Out Now!

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Ghost country

  Liverpool is full of ghosts; these pictures only tell the half of it.
The map shows the streets of Aintree: sold, red-bricked, terraced.
The walk begins by turning right from Warbreck Methodist Church,
the roof of which often doubled as the Alamo or a Norman castle.

 This is the road you would see. The horses and tramlines you 
were told about by your parents, but you sensed them all around.
In the distance is the railway bridge that came in to its own on the
day of the races.

 Talking about ghosts, this is St Peter's Church just a little
farther along, and on your left. Facing it on your right
(below) is Baker's Field and the bus stop. Follow the 
woman with the pram.

 In no time at all you'll pass Rugby Road on your left

 And Melling Avenue on your right. Those children might well be
our parents.

  Below, it's time to look back. Somewhere in that distant haze
is Liverpool city centre - if you walk five miles or so. But we're
heading for the country where magic happened.

 This is an old Tipster preparing his patch. He looks like a 
veteran of the Boer War - where my grand-dad died.

And these are the trains bring people into the Grand National
This is the day that Aintree cames alive, when the film stars flocked
and cars jammed the pavements in every street.
 What did I say about ghosts?

And magic, a five mile walk but we got there. Ormskirk. It could have been Parbold, the not quite mythical 'Ginger-bread' shop that you walked country lanes to find. Even Maghull (now built up) was magic enough with its small marsh and frog ponds

(with thanks again to FOOP) Further tours will follow in time.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Hidden Agendas

I remember writing some time ago, that if history followed its usual pattern, the Assad regime would have brutally crushed a small rebellion in a matter of months, much in the way medieval kings had done. There would have been much finger wagging but quiet satisfaction, not of course expressed, that stability had been restored. That would have been true in the past at least. Now we live in interesting times when ‘statesmen’ are buffeted by ego, darker agendas, and by others more astute.

Nineteenth century statesmen had learned the lessons arising from Revolutionary France and the Napoleonic wars that followed. European foreign policy thereafter had one primary aim. Order: a dictum that maintained peace for much of the century. Despots were tolerated if the alternative threatened stability.

The tragedy of Syria was that a small rebellion was not allowed to be put down. Syria became a proxy war for Sunni powers like Saudi Arabia and Shiite powers like Iran and Hezbollah. It also became a stamping ground for second rate European politicians. Only Russia seems to be adhering to C19th realpolitik. It made the correct call on Iraq. It made the correct call on Libya. Assad’s regime for all its faults maintained order, was secular, and protected minorities. But our statesmen have made up their minds and have painted themselves into a corner they cannot retreat from without looking stupid. Obama’s red line has been conveniently crossed: the use of poison gas – even though both sides have used it. One can only imagine the manipulated hysteria if Assad’s men had indulged in this – reported – but not trumpeted because it was an atrocity from the side we're supporting.

This makes it sound like I’m against free speech, that Syrians had no right to rebel (though only a relatively small group were initially involved) I’m not against any of these things, but life is not a free lunch. There are consequences to everything – especially in less prosperous parts of the world where freedom is sometimes a necessary trade-off for stability.

I don’t think the more prosperous West now, or in the immediate future, is immune to this equation as elites and interest groups entrench their positions against potential disorder. Prism is accepted by many as a necessary precaution against terrorism. Put simply, we don’t mind an email read if it stops our legs getting blown off. This we may think is a fairly small trade-off. The danger is that trade-offs get bigger as the scale of disorder grows and I don’t think we can escape what is now commonplace in more fractured societies. 

If we are fortunate it will amount to a chill more than a freeze, people and media censoring themselves as offence to the febrile becomes the new cardinal sin, and the corrupt benefit from those who confuse cowardice with good manners.

We will come to regard offence and invective as barbaric. Some will regret the loss of free speech. Others will  remain comfortably numb. Few turn their back on anaesthetics when confronted with pain.

Friday, 14 June 2013

A walk to the Library. A walk in the past

        On leaving Wyresdale you turn left for a three mile round trip.

To your right you pass Heswell and Hooton Road.
And soon after that The Palace Cinema and Barnsley road
Before entering Warbreck Moor proper

On your left you pass Liggets Garage


Now you're in Walton Vale, Lovecraft territory

Where Nazis, cowboys, vampires and spies haunted the shadows.

Passing Grace Rd you'd see the TA barracks, but never a soldier.
A small shopping centre leads to the Blessed Sacrament

And soon you're into Rice Lane. Almost there.
And here we are, Everard Avenue Library
A place where dreams were taken seriously.

With thanks to Walton on the Hill and Friends of Orrel Park

Friday, 7 June 2013

Dr Who. A short rant

Some things stick in the mind; in this case a comic. It was black and white and showed a suspiciously handsome man, suave  in moonlight, and  showing a lissom young woman his swimming pool. She dives in and is  instantly transformed into bone. The pool is acid – comic-book strength. The villain chuckles and we see that he is mad and the moonlight shines on his cheekbones and those of the woman drifting in a black and white pool.

It was a bit like that in teaching. The bell went and you dived into acid – the classroom instead of a pool. You assumed a persona and then dived. This maligns the children I taught. None of them were acid, though some verged on the alkaline.

The comparison is inexact in other ways, too. In a real pool behaviour varies. Not everyone dives in. Most enter from the shallow end, walking slowly in cold water and extending their arms slightly, wiggling their fingers as though tickling  invisible butterflies. You couldn’t do that in a classroom…well, you could, but you wouldn’t last long.

But I digress. The point of this comic book memory is that the villain was male. In fact I can’t recall reading a comic with a female equivalent, luring lissom young men into an acid pool and drinking champagne in moonlight, savouring their screams.

This brings me to Doctor Who.

There’s been much speculation about a new dawn, its inevitability. A momentum is building. It’s time, they say…for a woman doctor.

Rip my childhood apart at your peril!

I’m fine with women villains, real villains - a Joker with breasts instead of the merely maladjusted -  eye-candy like Cat-woman. I’m fine with a female God, a female Pope, and to hell with John Knox’s ‘…first blast of the trumpet against the monstruous regiment of women’ But a line has to be drawn. And though, Katrina Monroe, I am sure, would make an exemplary Doctor it wouldn’t be Doctor Who.

This leads to an obvious question. Why are there no iconic women characters in fiction or film? I know there are a host of strong women characters, ranging from conniving minxes like Becky Sharpe to the almost iconic but essentially formulaic like Cagney and Lacy. But unless you count Miss Marple, who in my opinion almost makes it, there is no one in the league of say Sherlock Holmes. The reason why is fairly obvious, but the solution is not to piggy-back on an existing icon, in this case Dr. Who, but for someone to create a female icon. It’s about time. If not now, when?

In short, you can have Superman, and Super girl, Super boy, super dog and super horse, but you can’t have Superman changing into Super girl? Why stop there?

Doctor Who is a man – even when Peter Davison played him. I don’t want small pouty boys, Justin Beiber look-a-likes playing assistant to a matriarchal doctor. In a culture of one parent families and feminised primary schools, Doctor Who is one of the few consistent male role models on TV. Family TV that is. Besides, think about Captain Jack? He can’t be doing with women doctors. And neither can I…though not for the same reason. 

Once this particular door has been opened what’s to prevent the same fate being visited upon Hercules, Robin Hood, The Lone Ranger, Champion the Wonder Horse? No, Doctor Who must stay male and for any who would tamper with this Divine Law I have just one question: Do you fancy a dip in my pool tonight...followed by champagne? Yes the water is still.