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Posts Tagged ‘memory’

We were talking last week about how complicated our individual lives can be. In particular, we were sharing stories about work, unions and family. Each of us had a different story, but equally complicated. Yet when we think of history, ‘the past’ involving cities, countries, millions of people it is often presented as if everything is very simple in life. We talk about “Liverpool in the 30s”, for instance, as if it’s just a question of gathering a series of facts and documents, but as soon as we go a bit deeper it all soon becomes very complicated. In a way, it may be said that history for each individual was different at the time they lived, as the present is different for each of us.

To confuse matters more, it’s not easy, maybe it’s not possible, to draw neat lines between the future, the present and the past. The image above was made using Photoshop which employs ‘layers’. Maybe time is layered too. Archaeologists dig and find old cities beneath the ground. Yesterday, Duncan was talking about how complete buildings are buried in redevelopments. He also said that underneath Waverley Station in Edinburgh is a warren of tunnels, almost a city underground. Somebody else spoke of a public display in Edinburgh where you go down quite deep into a town more than five hundred years old. . Of course, in Liverpool there are the Williamson Tunnels.

But it’s not just physical digging that’s involved.We dig into memory too. Maybe even in the present there are many different ‘layers’ all existing at the same time. Maybe there is not one Liverpool but many Liverpools (or any city). We are going to explore this idea in coming weeks with a look at just one street, Hope Street.

Meanwhile, as a reminder that the past lives all around us, here are a few images of the sorts of sight we pass hundreds of times each day.

The picture of the ruined hut on Liverpool’s waterfont is fascinating. Next to it is the Liner Super Terminal, and behind it the new developments of apartments, hotels and gleaming skyscrapers. Maybe any image like this with its green and cream colours that were used on the old landing stages and terminals is a trace of the maritime past about to disappear but still just about holding its own.

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Our sister site Spiderphoto will shortly be publishing a video called Passed Tense. The idea was that people recall a section of their life, represent this in a composite photograph, and talk over the photograph explaining the memories evoked. One of the images is that of Stephen’s shown here. In a longer version of his talking than in the video, he reflects upon how memory, rather than being a simple mirror of the past, is edited and constructed – sometimes contradicting actual events. You can hear Stephen’s interview here, or you can hear it here while looking at the image as it is slowly revealed.

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Everybody has childhood memories, and most of us love hearing those of others. Our parents and grandparents fascinate us with stories of a past that seems like ‘a foreign country’. Here are a few memories of Jack Jones, the Trades Union leader who died last year at the age of 96, about growing up in Garston:

Jack Jones

Jack Jones wrote about his childhood in his autobiography, ‘Union Man” (1986):

 

My home was in York Street, Garston, in the south end of Liverpool – a long street of poor and mean terraced houses. They had two rooms up and two rooms down, generally in a decaying state. They had been built some time in the last century – obviously with the minimum of cost – to house labour for the nearby factories and docks. The houses were infested by rats, mice, cockroaches and bugs. Our rent was five shillings a week, and even that was exorbitant!

From a child’s point of view the street had one advantage: out of the maze of working-class streets it was the nearest to the Mersey river. We walked past the copper works, the tannery, Grayson’s shipyard, the bobbin works (making wooden bobbins for the textile industry), a derelict glass works and King’s ship-breaking yard and there we were on the shore, a wonderful if muddy playground when we tired of playing our games in the the street.

 

 

There was no gas or electricity, so we had a paraffin lamp downstairs, but otherwise we used candles. I was the youngest of five children and my three brothers and I slept in one of the two bedrooms – and when we were very young, we were all in one bed.

 

None of the houses in the street had an inside lavatory or a bathroom – we bathed in a tin bath once a week, and that wasn’t easy, as the water had to be heated on our single coal fire. Every morning a lad would trundle a metal barrel on wheels round the street, shouting “Lant!” – which meant urine, for use in the pickling process in the local copper works. The women would go out and empty the contents of their chamber pots into the barrel.

 

I left school, aged 14, and went to work at a general engineering firm, making components for Graysons as well as Harland and Wolff, the shipbuilding and ship-repairing firms.

 

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Of Time and the City

Terence Davies’ award winning film looks at Liverpool very much through a personal prism. Davies has not set out to make a documentary ‘about’ his city, although it does contain some wonderful archive material. Nor does he want to spend time eulogising football or the Beatles (in fact he has no interest in any pop music).

Instead, he weaves together his own narrative, poetry, music and a wonderful range of film footage to reflect more upon the nature of memory itself.

There are very many celebrations of Liverpool around, historical documentaries, ‘issue-based’ dramas and reportage, many of them excellent in their own terms, and a lot of them representing the dynamic field of production not considered mainstream. But Davies’ film, while inevitably evoking some of the many layers of time’s passing in this city, is more ‘about’ an individual’s very deep and unique response to the passage of time.

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