Tag Archives: Liverpool

The Poignancy of Poppies

Hopefully you will think this an apt post on Remembrance Sunday. The last week has been a little bit bonkers. Work has taken over with trips to London, then Paris and back in a day, followed by a firework display for 20,000 on Thursday and then on Friday some very, very special arrivals to Liverpool in the form of the poppies from the Tower of London. So work has been bonkers but I couldn’t be prouder than when I turned the corner of St George’s Hall as the last thousand or so were being attached. These will be open and housed at the hall until mid January for free so anyone who wants to see them, and pay their respects or just have a quiet moment, can. I blooming love my job, my team and what we do.  Here is how I first saw them…


I saw the Poppies in London and was incredibly moved by them, so when I knew Liverpool was getting these ceramic beauties which hold so much poignancy I couldn’t quite believe it. While we don’t have all of them, we have the several thousand that make up the Weeping Window, no matter how far away or close to them you are they have a certain magic about them, they make you tingle in a highly emotive way. It’s quite haunting even though it is also mesmerizingly beautiful.


As many of you will know the Tower of London poppies were designed by artists Paul Cummins and Tom Piper to mark 100 years since the start of World War One, each of the 888,246 poppies placed over a period of time were installed to represent one of the deaths in the British and Colonial forces between 1914 and 1918. We now have the Weeping Window coming from the top of the columns of St Georges Hall (which is huge) where over 30,000 men had signed up to fight for their country by the end of 1914, more than 13,000 of whom lost their lives, so the building holds a real resonance to everything the poppies stand for.


This will be all the more poignant today when we hold the silence at 11am outside the building, as has been done for decades, with hundreds of people to remember everyone that fought for our country and for freedom before hundred of poppies are released from the roof. A fitting tribute.


For more info on the Poppies and the incredible programme around them head here. Don’t forget to pay your respects and hold the silence at 11am to remember all the incredible people from wars past to present who have fought, and are fighting, for freedom and a world free from tyranny in favour of hope, freedom and peace. We must not forget.



Filed under Random Savidgeness

A Giant Spectacular Finale (and Hitting The Headlines)

And so the festival is officially over and what a finale we had, and I don’t mean the one last week where I ended up getting so drunk I staying in a hotel in my own city. The finale of the IFB2014 was the return of The Giants. If you think I am overtired and hallucinating, or still drunk, I swear to you I am telling the truth!

You may not remember but back way back when I first met the Beard and was doing the whole dating thing and thinking about moving to Liverpool we accidentally ended up crossing the path, or ripples, of the Giants that came and conquered the city before sailing away. Well it was a huge success for the city at the time and so Culture Liverpool, who since that fateful boat trip I only went and worked for and now work for the sister company of, brought them back again. Little (no pun intended) did the project team realise how close we would get, even though we knew they were passing and had our sandwiches at the ready, or that one of us might end up in the headlines of the Liverpool Echo (guess who?)…


So as you can see above we were all ready and waiting with eager anticipation for the Granny Giant to arrive. Soon enough the crowds started to build and build and sure enough she arrived…


If I am being 100% honest, I had forgotten how brilliant the giants were the first time they came (then too I was a bit nonchalant about it all) yet once I could see her, see the way the crowd was loving following her the buzz of excitement started to build and build as she came nearer. As it turned ut we had some of the best seats in the city…


Here I should stipulate that I don’t really understand what the story for the giants was, and I read the flyer, but they had come from beyond the Milky Way and were here to commemorate the anniversary of WWI. It does sound bonkers I understand, but it worked brilliantly. As she stood below us she started to read letters from those who had been in the war or those who had written to them. It was very moving.


Now as I was saying as it went on the excitement and emotion just sent us all a bit giddy and we couldn’t help but try and get a picture with the giants, and indeed some of us resorted to selfies…


What I didn’t expect was for my selfie to end up in the Liverpool Echo as one of the images from the first day of the Giants visit, but it did as you can see here. My fifteen minutes of fame right there. However at the time we didn’t know this and what was interesting was as she slowly headed past us and off to find her granddaughter and her dog you really felt sad to see her leave…


The other thing it made me feel was immensely proud. Not just of the festival I have worked on this city and the people I have worked with, which goes without saying as it and they have been amazing. I also felt extremely proud of this city, Liverpool, and the people who go the extra mile to make it a vibrant place bringing new people in but also putting on a bloody good show for the people who live here. I feel honoured that I am an honorary Liverpudlian, of sorts.


To get more of the effect of the giants, their story and see how amazing the logistics of them (and all the man power with her crane and all the people who move her limbs swinging up in the air – which you soon stop seeing bizarrely) then do watch the video below. It is quite inspiring. I can’t wait for them to come back. What a brilliant way to end the festival too.

