycle.always half-smiles back but it’s always a hesitant half smile, the kind of smile that says ‘don’t ever try to speak to me.’ Even Poles and East Europeans gave him that look, the same look he got from a lot of people these days. The look that says ‘You’ve lost it!’ but lost what exactly? He could see it in their eyes, that look of contempt, of disgust, of pity, of fear. He didn’t care what they thought, what conclusions they jumped to. It wasn’t that he couldn’t communicate just that he’d given up communicating. Withdrawn into himself and severed every connection with the outside world. What do they know about him, his thoughts, his life?

He turns the bend and notices the thin ice has thawed in the shade of the glass factory’s high, red brick walls. As he walks three moor hens comically fly from the bank and enter the water, thin red legs trailing behind them. In the branches of a birch three four or five magpies squabble, their Battle of Stalingrad rattles ringing out above his head. He hates that sound but likes the sneezing noise moor hens make when they’re alarmed. He’s noticed a rapid increase in their numbers lately. When he was a kid you only saw a few but now they nested all along the bank for miles. Swans too. Moor hens were timid things, ducks would wait until you almost got up to them before nervously waddling into the canal but swans, swans stood their ground and hissed menacingly. As if you were infringing on their fucking turf. He hated swans. You couldn’t eat swans. That’s what his mum told him when he was a kid. Swans belonged to the Queen. Only the Queen could eat swans. He’d always felt a simmering sense of resentment at this culinary elitism. He wanted to eat a swan just to fuck the Queen off. He imagined swans were pretty fucking tasty too, a bit like duck or goose perhaps. There was even a cormorant coming down to the canal. It gave him a sense of hope somehow, to watch this elegant seabird keeping company with the black headed gulls and the mallards and the moor hens and the swans.  

The path narrows at this point and the trees give way to fencing, most of it vandalised and left unrepaired. The busway – a town-wide road reserved for busses once regarded as a modern public transport marvel in the 70s – passes alongside at the intersection with Bridge Street and as he passes the shelter, he hears the excitable chatter of schoolkids waiting for their bus. They’re late. He deliberately walks after they’ve all gone so he doesn’t have any of the usual stuff; the name calling, the ritual humiliations. He’s relieved in a way that his kids, Jay and Laura don’t live here anymore, that they don’t have to see him embarrassed and ridiculed by kids their own age, asking them ‘Is that your dad?” Last week he’d passed an old fellar stood behind the shelter having a piss, at least he thought he was having a piss. He could’ve been having a wank. Either way, the old man thought he couldn’t be seen and he passed him without comment, just another example of a world where self-discipline and self-control meant fuck all. Save your piss, old man, save your spunk till you get to a place with a toilet.

Perhaps he was being unfair. There could be any amount of reasons the old fellar could’ve been caught short. For all he knew the poor bastard could have prostate cancer and there were no public toilets anymore, so what was he supposed to do?  Excuses! He excused the old man just as he excused himself. 

The new so-called ‘luxury’ apartments stand where the Egerton Arms used to be, the Edgey, his first local boozer. Named after Lord Egerton as were many other alehouses in these parts, the man who cut the first sod for the Manchester Ship Canal. Dukesfield, the collection of narrow terraces beyond the old railway bridge where he lived was named after the Duke of Bridgewater. Known as ‘Dukey’ the land belonged to the Duke of Bridgewater or the Duke Of Westminster, Lord fucking Grosvenor, one of those cunts who laid claim to stolen land. All these dukes and lords and kings and queens commemorated in streets and pubs and buildings; they could all fuck right off because no hand can claim ownership over his town, his street, his house, his life.

