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

    Friday, August 01, 2008
    Bring on the new John Brodies
    Sorry, but Klimt just doesn't do it for me. Or maybe it's the crowds. (Oh, for the return of those days when you could walk through Liverpool's numerous top-notch museums and galleries undisturbed by crowds. They were formative for me those days, when it was our comfortingly-kept secret that the city of Liverpool hosted the greatest collections anywhere outside of the grabby metropolis, and when it was free entry to all of it for people on the dole like me.)

    Anyway, having free access again now as a Tate Member (yes, a telling sign of the times) I opted to escape the hundreds shunting each other around the quite silly Beethoven Frieze, took a contraflow exit past the welcome desk, and headed instead for the Tate shop. Like many previously decent shops in Liverpool this has taken a dive in quality for 2008, replacing shelves of art and cultural studies books and dvds with displays of gimmicky Howies T-Shirts, chintzy Chagall tea-towels, acquiescent Banksy publications and the like.

    Thankfully they are still stocking a few decent periodicals. And they seem to have done a deal with The Architectural Review for there's a generous stack of their January 2008 issue on sale. This is because The World's Favourite Architectural Magazine devoted the entire issue to Liverpool, which they rightly describe as a 'work in progress'.

    In common with most things written about Liverpool from the remoteness of NW1, some articles do feature the usual annoying inaccuracies or ill-judged comments on the city from those who seem to have never set foot in the place, or who should know better ('In the '80s and early '90s there seemed little reason for the city to continue to exist' - oh really, who told you that, David Dunster?) and the token 'insider' view from someone who even admits themselves that they haven't lived here since puberty ('I longed to be living in some inner-city slum rather than the prosaic banality of suburban comfort' - ah well, I guess you've grown up now, Sean Griffiths).

    But they are minor irritations because there's a lot of good writing (including in Dunster and Griffiths' articles) and some even better illustrations, my favourite being the gatefold pages of Liverpool cartography featuring G.H. Parry's Merseyside map produced for the British Empire Exhibition which the City of Liverpool hosted in 1924. Lovingly, and wittily, illustrated, Parry's map re-orientates the city so that the Mersey runs horizontally beneath it and the newly-built ring road spreads itself above, tree-lined and bearing the caption QUEENS DRIVE (SIX and a HALF MILES) J. A. Brodie designed this - and the Great Outfall Sewer.

    In an honest appraisal of what's happening here beneath the cranes Doug Clelland quotes Joseph Sharples who recently noted that 'Liverpool has the most splendid setting of any English city'. Clelland insists that 'This 'most splendid' context provides ideal conditions for the pusuit of excellence, in terms of leadership, government, and the best in city building.' Clelland judges that we've fallen way short of that, up to now, detailing various losses of nerve in city planning, including the missed opportunity to transform our tired old Boot Estate into 'an Ecotown - before its time'. He calls for the return of 'true grit' in our plans for the future.

    Back fighting my way through crowds in the retail hell of the half-opened Liverpool One mall (and shoehorning my way into the much-diminished new WH Smiths) I do hope his call is heeded by those who can do something about it. Bring on the new John Brodies! (He invented the goal net as well, you know).