Anyway I thought I would share that with you all as some of you mentioned, when I asked you to ask me anything and make suggestions which I will answer all the questions from when I am back from my trip away, that you would like to see more posts about random things I get up to off blog. I think encountering giants and making the headlines will do won’t it?


Filed under Random Savidgeness

Did She Kill Him? A Victorian Tale of Deception, Adultery and Arsenic – Kate Colquhoun

With a title like that and a well-known obsession with all things Victorian, there was little doubt that I was going to miss out on reading Did She Kill Him? A Victorian Tale of Deception, Adultery and Arsenic (which from now on we will just call Did She Kill Him? to save my poor fingers) was there? My only slight worry before I embarked on Kate Colquhoun’s latest book was that I haven’t got the best track record with non-fiction, however I needn’t have worried. Truth be told if more non-fiction was written like this, or I discovered more non-fiction with this kind of narrative, I think I would be a huge fan of it.

Little Brown, hardback, 2014, non-fiction, 432 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Being non-fiction the true story behind Did You Kill Him? is not difficult to look up. However I am going to assume that you know very little, or absolutely nothing like myself, of the case of Florence Maybrick. This means I don’t want to spoil it for any of you, as wondering the outcome of this book was one of its many wonders to read. I think it is enough to say that during 1889 Florence Maybrick became a household name all over the country, not just in the city of Liverpool where she (and now I) lived at the time, after she was arrested under the suspicion of murdering her husband by arsenic poisoning. The question on everyone’s lips was ‘Did She Kill Him?’ and Kate Colquhoun looks at the weeks leading up to James Maybrick’s death and just what was happening behind the façade of the Maybrick’s well suited marriage and happy household.

Sitting in the Battlecrease parlour that Saturday morning, 16 March 1889, Florence felt suffocated. It was too quiet. The nursemaid, Alice Yapp, has the children. James was in the city fussing over his deals. Mrs Humphreys, the cook, was preparing lunch. The young maids – Bessie Brierley and Mary Cadwallader – were tucking, polishing and tidying, putting to rights the nursery, straightening the upstairs rooms, quietly moving down corridors as they completed their chores.

It makes for fascinating reading. Again without giving anything away we learn of their marriage and how Florence left her American home, as many women did at the time, being a woman of new money looking for a title and old money in the UK – the husbands also looking for new money and fine young wives making it mutually agreeable. We learn how this initially was a marvellous thing for the Maybrick’s and then discover that for both parties it was not quite what they had pictured. Soon, we discover, arsenic addiction, infidelity and isolation were all part of the Maybrick household. All of this becoming more clear later on when the case goes to trial, when James falls suddenly ill and starts to deteriorate and suspicions over fly papers, bottles of medicine, mental states etc. all come to light, yet we as the reader know this already.

This is part of what makes Did She Kill Him? so wonderful to read. We learn about all the before and then see it through the various witnesses eyes at the time again when it goes to court. If you are like me the very idea of a court case in a book (all those docks and all that lawyer speak) makes you instantly think ‘boring’, think again. You are fascinated to hear the evidence from the witnesses and how different, untrue, cunning, misunderstood it all is (Alice Yapp and one of James’ brothers are such marvellous characters that you just couldn’t make up). Colquhoun also makes it incredibly fast paced and, to use an overused (I am so sorry) cliché, this book reads like a thriller – as will another court based fiction book I will discuss later this week. I digress…

There are some books I read that I call ‘google’ books, though really I should call them ‘run along to the reference section in the library’ books, where you just find out so much fascinating stuff you long to find out even more. Things like the 1857 divorce act and the 1870/1882 married women’s property acts, fascinating. I never thought I would want to know all about the history of arsenic as a substance and how it was used in its raw forms and in day to day life, well I can reveal exclusively here that I was gripped. Who knew?!? Yet Colquhoun makes it fascinating both in how it relates to the case but also Victorian society at large and without ever seeming to show off (some authors do, we’ve all read those books) and condenses pages and pages of what she must have read into marvellous factual titbits.

Some, like Queen Victoria in the late 1870’s, were concerned enough to order suspect wallpapers to be removed from their homes. Newspapers like The Times condemned the government for its laissez-faire attitude, suggesting that MPs would rather allow the slow poisoning of our little ones than the economic repercussions of trying to eliminate arsenic from a wide range of products. Others remained sceptical: William Morris refused to avoid even the most pernicious pigments, believing the scare to be a mere folly. Yet with so much arsenic in the domestic air, it was little wonder that a rest by the seaside could be so beneficial to the middle-class invalid, nor the digestive disorders, redness of eye and odd cramps in the legs resumed as soon as they returned home.