He was fourteen when he first started bevvying in the Edgey. He looked at least two years younger. He had a quid pocket money and back then a quid bought himself and Fat Sean a pint of bitter each. Sean was three years older than him but younger too in many ways. He’d sneak in the corner of the pool room and Sean would get the ale in and he’d try to sup it before the landlord collared him. Sometimes the older fellars would attempt to shield him, lambast Dave the landlord for lashing him out, they’d taken a shine to him, they admired cheek, they saw their own youth in his eager eyes. Some of them terrified him; Big Pat, the Irish hellraiser, a caricature of the drunken Paddy brawler. Junkie Tony, the rake thin spikey haired John Cooper Clarke lookalike. Spazzy Ann, the old brass with the withered leg. All dead. Long dead. The type of people his ma warned him to avoid but who he always found good company, despite their utter selfishness and devotion to hard boned sensuality. Beer, speed, whiskey, smack, sex, weed; oblivion. Deadening, self-defeating, delicious.

F.A Lake Solicitor, Clerk to the Runcorn Improvement Commissioners.

Richard Lea, Ironmonger.

Thomas Sharrocks, Currier and Leather Dealer.

Thomas Williamson, Grocer & provision dealer.

J.W Woodland, Printer, binder, bookseller, stationer, Newsagent.

George Slater, family and shipping butcher.

Singer Manufacturing Co – Sewing Machines

William Davies Joliffe, Solicitor

Bethesda Congregational – chapel and burial ground

Ellen Stoll, music seller

George Christie, dressmaker

Under Delph Bridge the sandstone slabs and elegantly curved roof provide more shelter for the pigeons, their shit frozen thick along the path. He can hear them croak and flutter yet can’t see them, only the noise and the shit gives their presence away. He touches the pockmarked sandstone blocks and the smooth brickwork. He feels that by touching the stone he can connect to the past, touch the same stones they touched. A woman passed him once as he was feeling the stones and gave him that look. He didn’t care anymore. His body became one with the bridge, his energy and passion locked into the atoms of the iron and rock. It was a physical and a spiritual communion every bit as significant as the taking of the wine and water, not that he’d been to mass for twenty years or more. He walks on. 

On the opposite side of the canal he notices a fresh barrage of lager cans tipped over the side of the wall on Halton Road. Must be a hundred of ‘em, all cascading down the bank and, at the bottom, deflated balloons celebrating somebody’s 40th Birthday hang miserably from the branches of a tree. A pair of mallards swim in between the cans and plot a course between other detritus; a plank, a tyre and, close to the bank, a discarded wheely bin that protrudes through the weeds and water like some strange sea creature coming up for air. He’d seen the heron perched on it during the summer, as if it was some natural platform or resting place.

He’d studied it for at least twenty minutes, watched it as it regally surveyed the murky, grey water for signs of movement. It hadn’t moved from the spot until, startled by a bus beeping at a car across the road, it flew away, its huge wings silently flapping across the roofs. He felt some kind of kinship with this solitary animal and envied its power of flight, its ability to escape. Yet it remained here. He saw it all along the canal, sometimes by Delph Bridge, sometimes further up or down stream. Such a beautiful creature. Of all the places in the world it could fly to, how had it ended up here, amongst this filth? 

He gets all Stalinist about it; get the bastards on work gangs, force them to pick their shit up, clean it all up, dredge the canal, tidy the paths, the bushes, the trees, clear their shit, generation upon generation of shit, layer upon layer of shit. Get them off their bone idle arses, their disgusting litter tipping, tree graffiti-ing arses and beat some civic pride into em. Although he knew that, as someone who’d been on various incapacity benefits for the past seven years, he’d be one of the chain gang himself. He was self-aware enough to know that he was one of the bone-idle, the unemployable, the dead eyed denizens of doctor’s waiting rooms and library internet desks.

Past the Navigation – the Navvy – a pub that once served as his pre-match watering hole, stood as it was next to the old Canal Street football ground, the home of non-league Runcorn AFC. The land had long been sold off to developers for the same old houses, the same old houses that had popped up on every available scrap of land during the past fifteen years or so. Boom-time for the new breed of homeowners, the backbone of New Conservatism, New Labourism, didn’t make any difference to him. Mortgaged up and kept in line, slaves to building societies and interest rate fluctuations. He despised them and, now he wasn’t one of them, his contempt only magnified, fed on itself. These spineless bastards were what he once was, what he perhaps longed to be again if he was being honest. Normality. He craved it yet had settled into a half-life of boredom and prescription paranoia.

