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

    Wednesday, June 14, 2006
    Testing Brewer's
    Perfect compliment to the book I got yesterday - the book I got today, Brewer's Britain and Ireland (very cheap softcover version, I should add). When I go on my walk next year these two will be essential companions. Though I shall need a toughened rucksack to carry them.

    Brewer's Britain and Ireland is a very good gazetteer; in fact it's a delight. You judge books like this by going to the references of places you know and testing them for:

    Accuracy: it was indeed in 1207 that King John granted a charter for a new town on the banks of the Mersey - that's why 2007 is coming before 2008 in Liverpool, if you get my drift.
    Observation: Yes, it does seem true to say that 'Spiritually as well as physically the city has always faced outward to the sea, turning its back on Lancashire.'
    Understanding local politics: No need to disguise the ugly truth that almost as soon as Liverpool had won the Capital of Culture bid it dropped the flagship project, Will Alsop's Fourth Grace. No need, either, to dredge up the awful memory of the 1980s Thatcher-Hatton face-off (which Brewer's ignores).
    Essential quotations: Carl Gustav Jung's fevered vision of Liverpool as 'The Pool of Life' is misquoted here, but The Pool of Love sounds equally inconceivable.
    Great musical references: No mention of the true greats like Pete Wylie but plenty of Beatles and many references to the all-important In my Liverpool home (with a clear exegesis of the line 'We meet under a statue exceedingly bare' - which refers to the naked Jacob Epstein figure above the entrance to Lewis's department store. Brewer's writers correctly explain that this 'is popularly referred to, for visibly apparent reasons, as 'Dickie Lewis'.')
    Surprising conjectures: It had never occurred to me that the reason for the oddly-shaped Liver bird was 'probably [the result of] an artist's not very skilled attempt to give a rendition of the eagle of St John the Evangelist, the patron saint of the city.'
    Wonderful understatements: eg, 'Liverpool 8 - the postal designation of Toxteth, a district of Liverpool that has gained a certain notoriety for lawlessness.'
    Amusing provocations: 'Do you know, if you wear a flat heel in Liverpool, they think you're a lesbian?' - Isabella Blow, Tatler fashion editor, 2002.
    Correct balance: Brewer's gives Liverpool seven-and-a-half columns, Manchester just six. Seems about right.