Marigold Says...

Random thoughts on travelling and life in general.


G Says...


The previous post, Port Sunlight, received a modicum of criticism, not that I care about the opinions of the misguided ones, for its perceived emphasis on factual comment. Not your usual mucking about stuff was one comment from a regular reader.

As you can tell all sorts read this blog, they’re not all of an intellectual bent or seekers after enlightenment! Even so, I vow to please everybody so here’s a blog entry containing more than a little frivolity.

I must be looking even rougher than usual this morning as the chatty couple we met in passing last night have only one topic of conversation. Hard to ignore them while retaining my legendary courtesy (!) so I grin and bear it.

Last evening they were celebrating their 25 years of marriage with a renewal of vows shindig in the hotel we’re staying in. Lots of overdressed revellers, dozens of discarded stiletto heeled shoes abandoned on the lawn outside by their foot blistered owners and assorted children ignoring the wedding buffet to feed pound coins into the machine dispensing crisps and chocolate.

We arrived as it was all winding down and the happy couple interrupted their blazing argument to come over and sit next to us.

‘Don’t let him start talking,’ the ‘wife’ cautioned, ‘he never shuts up.’

Her spouse appeared to have imbibed freely at the bar and also managed to reveal the nature of most of the buffet items by decorating his suit jacket in food stains.

‘Twenty five years of this,’ he said, jerking his thumb in the direction of his beloved. I waited for the inevitable next sentence, oh here it came… ‘Twenty five years, you don’t get that for murder.’

Laugh? Well, we made a token effort at acknowledging his massively unoriginal remark. It wasn’t even much of a token effort.

The centrepiece couple weren’t the only ones engaged in relationship trauma. Just about all their guests seemed to have been invited solely for their fissiparous tendencies.

Everywhere we looked there was a squabble.

We made the wise decision to take our matrimonial harmony demonstration off to our own room as it was so obviously alien to the ambience of the downstairs lounge.

This morning the dining room was deserted as we arrived to do battle with the breakfast buffet. No sooner had I demonstrated my mastery of the culinary skills: adding hot water to an instant pot of porridge - Marigold is hard to impress - than we heard the uneven clatter of high heels on the floor tiles and recognised this presaged the imminent arrival of a woman with severe foot blisters but no spare footwear.

‘Hello, you two,’ the woman bellowed, no longer wearing the evening’s wedding dress made for a much smaller person, but instead mostly but not entirely confined in a Lycra outfit that revealed most of the areas it was supposed to cover.

Her husband had similarly abandoned his food stained wedding suit for a pair of flared jeans the like of which I last saw being worn by a member of Slade and a tee shirt bearing the legend ‘Size Matters.’

Keeping a man from his morning porridge is pretty bad form, but today’s infraction was even worse than imagined. Ignoring the buffet the couple wanted to talk about dying.

Do I look like a person with one foot in the grave, I muttered to Marigold. Her lack of a response was a tad worrying.

‘The Silver Wedding done and dusted,’ Mister Fashion Catwalk 1973 announced, ‘now we’ve got to sort out a piggin’ funeral. The wife’s brother, he’s on his last legs.’

‘Oh, right.’ ‘Yeah,’ the Lycra goddess said, ‘as if we haven’t had enough to do with organising our wedding vows thingie.’

Marigold looked as concerned as it is possible to do while stifling hysterical laughter.

‘Percy,’ the woman continued, prompting the arrival of a red rash on Marigold’s neck, ‘my brother, he’s been set to croak for years and now it looks like he’s gonna do it.’

‘I’m so sorry,’ I said, ‘you’re obviously upset.’

‘Well, yeah, but it’s not a surprise, you know? Muggins here got lumbered with making the arrangements.’

Her husband stood up abruptly and said, ‘my belly thinks my throats been cut’ and set off at a rapid waddle for the breakfast buffet.

His wife looked up and sighed. ‘No use at all, him. Like everything else this funeral will be all left to me. Either of you ever planned a funeral?’

We shook our heads.

‘Not really,’ Marigold said, vaguely.

‘ I just don’t know where to start and Percy may still be alive but he’s useless. He’s not religious, don’t want no hymns, but he said he won’t mind what we do as long as everybody gets a good drink down ‘em.’

The husband returned with a tray containing a selection of every item on the buffet table and sat at a table about twenty feet away.

‘I thought a song or two, perhaps a poem, but no hymns. Will that be okay do you think?’

I was tempted to say, ‘do what you like, it’s your funeral, but of course, strictly speaking, it was the still breathing Percy’s send off she was planning.