We’ve got Barry, Barry, Barry, Barry Howard on the wing, on the wing!

Barry Howard.

Barry Whitbread.

Timmy Rutter.

Stevie Hipwell.

Phil Wilson.

These were his heroes. Not Kenny Dalglish. Not Bob Latchford. Not Stuart Pearson. Not Pele. Not Cruyff. Not Beckenbauer. Timmy Rutter who mowed the grass for the council. Stevie Hipwell who collected rents for the council. Real people, not remote stars.

He’d volunteered to scythe down nettles around the floodlights and the long, weed strewn terraces every Sunday for a few months. He dreamed of one day getting inside the director’s clubhouse above the snackshop behind the goalmouth. That elevated position where the tannoy fellar announced the team and they’d throw bags of ripped up papers in a pathetic yet deliberately ironic  emulation of Argentina’s Stadio Monumental. The ground sloped dramatically in between the Bridgewater and the Manny Ship. At the bottom end of the ground there was no terracing just a patch of grass and soil bounded by a stretch of cheap fencing. During the odd game he and his mates would be distracted by a passing ship, silently sailing up the ship canal to Salford docks or Eastham. When one passed during a night game all you’d see was the eerie glow of the light as it passed and the distant slap of the canal as the water was dragged out under the vessel then the backwash of the waves against the bank. Passing through, always passing through apart from the Guinness Boat that offloaded its precious cargo on Wiggs Island, where they collected the stinking residue in pop bottles to drink in secret dens in the undergrowth. 

Runcorn had won the Northern Premier League back in 76, the same year Wimbledon won the Southern Premier. They almost won promotion into the football league but their ground wasn’t considered good enough even for the old fourth division. Wimbledon went onto win the FA Cup against Liverpool whereas Runcorn faded from once proud non-league champions to struggling nonentities with only the odd FA Cup third round tie or FA Trophy semi final to excite the town every few years.

This town has lived on past glories for too long, glories that aren’t even glorious, just mediocre achievements, half-realised ambitions, mundane aspirations, the drab dreams of just another collection of streets, people and families. He’d bled for this town, defending its honour on those terraces, he’d been bottled, stabbed and slashed in order to protect this abstract notion of community. Maybe to some of his mates it was just macho posturing, working their way up the only power and prestige hierarchies available to them, but for him it went much deeper than that. The glass he took in the Navvy against Northwich, the knives he took at Hartlepool and Stockport, he fought on behalf of the town, on behalf of strangers, a town that polluted him, strangers who despised him. 

He looked across to the old Co-Operative Terrace on the other side of the canal at the end of Halton Road with its year of construction, 1898 boldly imprinted on the brickwork; the Runcorn Co-Operative Society Limited and underneath, above the doorway of the end house more bold lettering; Branch No 3. That end house used to be Aband the angling shop where they’d mooch around before the game. Kenny and Baz were into fishing but he never saw the point of it. They’d buzz off the latest rods, floats even maggots. Which ones to use for perch, bream, the usual smallfry bounty hauled from the Bridgey on their weekend fishing trips. Boarded up now. The Co-Operative Society? What co-operation? What solidarity? It was a myth, it always had been a myth. Thatcher was right ; there is no such as society, just people. People like him. Alone in the world. Alone through circumstance. Alone through choice. Either way, didn’t matter. 

In the nineties, the ground was sold off to developers to pay off debts and the team had to play in Northwich at Witton Albion’s ground until the council allowed them to play over the water in Widnes’s specially built rugby league stadium. The ultimate insult. What is a town without a team? What is a team without a ground? It was depressing, insulting, pathetic and he used to get angry about it. Angry enough to……..he didn’t want to think about it.  

