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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Monday, April 14, 2003
    Hearts and souls and Memory Blocks
    Interesting project at the Museum of Liverpool Life today, called Memory Block. The spin says:
      Memory Block is a community arts project aimed at finding out what history means to people in Liverpool, through discussion and through art. It celebrates the different voices and memories that make up Liverpool's past.
    The Memory Blocks are clear perspex brick-shaped boxes which were given to 80 or so participants from all round the city, with which:
      to create their representation of their memories, using any medium they chose: lining it with pictures or photographs, placing objects, sculpture or writing within it, or using sound to share music or oral history.
    Some very interesting pieces, a real variety: from eight-year-olds depicting blue, clear-sandy beaches which I thought were lovely if romanticised views of the Mersey, but turned out to be memories of holidays at sunny foreign resorts, to sixty-year-olds illustrating the various stages of their life in sculpture and words.

    Many different cultures represented too, thanks to the carefully-chosen range of community groups involved. I liked the decorative wooden box containing a 'Memory Block' under the lid, in which were some precious Qur'anic verses, and Jewish teenagers' boxes full of scenes of family life, sacred and special.

    A local historian on Radio Merseyside this morning quoted city father William Roscoe from the 18th century, describing slavery as "the source of future ill". There were enough Memory Block references to our city's past involvement in the slave trade to affirm the truth in Roscoe's words - almost 200 years after abolition, it still casts a shadow over us. But it was encouraging to see far more by way of colour, inventiveness, celebration, in those boxes.

    I didn't notice much self-conscious Scouse humour in those Memory Blocks, though. Perhaps surprising from a city which has just voted Ken Dodd its greatest ever citizen (Red Rum came fifteenth. Hear Dodd's tattyfilarious acceptance speech here). But it seems when we're asked seriously to describe what our history means to us, the people of Liverpool put heart and soul into creating the answer.