Ever sat in a restaurant and realised that the person sitting opposite you will have had an entirely different view from yours. Maybe you’ve got the view to the street and pavement outside, while your companion can see the hustle and bustle of the kitchens and the serving hatch. Your experience of the restaurant might be qualitatively distinct as a result of the simple matter of perspective and outlook.
Apply this thinking to the cities of the United Kingdom and you might suddenly begin to understand something of the particular character of one of the greatest of those cities – Liverpool.
The picture above was taken last night down by the shore of the wide River Mersey as the sun was starting to set. In the distance, the mouth of the great river is still lit as the sun drops in the West. I’ve been picturing the UK’s cities in my mind and their rivers – London and the Thames, Newcastle and the Tyne, Bristol and the Avon, yet none of these rivers open so clearly onto the oceans beyond like the Mersey as it flows in and out of Liverpool. As a Liverpudlian, your imagination is constantly drawn by this slipway to the rest of the world. To the cities of North America; Montreal, Quebec, New York and San Francisco. To the far shores of the antipodes; Sydney, Melbourne and Tasmania. To the Orient; Shanghai, Hong Kong and beyond. If you want a clue to the character, personality and outlook of Liverpool and it’s citizens, look no further than the River Mersey and the seven seas lapping at the city’s shores.
The Princes Landing Stage holds a special place in the affections of Liverpudlians of a certain vintage. Although the city’s docks had countless berths for shipping lines from Cunard to Canadian Pacific, the Princes Landing Stage was the port’s shop window where the great ocean liners held sway, such as the Aquitania, launched in 1914 at the height of Britain’s imperial power and on the eve of World War I.
This is an artist’s impression of the ship in the River Mersey, while this next shot shows the vessel at Princes Landing Stage itself.
Generations of family members have sailed from here to New York and Montreal. It’s even reputed that an aunt of my grandmother’s enjoyed a protracted affair with a Cunard director while sailing back and forth to New York in the height of luxury in the 1920’s. My grandmother herself sailed on the Empress of France among other ships. Here it is in the same spot.
The old Princes Landing Stage is all but gone, although a purpose-built cruise terminal has recently commenced operations and welcomed the new Queen Elizabeth among other great ships.
But walk to the end along the shore at the edge of the new landing stage and some poignant echoes of a bygone age remain. Images that have more in common with the stark realism of Andrew Wyeth’s paintings than 21st century cruise ships. Evocative images such as this abandoned gangway.
The rotting timbers and rusted metalwork are all that’s left now and nature is taking hold to soften the blow.
And we can only imagine what official function this derelict cabin used to serve on the busy quayside.
Ballet film, right? First those opening shots; it’s got be be set in Paris surely. It could be the Metro she’s riding I suppose. But no, it’s the New York Subway. Mystery solved. The rest of the movie is nowhere near as easy to fathom though. And all the better for it.
On the surface at least, this is about one young woman’s rigid ambition to succeed as a prima ballerina. Yet like any swan gently gliding along, there are often powerful forces churning away beneath the surface of the movie, driving altogether more sinister and disturbing motives. Nina, the innocent ballerina selected to be the Swan Queen, is most obviously prone to the dangerously deranged and obsessive influence of her mad mentor of a mother, played by Barbara Hershey.
Played with a chilling intensity, we watch Nina’s mother teetering on the verge of a sort of brittle madness. Nowhere does the insanity reveal itself more clearly than in the call sign MOM appearing with terrible regularity on Nina’s cellphone. By the end of the movie, however, you have to wonder whether that insanity had been contagious, with Nina falling cruel victim to it’s clutches. Just as in The Sixth Sense, it’s only then that you reflect on what you’ve seen and wonder whether it was indeed reality or the visions of a disturbed soul. You’re left with the distinct impression that Nina has a sharper focus as she spins and spins in the dance than she does in trying to retain a grip on her senses in the daily round of her life preparing for the opening night of Swan Lake.