His ancient trainers were getting worn. He needed a new pair. The sole had begun to come away and if it was wet, then his socks soaked up the water and he returned home with a chapped foot. He looked a state, he knew he looked a state and yet that was the least of his worries. At one time he lived for his clothes, spent a fortune on the latest gear. He was well known for it, celebrated even. They all waited to see what new trainers he was wearing, what new labels he’d endorsed and they followed suit. Fucking sheep! Now clothing was purely functional, a shield against the elements, a protective skin against the world. 

 Unsworth Bros – tailoring, special premises, 24 & 26 High St,

 Unsworth Bros – clothing, special department, 47 & 49 High St

 Unsworth Bros – Outfitting, special department, 47 & 49 High St

 Unsworth Bros – Hatters, special department,  47 & 49 High St,

 Unsworth Brothers Hold The Largest Stock In The District

 Samuel Coventry – Practical, Clerical and Livery Tailor; thoroughly shrunk; perfect fitting, latest styles, Most Reasonable Prices.

 W. Blythe – Practical Tailor & Clothier ‘fit and style guaranteed’

A young lad came into view, just ahead walking at speed. He’d seen him before, around this time but usually passed him further along the path, around the bend opposite the old RNA. Today he was about to pass him by the Quayside pub, a relatively modern alehouse that still has its Christmas decorations, a couple of reindeers and a jolly Santa lightshow attached to the flat roof above the entrance. It was half way through February which told you what kind of alehouse The Quayside is.

The lad never acknowledged him, just walked past, dead eyes straight ahead. He was usually smoking a weed or drinking a can of lager, sometimes both. This route was a favourite with scallies, ne’erdowells, moochers and misfits of every description. It served as a method of avoiding scrutiny and as a potential escape route. This lad trod the same path as he did but for different purposes, or perhaps the same purpose. What was the real difference between them, apart from age? The lad was maybe nineteen, twenty, a good twenty years younger than him and yet, he too looked as lost in the world, as dislocated from the rest of society as anybody could. He had time though. If nothing else, he had time. 

They came level just before the flyover. He shuffled to his left in order to avoid the lad, who appeared more intense than usual, more aggressively tied up in his own head down mission and hadn’t appeared to notice him at all. His attempt to avoid contact was too late though and the lad’s arm banged into his side, knocking him a foot or so off his stride. He ignored it and walked on a few steps then heard the lad growl;

“Fuckin’ watch it y’prick!”

He turned to face him. The lad’s face was contorted, flushed almost purple under his tatty, two sizes too small black Lowe Alpine hat. A thin, badly rolled spliff hung from his prematurely yellowing fingers and dried mud covered the bottom of his black tracksuit bottoms. That was the uniform these days, the standard scally wardrobe of defiance, a quasi-paramilitary army of skunk addled nihilists. The type who spray ‘Fuck You All’ on tree trunks, the type who lash kebab boxes and Pils bottles onto the ice, the type who spit their impotent rage, as this lad now spat his onto the barren soil of a long forgotten trade route.  He felt like apologising. He didn’t want conflict, violence, he’d had enough of that to last him a lifetime and yet, today, today on this path, on this day, in this town, in this life, today, he’d had enough of cunts like this.

The huge concrete pillars supporting the road over the canal that lead to the bridge over the Mersey in one direction and to Warrington and rural Cheshire in the other, loomed above them, dwarfed them as the early morning traffic roared past, escaping this pass-through town, this piss-stained, plastic place. The noises of the traffic intensified and soon, all he could hear was the head splitting rumble of the lorries and the cars as they sped overhead and he found himself staring at the lad, a lad a good three or four inches taller than him, a good stone or two heavier than him and from somewhere, without even feeling it, or even thinking about it, he punched the lad hard, hard on the side of the face and down the lad went. Now he heard nothing, nothing at all but a pure white hum, the old noise, that split second between action and reaction, slow motion, the gut rush thrill of adrenaline and excitement, the dormant energy that had been suppressed these past fifteen years, kept at bay by pills and potions, tranquilisers and pacifiers, these quack remedies used to sew together the fragments of a life, to protect others from him and to protect him from himself. For – he didn’t know how long exactly but probably only twenty, thirty seconds, a minute perhaps – he transcended this landscape and this timeframe and he was at one with whatever force was flowing through him and he felt whole again and he felt strong again and he felt happy again and he felt – as he booted and booted and booted that motionless, suddenly flimsy body in his knackered, cheapo trainers – he felt JUSTIFIED.   