‘There’s that one about breaking the clocks from Four Weddings and a Funeral, do you know it?’

I nodded and glanced at Marigold who appeared to have been suddenly struck dumb.

‘Yes,’ I said, ‘The Funeral Blues by W H Auden.

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,

Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,

Silence the pianos and with muffled drum,

Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

and so on.’

The chief funeral planner looked astonished.

‘Wow, you must have watched the Four Weddings DVD a hundred times.’

Marigold snorted.

‘I just remember the poem,’ I offered. WH Auden was part of my A level syllabus and even what seems like 100 years later that poem obviously stuck in my memory. I even remember WH Auden’s full name, Wystan Hugh Auden, but thought it wiser not to mention it.

Even though I frequently can’t remember what I had for dinner last night dredging up poems learnt at school could be termed showing off.

In fairness, Auden wrote about four hundred poems yet The Funeral Blues is probably the only one I can recall with any clarity.

Romantic Comedies notwithstanding, it’s a common enough choice as an alternative to the more austere threnodies of a traditional funeral.

The woman, we never bothered with actual introductions, was looking more cheerful.

‘Yes, that one and I thought of having something by Leonard Cohen as well.’

‘Leonard Cohen? Perfect,’ Marigold said, brightly. I agreed Well, he didn’t write anything upbeat or cheerful, ever.

Our companion smiled. ‘The roving one, that’s the one I was thinking of.’

I looked at Marigold, she looked as perplexed as me.

‘I don’t know that one,’ I said.

‘Oh? It’s very good. Anyway, I must get back to Malcolm. He’s diabetic and has to be watched.’

She lowered her voice and spoke to us from behind her hand. ‘He’s a right greedy so and so, I can’t relax for a minute, have to watch him 24/7.’

We all looked at Malcolm, busily tucking in to a vast Full English with buttered toast and jam on hand ready for the next course.

‘Yes,’ Marigold said, ‘you can’t be too careful.’

We returned to our own meagre fare, my porridge long since congealed to the consistency of cement, and tried to avoid listening to the raised voices from the distant table as Malcolm received both health advice and censure at maximum volume.

That evening Marigold announced ‘found it,’ holding her iPad aloft.

‘Oh good,’ I replied having absolutely no idea to what she was referring.

‘The Leonard Cohen song. The roving one is actually ‘So we’ll go no more a -roving’ and it’s on the Dear Heather album. I think we’ve got that, or used to have it anyway.’

We did once own that album and I remember the ‘song’ – actually a poem – spoken but not sung, although with Leonard Cohen the difference is minuscule.

I remembered the provenance of the actual poem as well; one dashed off by Lord Byron during his many perambulations around Europe. I looked it up and the second verse caught my attention.

‘For the sword outwears its sheath, ⁠

And the soul wears out the breast,

And the heart must pause to breathe, ⁠

And Love itself have rest.’

In a letter to Thomas Moore, the poem is preceded by Byron’s account of its genesis.

‘At present, I am on the invalid regimen myself. The Carnival - that is, the latter part of it, and sitting up late o' nights - had knocked me up a little. But it is over - and it is now Lent, with all its abstinence and sacred music... Though I did not dissipate much upon the whole, yet I find 'the sword wearing out the scabbard,' though I have but just turned the corner of twenty nine.’

Good grief, if he felt like that at the age of 29 no wonder he died when he was 36.

We set off the next morning, first to appear for breakfast at 06.30, and made it through the Wallasey Tunnel without mishap – the last time we crossed under the Mersey there was a multi car collision at the midpoint and we spent many an unhappy hour playing I Spy in the gloom as wrecking trucks prised vehicles apart.

We drove past a mural of Liverpool scenes including the Titanic, the much missed, by me anyway, Overhead Railway, a tram, a cormorant invoking the origins of the Liver Birds and much more painted on a cocoa bean storage shed at Seaforth Docks.

There’s so much on that mural to invoke a Liverpool childhood.

No, not the Titanic, I aren’t that ancient, but the overhead railway and the trams were integral parts of my childhood.

Rattling along the cobbles, getting off in Church Street to shop at the new C and A (my grandma insisted it stood for ‘caps and ‘ats’ – I believed her) or going all the way to the Pier Head, ‘for the ride.’

As for the Titanic, it may have been built in Belfast, sailed from Southampton on its inky voyage, but it’s very much a Liverpool ship. Titanic was registered in Liverpool, its managing company, White Star Line has its headquarters in James Street and Titanic carried the city’s name on her stern.

