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

    Tuesday, January 13, 2009
    A peculiar vacancy
     
    I retrieved a copy of the mammoth Shell and BP Guide to Britain (1964) from the bread crate in the corner of our community room where people deposit and pick up used books. It contains a very striking description of the raison d'etre of the country around Chat Moss. What better purpose could any piece of land have than 'to hold the earth together and grow celery'? And following the recent hilarity emanating from the Anfield press room, there's a potent reminder that how we are now with our neighbours is how we've always been.
    The late Haslam Mills, the author of the charge that Lancashire gave itself the airs of a continent, pointed out that disparity, contrast, variation, are the most striking characteristics of the county throughout town and countryside. The traveller from Liverpool to Manchester may have noted, as he did, what he called 'the peculiar vacancy of the view from the carriage window as the train travels across fields which seem to have no purpose except to hold the earth together and grow celery .... It is a frontier between the two cities of Manchester and Liverpool, two cities which are not and never really have been on speaking terms!' Despite the miracles of communication that have been achieved, from canals and railways to airways and the arterial East Lancashire Road, it remains a curious fact that the last tolerable train from Liverpool to Manchester was lately 9.10 p.m. and that the two cities are entirely different.
    Scan of book cover from Petrol Maps website