Where the lad lay, still and silent, un-moving, lifeless or so it seemed, on this spot once stood Puritan Tannery, where his grandad used to work. When he was a kid, his grandad Palin would tell him how he worked at Puritan for almost forty years and how Runcorn once supported four major tanning factories; Camden, Astmoor, Highfield and Puritan. His grandad’s arms were as strong and leathery as the ox and cow skins they imported from Europe, the Americas and New Zealand along with all the other essential materials :

 Mimosa from South Africa

Quebracho from South America

Myrabolans from India

Sweet Chestnut from France and Italy

Valonea from Turkey

Sumac from Cypress

The last tanneries closed in the 1960s as leather goods were replaced by cheap synthetic substitutes in a cheap synthetic world. Runcorn supported so many of them because of its location close to the docks of Liverpool and a fresh water supply from North Wales. Yet the town’s position as a base for these factories was really enhanced, so he’d discovered, by the fact that the tanneries could pump their effluent, their waste, their shit straight into the local waterways without treating it. More poison. More filth. Layer upon layer of shit, generation upon generation of shit.

 Solomon Shepherd – Boot & Shoe Maker

Elizabeth Lydiate – boots and shoes

James Haynes – Boots and shoes

Henry Stone – boots, shoes and clogs

W.L. Croley & Co – Boot and shoe maker

William Travers  boots and shoes

William Page- boots and shoes

Tyler and Sons – boots and shoes 

Today he wouldn’t get to Bates’s Bridge. Today would be the last day he’d walk this path.


Dog Walk #1 – Old Crosville Depot

These are the things that dreams are made of?

Our house IS in the middle of our street and so I can go either way when taking the mutt for his morning walk. My usual route is through the two subways under the approach road to the Runcorn-Widnes bridge (known as ‘the subbies’ and a favourite haunt for weed smoking yoot) and along the path towards the Old Town, passing the exciting new Homebase and Dreams retail park.

Into the light - subby 1

into the light - subby 2

The path then leads down towards the Bridgewater canal or follows the expressway alongside what used to be the old Crosville bus depot and the site of the old RNA club. Both of these are now long gone but hold vivid memories. The smell of hot leather seats as my nan took us on the bus to town, the smell of ale and jelly from Christmas parties at the RNA and some years later the thrill of french kissing my sexy punk girlfriend as Crass’s ‘Shaved Women’ played at the RNA disco. 

The ruins of ancient Carthage or ancient Crosville?

The contours of the old buildings are still visible as nature reclaims the concrete inch by inch each year as if some ancient civilisation has been excavated yet it’s only been the past few decades since both buildings were demolished as the town expanded. These days the Crossy is used as a place for the young uns to drink and chong and carouse and get chased by Puritan bizzies now that there are no youth clubs or discos with which to entertain them (the kids not the bizzies).   

Cheap Night Out

The space is also used by Silcocks fair when they make their infrequent visits to the town and the smell of onions and engine grease hangs heavy in the air. Recently a convoy of caravans arrived and it was assumed that travellers had encamped but it was much worse than that; it was the production team for ‘Two Pints Of Lager.’

the gates of paradise

When the fair or the production team for Two Pints of Lager are not using such a bleak wasteground as a base for fun n’ frolics, it functions as a temporary overflow car park for the ‘bustling’ Old Town shopping area, even though that desolate retail zone has long since declined from its 60s heyday. The new state-of-the-art Brindley venue has breathed a little cultural life back into the old town but nobody sticks around after the performances.

