Welcome to the centre of the universe

“It’s all very well coming from the capital”, said the taxi driver this morning, “but what does it feel like being in the centre of the Universe?”

Welcome to Liverpool. And I think he has a point.

I’ve just been up to Liverpool for the first time in my life and what a fantastic time it’s been. Will, Maggie and I boarded the train at Euston early on Saturday morning and got home last night. The purpose of the visit was purportedly the brilliant Turner/Monet/Twombly exhibition at the Tate; but if that was the catalyst, the reason (for me at least) was to get to know for a little bit this city which I have been reading about and wanted to know, and see, more.

We arrived on a brilliantly clear day. Light radiated about, reflecting off water, sky and stone. I knew about the Docks, but I didn’t expect the great streets and squares of the Georgian Quarter, or the beauty of the quiet decrepitude of decaying warehouses, or the remarkable classical buildings in the city centre, or how friendly it would be.  It’s a little hard to avoid using cliches when thinking about Liverpool. So there we are. Lots of contradictions, lots to think about, but definitely as close to the centre of the universe as I’ve been for a while.

Cool car.

Beautiful engraved numbers in the memorial pavements at St James’s Gardens.

I didn’t love Giles Gilbert Scott’s Anglican Cathedral, a dark hulk on the skyline; but I did love this Greek Revival Necropolis and overgrown wilderness next door:

The excellent new Kernaghans Antiquarian bookshop at the Bluecoat, where I found a rare book on typography that I’d been looking for (for years). They opened a less than a week ago, not that you’d know it from the superbly well-stocked shelves. And then we walked down to the waterfront and the Docks.

The beauty of the waterfront is marred only by the Museum of Liverpool building, daft, ugly and ridiculous in equal measure:

I was reading a bit more about it this morning. The Danish architect, Kim Neilsen, of 3XN, is quoted on the BBC website  as saying that ‘We had to be very respectful for that site, it is a World Heritage Site, actually a site where you should not have built maybe’. Shame he didn’t take his own advice, really.

Joined by this piece of total junk on the other side of the basin. Black. Crap. Poor Liverpool.

But within seconds your mood is restored by the extraordinary power and beauty of the river, and Albert Dock:

Looking back to more rubbish ‘junkitecture’. Poor old Liverpool, although of course this is the sort of junk that collects everywhere. But it’s just that here the contrast is all the more painful. The grand simplicity of the Docks rebukes these surrounding attempts. And one suspects will last for a great deal longer.

This morning, we started at the Catholic Cathedral, and Lutyens’ mighty Crypt, which sort of made me glad that his Cathedral remained in the imagination only…

Rising above the Lutyens Crypt is Frederick Gibberd’s Cathedral, which grew out of the ruins of the Second World War, and a changed belief system. It is curiously successful as a building, and as a monument on the skyline. I think the Lutyens building, which exists as a giant model only, might have been a bit scary.

We found the echo of this graffiti on the side of the building.

Well, that’s a point of view. But He hates people who can’t use apostrophes in the right place a lot more.

Back down to the Docks, we came across this building that we had somehow missed yesterday, and without a doubt is my favourite building in the whole of Liverpool:

Rust red cast iron columns, which are hollow and ring like a deep bell when you hit them. Perfect.

The Tate was brilliant. I’m afraid that yesterday was the final day of the superb Turner Monet Twombly show, which we loved.  Turner, to be honest, scored highest marks.  Sublime.  And a beautifully curated show.

The Tate itself scores lots of points in my book. It was nice to pop into a gallery which doesn’t always have white walls to display crazy things (Mark Wallinger’s Royal Ascot is something that is going to stick in my mind for a little while). Check out this turquoise blue, chrome yellow or hot pink. Bonkers, but good.

I’m not sure who made this piece but it was nicely reminiscent of a stand at Bridport Market.

From Tate, to the Maritime Museum, where we loved the giant model ships (don’t you like this nice pale pink hull?):

and where one or two pictures gave one a hint of the old Liverpool docks:

And where the Titanic displays (and passenger death lists in particular) were remarkably moving.

We left the Docks and went to the Walker, which is like every gallery you’ve ever been to in London, rolled into one.

I forgot to take a photo of Banksy’s Cardinal Sin which couldn’t help make you smile. So thank you to ManafineArts for this picture:

We were knackered. It’s busy spending time in the centre of the universe. But we had an hour to spare before our train. We jumped in a taxi so that Maggie could make a pilgrimage to Penny Lane.

The pre-requisite soundtrack played on my iPod. The taxi driver could not believe it when we wanted to just turn around and go back to the train station again. “You’ve got to be kidding me!” he said. But then started chuckling. “You could have bought a Penny Lane street sign in the gift shops for £3”. “But it’s not the real thing”, we said.

And Liverpool is the real thing.


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