The other thing that makes this book so wonderful is that, as the title suggests, people really could not work out if Florence had or hadn’t killed her husband. The case was debated fiercely in the papers, in the Houses of Parliament and even in the Queen’s chambers, well the palace at least. At some points the case gained more coverage than a certain killed in London called Jack, indeed it worried many people more because Jack the Ripper was clearly some mentally unwell psychopathic heathen, yet if women from good homes and of stature in society were seemingly killing their husbands then no one was safe. Women in particular seemed to have the biggest problem with it, society was moving forward for women and then some supposed ‘sister’ of the cause would go and do something like that. Again, society’s history and state at the time both adding pressure to the case and making for fascinating reading.

The greengrocer’s fruit may have arrived at her cell every day with a note of sympathy, but the women attending the coroner’s inquest hissed when the contents of her letter to Brierley became known. Apart from her mother, few among her own sex were generous to regard her as innocent until proven guilty. Women, it turned out, would be among her most entrenched and bitter critics; it seemed to be widely accepted that unnatural urges and scandalous sexuality went hand in hand with predatory murder.

Considering I read so little non-fiction, whilst true, it doesn’t really put any weight behind my saying that Did She Kill Him? is one of the best non-fiction books I have read. However if I say it is one of my stand out favourite books of the year I am hoping you will all want to give it a go. If you love the Victorian period and society then you will love this, especially as a city other than London takes centre stage – and people forget how important a city Liverpool was in the Victorian era. If you love a good crime novel then with its pace, gripping nature and sense of ‘did she do it?’ you will devour this. In fact if you just love a good read then this really is a book you need to get your mitts on. It is as addictive as the arsenic that features so much in it, maybe the publishers have sneakily filled the pages with it?

If you would like to hear more about the book you can listen to Kate having a chat with me in an old Victorian prison cell on this episode of You Wrote The Book!


Filed under Books of 2014, Little Brown Publishing, Non Fiction, Review

An Afternoon with Armistead…

More and more often I literally have to pinch myself at what a lucky young man (I nearly said boy but those days are long gone) I am, and all the joy that a love of books have brought me. Would the 15 year old me ever have thought that he would meet one of his literary idols sixteen years later? Never! Yet that is what happened yesterday when I got to see, and indeed meet, one of my bookish hero’s Armistead Maupin who’s Tales of the City series have been a comfort, a friend and a place I can escape to for all those many years.


Armistead was in Liverpool to do an event at the Museum of Liverpool in conjuncture with the wonderful Homotopia which celebrates queer arts and culture – I must talk to them about bookish stuff. Homotopia has an amazing exhibition on April Ashley at the moment. April was one of the first people who underwent gender reassignment, rather like the fictional Anna Madrigal, and so Armistead coming to celebrate The Days of Anna Madrigal seemed perfection – and it was. The audience loved him and he made us laugh, get a bit emotional and most of all think.

Then, being a very lucky little so and so, once all the signings were done I got time to sit and chat and interview him all by myself. Well, by myself with his wonderful publicist (of several decades) Alison Barrow and of course The Beard who had made special Anna Madrigal themed cupcakes* (Anna loves her garden and a joint, the joint isn’t real but is filled with popping candy – fantabulous) which proved a wonderful talking point…


And talk we did. I have to admit I went into utter fan boy momentum for a few minutes and then managed to regain some kind of cool. We chatted about Tales of the City, how much it means to people (how much it meant to me at 15 and now) and also some rather naughty bits and bobs. I won’t say anymore, you will have to wait for You Wrote the Book next week.

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I can say it was, after the nerves went, an utter joy. I wanted to pinch myself to check that it wasn’t some kind of crazy dream. However I have proof in the pictures and also in the, erm, proof. Yes that does say ‘a great interview’ – head explodes with joy!


So all in all it was one of the most amazing afternoon’s ever, and ended with myself, Armistead and The Beard not only discussing Armistead writing something racy under a pseudonym, but also his possible one man tour. We have offered to be his back up dancers/singers/luggers or maybe even become a new boyband…


…The thing is, what would we be called? Anyway, I thought I would share one of the biggest bookish highlights I have had yet. See, books are brilliant, so are blogs.

*Note not all authors I meet get specially made book themed cakes, though I have told The Beard that there could be a marvellous business in this!