Brindley Centre

And then it’s either a circuitous route along the canal or back the way we came.


Beneath The Pavement…..another fucking pavement!

We take the pavement for granted. As places of transport and transition, as cyphers for movement and stasis……er, y’know the hidden city, layer upon layer of pavement, of people, of the past, the present and the future, people who walk, on pavements, going to the shops, to work, to the pub, home, all like walking n’ shit with their legs…y’get me? Pavement! I saw a hopscotch grid chalked on a pavement in York Street at the weekend and it made me smile. There’s something you don’t see very often these days. Pavement art, pavement games, pavement youth. Beneath our pavements is not the beach, it’s another fucking pavement. Sous les paves, la plage. It sounds better in French.

Here are some nice photos of pavements around St John’s precinct in Liverpool by our pal, Adrian Bailey’s ace Inspidered blog….

And here’s ‘Cut Your Hair’ by Pavement

And here’s a poem about pavements by Nolan Jones

Young Blake As A Hedgehog

He walked on the cracks

To maintain his balance

His sense of the world

He counted his steps

Left foot, right foot

To buy a cheap eternity

Keeping his feet

On the grass between

The cracks of creation

The Irlam House Bequest – David Jacques

An installation by David Jacques

Another year, another Liverpool celebration!

If any city in the world thrives on it’s past, it is Liverpool. Whether atoning for the slave trade (“Psst! Wanna buy a guilt trip?) or Ringo (“don’t call me ‘Ringo'”) Starr making a prat of himself when “kick-starting” the year of Capital of Culture in 2008, nothing seems too tacky to present to the outside world.

But there seems to be a move to shrug off the nostalgiaopolis image of Liverpool. Following a relatively successful visit to the Shanghai World Expo 2010, the council, with the support of local business, opened a business embassy in London. With a recession kicking in and everybody, seemingly, seeing the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse on the horizon, this move seemed to suggest an optimism, bordering on revolution: Liverpool city council seemed to suggest that one way out of a recession was investment.

Over the past few years, Liverpool’s dockland has been reshaped. One of the most stunning architectural developments is Mann Island. It’s as if the architects have drawn on Liverpool’s shipbuilding past, to create structures that, confidently, point towards the future.

And it is this element of mining the past in order to suggest a way forwards that informs the work of David Jacques. Winner of the Liverpool Art Prize 2010 and nominated for this year’s Northern Art Prize, David has been fascinated by time and the movement, and movements, of people. In a previous work, Por Convención Ferrer (selected for inclusion in the prestigious EAST International 09 Exhibition) Jacques offered a world to us through a work that played with our idea of time, presenting it, not as a linear path, but as a potpourri of images and concepts from the ‘Scotland Road Free School’, to ‘the zonal mapping of ‘sleeping sickness’ in the Belgian Congo’, Thomas De Quincey’s residing at Everton, and a Critical Mass bike ride through Manchester City Centre.

Central to much of Jacques work is the banner. The banner is the object that carries the symbols and slogans of movements. In The Irlam House Bequest David has created a new type of banner.

The Irlam House Bequest launches Liverpool City Of Radicals 2011. Inspired by the history of trade union banners and the entrepreneur George Tutil, whose workshop dominated banner production in the nineteenth century, The Irlam House Bequest is a fictional subversive banner workshop “discovered” in an abandoned flat in Irlam House, an actual tower block in Bootle.

What we have is the typeset for these banners as a central piece surrounded by smaller works which bear no resemblance to our idea of ‘the banner’, but have the same impact. Type 6  Phantom Limb, for example, shows a clenched hand. But it is not a fist there is something half-hearted about it. The folded fingers seem to represent a symbol for the deaf rather than the confidence of the fist we normally see on political banners.

And yet, when we look closer at what is behind this symbol we see people congregating; preparing to take action. It is as if the symbol is meaningless; it is action that is the thing that pushes the movement of time and people who make history.

