"You had to be there..." -- Jimmy Buffett

Liverpool If you’re in the UK it can’t have escaped your attention that the opening ceremony for Liverpool’s Capital of Culture year was tonight. I’d hummed and harred as usual about going but in the end, after hearing that there would be ‘full coverage’ on BBC News 24 decided to stay in and watch it with the family (who couldn’t easily get into town to see it themselves). The dvd recorder was set too.

Northwest Tonight was broadcast from St. George’s Hall plateau and it all looked very exciting with the colours and people being very happy about what was going on. At the end of the programme, again they highlighted the full coverage on BBC News 24 and after tea we sat down ready to see Ringo play his drums from the top of the building at 20:08 as has been talked about for days and weeks.

Eight o’clock came on BBC News 24 and as expected mid-headline, coverage cut to plateau were acrobats were flying about and a massive crowd were cheering. It was indeed exciting as the announcer talked about the city and all the good things that would be happening. Then at 20:06, the BBC cut back to the studio so that they could interview some politician about the Peter Hain thing.

So we missed Ringo and the sound of drums. I ran around the flat and found a radio. On Radio Merseyside, Claire Hamilton was trying her best to convey what she was seeing, the rock band spread across the buildings in the area, guitars from the Radio City Tower, from the Walker, the draining of the Mersey. On television, more news headlines, then a cut back for a brief flash of Ringo and then Louise Minchin, the presenter who’d been sent up here to cover the event standing in front of the action.

Everything sounded very exciting on the radio, but it had become apparent that although 300 million people throughout the world were able to watch the event on the television, the people in the country and city were it was taking place … couldn’t. We were disappointed. We were annoyed. An editor at the BBC had clearly decided to treat it as a news event rather than running proper live coverage somewhere, even though what pictures we could see looked spectacular.

The television went on and off standby as we tried to decide which was best --concentrate on the radio or hope for something else on screen. At some point, Ray Snoddy’s Newswatch was trailed as starting at 8:45 so clearly that was that for the ‘full coverage’.
‘I should have gone.’ I said dejectedly.
‘You should get in a taxi now and go and see the end.’ Mum said. She was joking. But …

I did.

My boots were on my feet in semi-seconds and within two minutes, said taxi was called and was waiting for me downstairs. I asked the driver to get me as close to the action as possible. London Road was closed, but assured me he’d try his best. In the cab we talked about the event and the tv coverage and he gave a very good sales pitch for the year.
‘It’s almost as though I’d rehearsed that.’ He said.
‘Are you an 08 Ambassador?’ I asked.
‘You should apply and get yourself a badge.’
‘I’ve already got one.’ (meaning his taxi one)
He managed to drop me near Lime Street Station. I ran as fast as I could in the direction of St George’s Hall, but people were already walking away from the scene. In the distance I could hear the final strains of Ringo’s song. I literally reached the event as the credits rolled, projected onto the massive screens.

I’d still missed it.

But now I didn’t really care, because at least I’d been there with St George’s Hall lit up and the final gasp of the atmosphere. Without thinking I began to walk in opposition the crowd, wanting to at least get close to the plateau, so I also now know what ten thousand people walking towards you looks like. Luckily I wasn’t the only one. I managed to hook onto the end of a column of about ten people and the crowd were shifting around us as we walked ever forward, hundreds of faces pushing past but not one with any force.

I reached the road outside the plateau and took in the sights. An announcer said that Lime Street underground station was closed that everyone should walk to James Street. I called home and let them know what had happened. That I didn’t mind that I’d missed the event entirely because this flash of spontaneity seemed more exciting. It had been adventure anyway and that seemed better somehow. Perhaps I was kidding myself, making those justifications that stop you from being disappointed but really, for no reason anyone else could understand I was happy.

I remembered that the Walker Art Gallery was open late, so rather than fighting my way home immediately I decided to go there. It's the first time I've seen people queuing to get inside. Inside that queue continued at the café so I edged upstairs. The gallery spaces were filled with people; apart from private views I don’t remember the Walker being this busy and with people largely looking at the paintings. It was exactly like tourist filled London galleries, the same hustle and bustle, and children walking around.

The trip into town was almost worth these visions. I stopped in front of the odd painting, some more familiar than other -- they've perhaps lately had a minor rehang -- but this seem to be what this culture year is about -- not just bringing events to the city but also highlighting the cultural heritage we already have and reminding we natives that its there. Some people were more interested than others, but just now and then I'd see some eyes widen, some surprise at the beauty that had been stumbled into.

Clearly then it’s been an educational evening for me too. As the Capital of Culture begins (I’ve bought the programme and everything) and the various events unravel what I’ve learned is -- you wouldn't believe this – that you really need to be there. Despite the crowds, despite the travel problems (and oh yes, getting home was as disastrous as I’d expected, good old Merseytravel) the random elements are part of the experience and that although getting there for the end was fine this time, it'd be difficult to justify in the future. So I might have missed Ringo, The Wombats and the poetry tonight, but I’ll try my best not to miss anything else...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

i was very disappointed.