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

    Friday, January 05, 2007
    Beneath the Paradox
    Beneath the Paradox it's Gambling Central. History crumbles from the building's art deco exterior, gambling history: whether the story of the millions of speculative 'X's which were processed here in the building's Vernons Pools years, or memories of the thousands of speculative moves made by Saturday-night hopefuls when the building housed The Paradox. The Paradox was a huge purpose-built mega-nightclub on the outskirts of town, with seven bars entertaining up to 2340 punters a night (most of them underage and dressed in purple lycra, if complainant clubbers were to be believed in the years of its decline). Today, the Paradox is a ruin. The low afternoon sun penetrates the empty expansive concrete box through smashed windows. But permission was recently granted to a developer proposing to turn the site into a wind-powered retail park, the latest in a line of speculative projects on this iconic piece of Liverpool industrial land.

    Of course, Aintree has been Gambling Central for many many decades, since Mr William Lynn leased the land from Lord Sefton, laid out a course, built a grandstand and staged the first Flat fixture on July 7, 1829. And on Tuesday February 26, 1839, a horse called Lottery became the first winner of The Grand National. Across the road from The Paradox the racecourse is in an advanced stage of redevelopment, The Earl of Derby Stand and The Lord Sefton Stand each rising rapidly to meet the Aintree skies and presumably to also meet the Grand National 2007 completion deadline.

    So today I join the gamblers - by crossing the manic A59 Ormskirk Road and stepping down beneath The Paradox onto the canal path and the stretch of the Leeds-Liverpool which I suspect is least used by narrowboats. Those that do travel this way gamble on being pelted by missiles from the bridges (as I pass, four teenaged boys dressed in black parkas lob stones at the ducks). Or they risk encounters with people using the canalside seclusion for possibly nefarious activities (the other side of the road bridge, two more black-coated boys emerge from trees and a whiff of weed flits through the air). Or they may meet others perhaps unbalanced (further along the path towards the Melling Road bridge, a man sways slightly as I pass him. His work bag rests at his feet but he is drinking strong lager and has the air of someone who'd rather be staring at water than returning home).

    It's a nervous walk for me, until I realise that like everyone else I've encountered on the towpath I too am wearing a black hooded winter coat and probably the look of someone doing something most others wouldn't. That sense is heightened as I return along Aintree Lane just as two primary schools are emptying. I'm the one who parents have seen scrambling up the canal bank onto the Melling Road bridge, taking photos. I'm the one who the lollypop ladies do not recognise.

    Here's a paradox. All these parents, refusing to allow their children to take a chance on walking home, nevertheless gamble with their lives by bouncing their vehicles up and down kerbs, making dangerous turns and stopping for no-one. The roads evince an air of muted hostility as drivers spin their young away from their friends for a weekend behind closed doors at home. The odds on one of these impatient parents one day colliding with another vehicle or a small child ... must be short.