And it is not only symbols, but their meaning. Type 1 and Type 2 show us the images of garlands. Perhaps redolent of the role of the left, as cheerleaders for the class struggle. Whilst Type 3 has the image of a wreath, inference of the more contemporary, liberal, idea of the class-struggle having died. Yet these works suggest otherwise. We see action taking place beneath the images. One gets a sense of zeitgeist, looking at these pieces, and considering the uprising of people in North Africa and the Middle East.

There is also a bit of playfulness going on. Jacques resorts to that good old British institution, the double entendre, in order to make a point. Type 3: Japanese Knotweed presents us with a garland image whilst underneath we see a scene of a demonstration and the slogan “Smash The White Paper”.

Jacques is one of the most original artists around. His work challenges us to see beyond the superficial and the hype and even the propaganda. Once those veils are removed we can see the very human struggle for life going on. If Jacques were simply a left-wing artist we would probably be bombarded with caricatured prolekult: empty imagery presenting us with a crude workers idyll. Jacques shows a great deal of respect for his audience and recognises our ability to see beyond the bullshit. There is a softness to much of the imagery in The Irlam House Bequest, which, perhaps, is to do with the light tones of the work. It was on the bus home that the overall impact of the exhibition hit me. 

The Irlam House Bequest is one of the most powerful works of art that I have seen in a long while. I have been familiar with David’s work for the past four years. It seems as if the only movement he makes is going forward. This is, to date, his best work.

Just one last comment. One of the ironies of the The Irlam House Bequest that came to my mind was the use of typesets. It was a strike by printers in Moscow, demanding payment for loading punctuation onto the typeset in presses, that led to the Russian revolution of 1905.

Denis Joe

Photographs by Adrian Bailey. Free admission until 3 April 2011.

(published in – reproduced with the agreement of the author).

Winter of 82

It was my 17th birthday and I’d just started an Art A level course at the Sorbonne, sorry Halton College of FE at KIngsway, Widnes. After leaving school, me and my mate Kev didn’t really have much of an idea what to do next and decided that art seemed a soft touch before the YTS called us.

At Widnes we met a pair of young scal-ettes dressed in the standard uniform of nubuck jackets, skirts and boots, gold tom and blonde bobs. They danced to Gino Soccio, Rick James and ParliaFunkadelic. At the time I was listening to Scritti Politti and Defunkt and dressed in what I could afford which was a lame imitation of current scally styles.

However, for my 17th birthday in the December of 82, I’d requested a joint birthday/Xmas box of Adidas shoes and Israeli Parka. Luckily, I’d been given the dough to traipse around St John’s precinct before my birthday and proudly ventured out in my new rig out to meet the gals. Aaah, the smell of cold winter air, the smell of leather and nylon and the smell of E’s front room as we watched the first days of Channel 4, Brookside’s Damon, Ducksy and Gizmo and the Young Ones Rick, Vivian and Neil.

Whereas the 80s are remembered for wacky hairstyles and daft clobber amongst most cultural commentators, I remember the era as a constant merry-go-round of instant fashions that lasted a few months tops, before being instantly out of date. The winter of 82 was my coming of age, my introduction into the frivolous and fast moving vagaries of scally etiquette. Ofcourse by the time I’d bought my Israeli Parka and my Korsicas and my faded Lees and my half in/half out buttoned down Lee shirt it was on the way out. Never mind, for a few months I actually felt part of the new scene.


Swede Harmony

Our Culture is a Swedish based website that celebrates decent shmutter and the joys of a shared aesthetic and ‘lifestyle’ for want of a better word. An outlook that spans not only generations but also geography and language. Thankfully those Anglocentric scandies often post in English and although a small enough ‘community’ their manifesto (below) expresses all that is noble about ‘this thing of ours’ : their new tee-shirts featuring the OC logo are also boss. Our Culture are true Magnetic Northerners and we salute them!