22 February, 2006

Dictionary corner II



G is for...

At some point during my time in Liverpool it became fashionable to sport what, if this were the mid 80s and I was Mrs Thatcher, would be derisorily referred to as "a skinhead". It supplanted the previous all-pervasive bowl cut, and over the years has become near ubiquitous amongst males under the age of 16. It's also more common amongst middle-aged men than possibly any other part of the country I've seen. I've no idea why it has ended up so prevalent, but it's presently as much a part of the city's uniform as grey track suits, hooded tops and iPods. Not that there's anything wrong with it whatsoever; and it's not that people weren't shaving their heads in Liverpool before 1994. It's just been a particularly sharp (literally) change in the population's appearance while I've been here, and I haven't the faintest idea why.

H is for...

One of the largest city hospitals in the country, the Royal Liverpool glowers down at Liverpool from its berth up on high just behind the Catholic Cathedral, its combination of menace and omnipotence epitomised by (what I can only guess is) a giant incinerator tower that snakes into the sky like a truculent tower of Babel. Part of it is also permanently UNDER CONSTRUCTION (QV). Inside, though, it's a totally different matter, as I found out when I was an outpatient there for a spell in late 2003/early 2004 - clean, reassuring and accommodating (well, as much as any hospital can be these days) and imbued with a sense of that somewhat outmoded notion, "the good old NHS". I felt safe every time I stepped through its giant revolving doors.

I is for...

Unlike Princes Avenue in Toxteth, which I used to feel safe walking down until I was attacked by a mugger on Bonfire Night 1999 who threatened me with a knife and demanded I hand over all my money. It happened in broad daylight with cars passing nonchalantly by a mere few feet away. The bloke took my wallet which had all of two pounds inside, but did contain my bank card and hence, as I later discovered thanks to an intriguing inventory sent me by the police, was able to visit various service stations in Southport, Salford and, to my bemusement, Exeter before being apprehended. Of course before he did that I'd cancelled the card so I didn't lose anything. Other than my dignity, of course, and my ability to live my life on my terms. The trauma was so great that to this day I've never walked down that street again. I felt so stupid. Why even presume to walk through Toxteth in the daylight during rush hour with loads of people about? Anyhow, even attending an identity parade a few weeks later was an ordeal, especially as I foolishly wore a white T-shirt, parts of which could be glimpsed from under my black jumper and so could be seen from behind the one-way glass. The sight of my attacker's eyes following me as I walked along the glass stayed with me for months.

J is for...

Apologies for this being a somewhat gloomy instalment of my A-Z. Liverpool is a city built on slavery, an unforgivable trade with which my ancestors were unforgivably associated. My grandfather used to work in one of the Liver Buildings down by the MERSEY (QV) for a shipping company that had been founded upon the exchange of enslaved peoples from Britain's former colonies for goods and services. His own ancestors had made a fair bit of money out of the slave trade and ostensibly owned portions of land quite close to where I currently live near WOOLTON VILLAGE (QV), but over the centuries the money disappeared along with (conveniently for them) all tangible evidence of my family's disreputable past. The whole affair always reminds me of that line from 'Rocking The Suburbs' by Ben Folds: "It wasn't my idea. It never was my idea."

K is for...

Once I was on a bus going into town during that most, well, lively of periods, hometime (c. 3.00-4.00pm). As usual the place was crowded with schoolchildren, even the lower deck in which I'd wisely chosen to sit. The atmosphere was actually pretty relaxed and amiable, with some amusing argument going on between various kids about the respective depravity of each other's mother ("Your mum owes me £5 for last night!" "Yeah, well your mum owes my dad £5 for last night!" "Your mum couldn't pay five pence!" "And your mum couldn't pay attention"). Then, suddenly, the whole mood changed when someone produced a knife. It was as if the wind had suddenly altered direction. The knife hadn't been brought out to threaten anyone, just for show. All the same, the switch from relaxed bickering to heightened tension was palpable. As it was a fellow passenger reported the knife owner to the driver and he was made to get off at the next stop. But for the remainder of the journey everyone sat in silence.

L is for...

When you step out of Lime Street you are met by one of the finest views of a city that a traveller can experience in any of this country's railway stations. As long as you leave by the front entrance, that is, not the side one with the CRACKED PAVEMENTS (QV) and casinos. Lime Street is a hugely evocative location and one of my favourite places in all of Liverpool. It's always desperately cold, always boasts at least one malfunctioning toilet, and always has wet floors even in the middle of summer. Even so, it's built like all stations should be, with a huge curving roof, great sprawling platforms and a giant clock high above the main concourse. The whole place had to be evacuated once when a tea urn blew up. I've lost count of the number of times I've felt a huge wave of relief well up inside me as Lime Street has come into view. I've also lost count of the number of times I've arrived back in the terminus and wished, unlike seemingly every other passenger ever, there was someone there to meet me. Everything starts and ends at Lime Street.


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