Natalie Portman’s transformation within the role of Nina is mesmerising, no more so than in the closing sequences, and her Academy Award is well deserved. I probably won’t be rushing off to the ballet after watching this movie, but I’ll certainly make time to watch this over again sometime. Only sorry I didn’t see it on the big screen when it was first released.
I can’t honestly say that I felt a spiritual surge with the approach of Christmas in China but they certainly know how to create the mood. Years ago – as a seventeen year old – travelling to New York and beyond to stay with family in the USA for Christmas for the first time, I remember the thrill and excitement of seeing Santa outside a local gas station shaking a large bell and waving to passing traffic. Not to mention the sweet smell of Christmas candles in large shopping malls. I’d left behind a frankly miserable mid-seventies Britain, dull and in the grip of civil and industrial strife. Christmas in the USA was a shot in the arm.
Now, several decades later, my Air France flight from Paris had flown east not west. Beijing was beckoning.
Crisp and efficient as you’d expect, customs and immigration were dispensed with easily enough, and soon we were pushing out into the stream of traffic heading into the city, past endless new developments. I was struggling between the urge to tune into Mandarin Chinese for the first time, or submit to waves of jetlag that were getting stronger and stronger the deeper we got into the traffic jam.
Snaking in via one or more of Beijing’s four concentric ring roads, I was soon checking in at the Qianmen Jianguo Hotel, my base for the next 5 days. A fine blend of the modern and traditional and with a warm welcome, I’d certainly recommend the hotel for anyone thinking of visiting. Here’s it’s website; http://www.qianmenhotel.com/en/index.html
It was in the hotel’s grand foyer that I first noticed China’s nod to Christmas. This was to be the first of many such nods that became ever more flamboyant, culminating in the commercial excitement that is Shanghai. After a day wandering around Tianenmen Square and strolling through the Forbidden City, a short bus ride and here was Christmas Chinese style, complete with the first of many enormous escalators that seem to reach into the skies.
Someone suggested to me that selling is hard wired into Shanghai and it’s people. They certainly know how to sell Christmas … no expense spared. Recession? What recession? This neon Christmas card stood at least 60 foot high brightening a chilly Shanghai evening.
They do subtle too. Here’s one of several carefully placed poinsettia’s dotted around a development on the other side of town. This is the home of feng shui after all!
Nobody was sending Christmas cards that I could see. Soaps on Chinese television weren’t about to blow up the local pub just because it’s Christmas either. But take a walk around streets and stores in Beijing, Tianjen or Shanghai, and listen to Chinese voices singing ‘Jingle Bells’ (in English), and tell me you haven’t got the Christmas spirit. Listening to ‘Silent Night’ can always squeeze out a sentimental tear or two from me, and this was no different hearing it sung a long way from home in the People’s Republic of China.
I’ve flown over the frozen landscapes of Mongolia and Kazakhstan and north of Moscow. It’s good to be home. Although I still check to see what time it’ll be over in China … eight hours ahead! Might sound an odd thing to say, but a chilly trip to China has really brought back the spirit of Christmas for me.
Merry Christmas everyone. And a Happy New Year!
Shanghai, New York and Cologne. What have these three great cities got in common?
They’re all twinned with Liverpool.
As befits this great port city, it’s reaching out to two other dynamic and cosmopolitan port cities – New York and Shanghai.
And in the case of Cologne in Germany, a city which like Liverpool, suffered much aerial bombardment during World War II.
So here to brighten things up a little is a picture of some of the detail on the largest Chinese archway in the western world . It’s nearly 14 metres high and stands at the entrance to Nelson Street in the heart of Liverpool’s Chinatown and was built by craftsmen in Shanghai.
A quick look back at a different – some would say a ‘golden’ – age of air travel.
It really was this glamorous. I can remember waving my American family off from Ringway in Manchester as they flew back to New York and watching their VC10 soar into a bright blue sky. What I wouldn’t have given to be on that plane too. Still not convinced it was a different era? Watch this – http://tinyurl.com/3zmlvxo