Filed under Armistead Maupin

World Book Night & Liverpool Literature Festival – Reminder #1

So tomorrow is, of course, World Book Night and lucky old Liverpool as we have the flagship events all happening up here! I am ever so excited about the event, well ever so excited might actually be a small understatement. With talks from Jeanette Winterson, Jasper Fforde, Jackie Kay, Patrick Ness, Frank Cottrell Boyce and Philippa Gregory (who I am hoping to grill briefly when I can for a special episode of The Readers) in the offing, book swapping and giving plus a literary themed cafe and much more! I think it is going to be my perfect kind of evening, books, book chat and book based food, what more could I ask for and what a perfect way to start Liverpool Literature Festival ‘In Other Words’…

Speaking of the festival I thought I would do a slightly shameless reminder *coughs* or two about two very exciting events that I have lined up in the first week of the festival just in case you fancied coming along (and it would be sooooooo lovely if you did).

First up on Wednesday I will be talking to one of my biggest currently literary crushes Keith Ridgway, whose novel ‘Hawthorn & Child’ was one of my favourites of last year and whose wonderful ‘The Long Falling’ I will be telling you about later, and also Ben Marcus who I am revelling in at the moment. Both authors have done something very different with their latest works and so the night is aptly called ‘Novel Approaches’. It is going to be super.

 Liverpool Lit Fest 1 

I have also been baking like I have never baked before for Sunday afternoon, as I will be hosting an afternoon tea with John Whaite, the winner of the Great British Bake Off last year, at the Liverpool Town Hall – with the Mayor, well one of them, we  greedily have two here as we do Cathedrals. His (absolutely stunning) cook book comes out this week and so I have been trying lots of the recipes in advance, though because the book is so beautiful I have been having to walk from kitchen to mess free zone to keep the book spotless.

Liverpool Lit Fest 2John Whaite

So hopefully I might see some of you in attendance?!? I myself, apart from the World Book Night evening of delight, am planning on going to a talk on Thursday in the depths of the Williamson Tunnels (a must opportunity for anyone who loves the Victorian era and likes to be spooked) for a night celebrating the life and works of James Herbert with a host of horror writers as sadly James was due to host this event himself. I also have plans to go and see Roger McGough and Brian Pattern (who wrote my favourite collection of poems ever, ‘Gargling With Jelly’) on Friday night – phew! I may relax on Saturday though, as next week is even more bonkers, yet there is a book swap going on at Metal Library which I might not be able to resist!

So that is my social calendar sorted for the week, what about you? Will any of you be at any of these events in Liverpool (and have a look at all the listings here IOW Listing Brochure 22-3) over the week, as I would love to say hello if so. What are your plans for World Book Night be you a giver or not, anything special planned?


Filed under Liverpool Literary Festival, Random Savidgeness, World Book Night

Beryl Bainbridge: Artist, Writer, Friend – An Exhibition

This weekend, whilst I was mulling a few things (thank you for your comments earlier this week), I decided to do some pottering and mooching about in lovely Liverpool. For some reason I have stayed over in the Wirral in the main and not done as much exploring of my new nearby city and its delights. Well, unless friends have come to visit obviously. So I decided to hit the museums and I wasn’t expecting to find anything particularly bookish on my rounds and yet I did, and from one of my favourite authors… Beryl Bainbridge.


Believe it or not the building above is not Liverpool’s Science Museum, in fact I don’t think we have one, but a very new addition (and quite a controversial one) to the Mersey riverfront and is actually the Museum of Liverpool. Amongst the history of the city through the ages I discovered a little gem of an exhibition for any book lover, Beryl Bainbridge: Artist, Writer Friend.


I have only discovered Beryl Bainbridge’s novels in the last few years, ‘The Bottle Factory Outing’ becoming one of my favourite books for being so bonkers, yet I knew relatively little about her apart from the fact that she died earlier than she should. For example I had no idea that she was from Liverpool… I know shocking isn’t it?


On top of that, whilst I had seen some of her illustrations from ‘Filthy Lucre’ which she wrote very young, I had no idea that she was a painter, something this exhibition proves beyond a shadow of a doubt.


On top of lots of her paintings there is also a wonderful collection of some of the first editions of her books…


…And indeed one of her notebooks from 1968 which has a story of its own. This was a journal that Beryl (I hope she wouldn’t mind first name terms) wrote whilst on a road trip across America with her lover at the time, Harold Retler. This was a trip that Bainbridge was left very disappointed by and yet, several decades later, she used this journal as inspiration for her final novel ‘The Girl in the Polka Dot Dress’. I found this fascinating in itself.


One thing that Bainbridge seemed to find fascinating herself, and indeed she wrote about it in ‘Every Man For Himself’, was the Titanic which itself is a huge part of Liverpool’s history. I think the paintings Beryl had done of her imaginings of the Titanic might have been her most poignant and powerful.


