Friday, 22 June 2007

Capital of Culture: 2008 Pledge

Friday, 22nd June 2007
Thoughts turn increasingly homeward - by the beginning of September I should be saying goodbye to Mongolia (only for a while, I hope) and returning to my much cherished home city of Liverpool. Of course, what with Skype, emails and blogs of all things, I've hardly been out of touch with home for more than a day or two in all the time I've been out here in Mongolia. Family and friends aside however, the homeward-turn of thoughts brings me to dwell on the excitement due to kick off on the 1st January 2008, when Liverpool will begin its year as the European Capital of Culture.

I regularly read through the letters pages of the Liverpool Echo and Daily Post on their shared website at and, sad to say, there has been a little bit of negativity now and then, concerning the readiness of the city for the upcoming festivities.

"THE Capital of Culture next year is the biggest farce of all times...It is not safe to be in Liverpool at night as there are loads of thugs, then you have the nightclubs and most of them should be closed down." J.W. Hill, Bootle (Liverpool Echo 19th June)

"WITH regards to Capital of Horse Manure. I would like to express my concern for the vast amount of horse manure on the pavements in the city centre. Besides it being an obstacle course, trying to get from one place to another with building work, you have to dodge the horse manure. It is not being picked up and traffic is actually driving through it and spreading it even more. It is disgusting for we who live here, I just can’t imagine what visitors must think." J.L.H., Bootle (any relation?)(Liverpool Echo 18th June)

A letter arguing that Liverpool needs a Giullianni-style mayor reads like poetry in its description of the state of the city:

"JUST an average day's commute into Liverpool ...

A residential suburban street covered in dog faeces.

A man at the back of the bus with his feet up on the opposite seats.

A teenager on the same bus who looks like he hasn't washed in a month, scratching his filthy head with even filthier nails.

An alcoholic vagrant using a low-rise wall in London Road as a bed.

A discarded syringe near the pharmacy in London Road.

Pavements near the Odeon cinema covered in thick black gunge.

A man blowing the contents of his nose directly onto the street.

A passenger throwing cigarette ends from his car window in Water Street.

What a filthy, degenerate city this has become..."
Peter Bradshaw, L36 (Liverpool Echo, 15th June)

I am kind of assuming that for all the changes in the last 6 months (no more NORTON FOR CRAP! That's the city turning its back on its culture and heritage right there!) Liverpool is still something of an untidy city with a degree of social decay, but I'm not sure that these are really enough to hold the culture year back. Of course Bill Bryson famously gave the city a gentle ribbing for the "festival of litter" in his "Notes from a Small Island", and it's certainly arguable that both the litter and the whingeing are integral aspects to the city's culture which it just would not be the same without... Well, on second thoughts, it may well not be the same without them, but it would clearly be an improvement.

Anyhow, to cultivate a a more positive atmosphere for proceedings now that the countdown is ticking, and acknowledging that in the past I've had more than my share of sarcastic comments to make about the city and about 2008, I'd like to ask people to join me in a sincere pledge to be not remotely cynical about the Capital of Culture year from now on; not to complain about the failures of the City Council (which can easily be acchieved by not making any reference at all to the City Council); or the Culture Company (ditto), nor about the involvement of 'outsiders' in the celebrations; to refrain from throwing MacDonalds cartons into the gutter or a garden hedge, perhaps even to pick up the occassional coke can or snickers wrapper; not to spit noisily and aggressively whilst passing people in the street; not to opine that everything in the John Moore's Prize Exhibition at the Walker is shit (even if it is - which in 2006 it most emphatically was not - for which, incredibly, we had Tracey Emin of all people to thank); not to complain that Manchester is trying to steal Liverpool's limelight with its own highly successful festival; not to bemoan the lack of funding for bluegrass related events, nor the complete lack of interest or indeed response shown by the various committees for pet projects (such as a 'Mongolian Invasion' of Sefton Park which, by the beard of Genghis, I will see happen!); not to be smug that however crap we thought the 08 logo was it's nothing like the joke that got foisted on the London Olympics; not to complain about property prices; nor make jokes about the Writing on the Wall 'literature' festival; such as, for example, putting 'literature' in quotes; not to revel in past glories when Liverpool was the GREATEST CITY IN THE WORLD, but to take a degree of pride, tempered by humility, in its evolving present; not to make fun of the letters in the Post and Echo, nor the reports by the hard-working journalists, be they about Stab Boy or even Stab Boy's Mum, and especially not if it's the latest Funding Crisis being reported on by Deborah James; not to repeatedly complain that the Literature section of the official Capital of Culture website neglects to mention Ramsey Campbell, Clive Barker, Olaf Stapledon or even "Redburn" by Herman Melville; nor to wonder what over-priced events citizens of Liverpool will need a special discount card to attend, and why we should be following in the footsteps of tourist traps like Chester and Windsor in implementing such a discriminatory scheme, against the Liverpool museums' fine example of being free to everybody; not to call for the head of Boris Johnson, Margi Clarke, Ulaanbaanjo, or whoever else might inadvertently offend somebody by giving an honest opinion on the city; not to subvert a list of pledges into a catalogue of complaints; in fact, to each do our humble best towards making the year a memorable one, for ourselves and for whatever visitors and guests might grace us with their presence; to celebrate Culture in as many aspects and with as open a mind as we can; and finally, to reserve a special place in our hearts, pockets and all headline events for the Banjo, which was, after all, John Lennon's first instrument, to say nothing of the city's many other fine banjoists over the years.