My Uncle Fred, who worked on the docks told me about a long passageway that connected crew quarters deep below decks on Titanic was named Scotland Road, where he, my mother and their other siblings were born and grew up.

We drove along Scotland Road on leaving the Tunnel today. It has changed beyond all recognition since my childhood. The rows of narrow streets flanked by grimy terrace houses where I played football and cowboys and Indians as a child are long gone.

Those post war slums are gone but nobody is claiming it as a shining example of urban gentrification just yet.

The Overhead Railway appears on the mural as it operated all along the docks, almost seven miles of them, between Liverpool and Seaforth between March 1893 to December 1956.

I rode the ‘overhead’ many times as a child, many years ahead of its time as the first electrically-operated elevated railway in the world and was devastated when it finally closed in 1956.

There’s one of the original carriages in Liverpool Museum. We sat in it and it was certainly evident the intention was to carry a workforce to and from their place of work, not as travellers expecting to be pampered.

At its peak over 20 million passengers travelled on it every year. I miss it so much.

The shore at Crosby was our destination today. The car parking has become more formal since our last visit a few years back and I eventually parked at a gym and outdoor activities centre where an earnest young man implored me to go and look at the plans for Everton’s proposed new stadium.

We didn’t bother.

We were here for art, pure and simple: Anthony Gormley’s superb creation, Another Place. Gormley is well known for his iconic Angel of the North sculpture alongside the A1 at Gateshead and we’ve visited a fair few ‘Gormley’s’ over the years, most memorably a suspended installation in the National Portrait Gallery entitled ‘Object’ which was breathtaking.

As with Object, Gormley’s statues of iron men at Crosby, 100 of them in all, are casts of the artist’s own body and are spread out along a 2 mile stretch of the Mersey just north of Liverpool.

The serried ranks of iron men are situated looking out to sea along set lines reaching up to half a mile from the entry point of the beach, which means that as the tide comes in many of the figures gradually become engulfed by the waves.

We took photos but film cannot capture the sense of awe at viewing these naked figures forever fixating on the seascape before them. Every day, every tidal surge, brings a fresh viewpoint as the more advanced figures gradually succumb to the advancing waves.

We could have stayed there all day.

Anthony Gormley’s Art is found all over the world, but perhaps the most striking of all is The Angel of the North.

We’ve passed that in sunshine, in rain, in a snowstorm and, memorably, on a misty day. It’s truly spectacular.

No Angel this trip, but it cropped up in recent conversation with an old friend who declared he would avoid passing by the statue at all costs due to its Nazi connotations.

I know, I know, but he’s an old friend and not all my friends are rational human beings. Very few of them meet the criteria in truth.

I did offer a rejoinder to the effect that Brian Sewell would doubtless agree with my friend as the late art critic, never one to hold back when there was spleen to be vented, affirmed the Angel to be ‘not a work of art, a monstrosity’.

I looked up this next quote, the words of Brian Sewell written ten years after the Angel’s installation: ‘It is a monstrous ugly object and God knows why it got planning permission... If you are talking about it as art, it's nought out of 10. It's about as engaging as the gigantic arms of Saddam Hussein on the way into Baghdad. I can't understand how people don't realise it is like a statue from almost every undemocratic regime you care to mention.’

Still not keen then, Brian.

Shame as it never ceases to inspire Marigold and I. We are evidently descended from Philistines.

Not that the Philistines deserve their unfortunate reputation being a rather cultured and erudite people on the whole.

The Angel’s wingspan is often compared to a Jumbo jet. I garnered some facts, its wings actually span 54 metres (that’s 175 feet) and it stands over 65 feet in height, the same as a five storey building or four double decker buses.

While ensuring the accuracy of these measurements I came across a reference to a comparison between the proposed artwork and a figure, complete with almost identical stance and with outstretched wings, commissioned by Albert Speer as a symbol of German air superiority for Adolph Hitler and a statue was erected outside Berlin in 1935.

Hitler, apparently, liked the design very much.

Oops, now I shall have to upgrade my opinion of my old friend. At the very least I now have something to place in the credit column to partially offset all the debits he has accumulated over the years.

100 Iron Men, at least that number of wind turbines. Last time we here there were scarcely any.

This one isn’t me.

‘Object’ in the National

A Quirky One, Untitled as far as I know.

Mister Gormley Suffering for his Art in a plaster cast. Remember the Pose.

The Same, Just a Bit Bigger