It seemed rather appropriate, if that is the right word, that as you leave the exhibition and museum to head to the centre of town, or the train, after wards you actually go past the very building where the names of the survivors and the dead were read out from the balcony after the tragedy.


As you can tell I was rather bowled over by this surprise find. I haven’t shared all of it with you as the exhibition is on until the 28th of this month and I am hoping some of you might make it there (if you do let me know I might be about for a coffee, ha) to have a look yourself. If you can’t make it then hopefully this is a small insight into it and you can feel you went and had a wander, sort of, round it. There is a book ‘Beryl Bainbridge: Artist, Writer, Friend’ by Psiche Hughes which I am kicking myself for not getting myself. Maybe I will have to pop back?


Filed under Beryl Bainbridge

The Lasses Come to Liverpool…

So this is normally the point in the week where you get to have a nosey through other peoples bookshelves, however that is on hiatus this week. This is partly due to the fact that I cannot find some of the emails that you have sent with pictures and the questionnaire, due to a full inbox not my own ineptness (well not completely) and also as I might start making it bi-weekly. It will be back though. This week though it is time for something a little bit different and a little bit more personal.

003This weekend just gone was possibly one of the best weekends I have had in ages as two of my closest friends Polly, of Novel Insights, and Michelle, who is soon (tomorrow) to be thirty, came to stay for the weekend. Recently I have been missing London a little and so it was lovely to have two of my closest friends from that era of my life come and stay. It also meant a chance to go to some of Liverpool’s tourist attractions that I hadn’t even been to myself, and so I thought you might like to join us all.

After picking up these two lasses from the station the Beard very kindly drove us on to one of Liverpool’s most famous landmarks, the Metropolitan Cathedral. As you can see it looks like something out of a science fiction novel, or possibly the wonderful land of Oz. Despite having been wanting to go and see it ever since I moved here, partly because it looks so odd and partly because it reminds me of the credits from Brookside, having the delightful duo up meant I finally could as, believe it or not,  the Beard has never ever wanted to go in – ever. Well, Captain Stubborn is missing out as what greets you inside is something rather wondrous. It just leaves you slightly breathless and what I loved it that each alcove around the circular congregation is in a completely different style almost reminding you of buildings and eras from the past. Stunning.


Liverpool boasts not one but two cathedrals, which is really rather greedy isn’t it, and I hadn’t been to the other one and so decided now was the time. Despite the fact that it looks so much older than the metropolitan one it was actually finished later, who would have thought it?


On arrival we noticed a rather spooky looking path and because we are quite nosey (Polly famously ‘accidentally’ broke into the building that is said to be ‘Wuthering Heights’ when we went to Yorkshire many moons ago) we decided we had to go and explore and discovered a very old cemetery, now park, which reminded me very much of Highgate and soon I was rattling on about what all the Victorian symbolism meant.

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We also thought it would be a great setting for a crime novel scene, probably where a body is discovered. Polly seemed to be an ideal amateur sleuth, don’t you think?


If I was impressed inside the previous cathedral then this one nearly blew my socks off, it is huge and incredibly grand. I actually almost fell over from dizziness trying to take this picture…


We would have gone ‘up the tower’ to the top however Michelle doesn’t like heights and announced she gets the most uncontrollable urge to throw herself off them and so we moved quickly on… to the pub, set in the old Pump House down by the docks.


Then it was time for the Tate Liverpool to see the new exhibition ‘Glam’, where I got told off for taking pictures, and the regular exhibits. I must go there more often; I am amazed that I have not been to the Liverpool Museum even actually, anyway…


The day whizzed by and after a train ride and walk through Birkenhead Park, which was what Central Park based itself on believe it or not, it was party time. We had just discovered lambrini, a horrendously cheap alcoholic drink, was made in Liverpool and so couldn’t start with anything but that could we? Oh and a few canapés from The Beard’s shop of course…

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Then came the cake, not made and iced by a five year old child but by me, and candles and champers and soon it was time for bed.


Next day, after the Beards signature French toast and bacon, it was off for more culture at the seaside as we went to Another Place and saw several of Anthony Gormley’s statues in the sand.

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They are quite an eerie site from a distance and the mood of them changes on the day, as you can see though today was all sunshine and jollity…


Then all too soon it was the end of the wonderful weekend and we had to head back…


Despite being a little down in the dumps after they had left I realised what a wonderful and fun filled weekend we had had and the lovely memories that we have to share will stay with me when I miss them most next. That said though we will be meeting again for Polly’s hen weekend, which I am organising heaven help her, though I am not sure I will share pictures from that weekend!


Filed under Random Savidgeness