Charles Nevin: Liverpool... a perfect stage for culture


Much clucking, I notice, combined with the significant look that goes with the finger tapped on the nose and reference to predictions whose coming to pass gives absolutely no pleasure, about Liverpool and its forthcoming sway in 2008 as the European Capital of Culture.

But there are those, including myself, who look at and listen to accounts of rows, sackings, resignations, nobody booked, chaos, drift, and time running out with satisfaction. Because this is all that the people who chose Liverpool for this honour could have expected.

Because this is what Liverpool does, is. You want some impeccably organised, po-faced piece of exemplary eventing, go somewhere else that will have the usual impact of European Capitals of Culture. With Liverpool, you get drama every time a throat is cleared; this is what Liverpool does, is. This is why we currently have such a fine row over the slavish provenance of Penny Lane. This is why 2008 is going to be such a cracker; in fact, with a good dollop of that old Scouse magic, it already is.

Liverpool's history, dark, busy, fluid; its great grandstanding architecture, and its people, a vivid whirl of Irish whimsy and Lancashire wit and a dash of most else besides, make it the perfect stage to celebrate the energy, creativity and independence bordering on anarchy that is as true of these islands as all that cool and polite reserve and the other understated virtues many prefer to go on about.

Being unprepared and making it up as we go along is, after all, something we are particularly proud of in other contexts: as in the way we somehow supposedly just acquired an empire and won all those wars. At home, the Dome and Wembley confirm a view we're comfortable with; I was also most taken to read last week that Nelson's Column, symbol of island supremacy, has just been discovered to be 16 feet smaller than it's supposed to be.

So why sneer at Scousers? This is Alan Bennett, another national symbol, on Liverpudlians: "They all have the chat, and it laces every casual encounter, everybody wanting to do their little verbal dance." The shame of it. But then, he is a Yorkshireman. Personally, I love it (I should perhaps declare an interest: I was born there, although I did leave quickly for Lancashire, with my mother, from the maternity hospital).

And nearly all of it is in the famous exchange between Cilla Black and her audience during a panto at the Liverpool Empire: "Now, then, children, how are we going to kill the big, bad giant?" "Sing to him, Cilla!" They can laugh at themselves, too: this is how they sum up their acquisition of the cultural capital, coming from behind against Birmingham and Newcastle: "We just nicked it".

So I am entirely confident of two more thrilling years marked by fuss, fun, delight, despair, targets triumphantly hit and noisily missed and all splendidly mixed up with the other celebrations next year of the 800th anniversary of the city's founding by King John, also sharp, witty and much misunderstood.

You should go, if you're not there already. The city's abuzz with building and bickering and business as usual. Are you aware that Jung had a dream that Liverpool was the pool of life? He did, in 1927. It's certainly a good metaphor for it. Good luck, too, if you arrive at Lime Street station, where not so long ago one visitor was given directions to a hotel by a friendly, attentive tourist official: "You could piss on it from here." Ah, Liverpool!

My pride over Pole position

Pride swells over the latest Jack the Ripper suspect, the Pole, Kosminski: reader, I first revealed the existence of the note naming him.

It was 20 years ago, my only world exclusive, and it was held over a day for lack of space. It was also courtesy of the News of the World, which had decided, wisely, judging by the interest until now, that an unknown Pole, rather than a crazed prince or celebrity artist, didn't do the business. I'm afraid I've lost interest, too, as all that ripping was a touch rich for my, er, blood. But, a tip. Montague Druitt, the suicidal barrister suspect, has traditionally been cleared because he was playing a lot of cricket at the time, and it was thought all that would have put him off his game, and certainly wasn't, er, cricket. But I've now watched enough Midsomer Murders for a rethink.

* Sad news for crime writers, topographers, euphemism aficionados, and metaphor hunters: the cul de sac stands condemned by a government briefing paper as isolating, inconvenient, incoherent and dangerous.

I rather like them; but they do have a mixed record. AA Milne wrote the Winnie the Pooh books in a Chelsea cul de sac, clearly unable to get out more. Lord Kitchener and Lord Palmerston lived in one, which is no surprise; Chris Moyles, I read, comes from one in Milton Keynes, while Darren Gough used to live in a Yorkshire one called Dimple Gardens.

Dimple Gardens! Marvellous. I prefer closes, though. There's one near me called Rogers Close, to which I always add, "and Simon's not far behind" or "but Brian's miles away". My favourite, nevertheless, has always been the St Peter's Close, containing a home for the elderly.

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