Street Talking, New Brighton

Eye opening! Inspirational murals in the Victoria Quarter, New Brighton

I absolutely love the murals around the Victoria Quarter of New Brighton, a seaside resort on the northwest coast of England.

The vast sands at the top of the beautiful Wirral peninsula look to the Irish Sea, to the Dee Estuary and the mountains of Snowdonia and also across the River Mersey to the iconic docklands of Liverpool. New Brighton is a very special place.

After years of decline, the town is experiencing an upsurge of vitality. New developments along the seafront attract visitors to the lighthouse, Fort Perch Rock, The Floral Pavilion Theatre, a fun golf course, cinema screens, cafes and bars. Behind this lies Victoria Road and the Victoria Quarter.

The Victoria Quarter is a favourite haunt! Here independent businesses are springing up to create a new vibe. There’s good food and live music, and inspirational murals too.

The beautiful and thought provoking street art is astounding and well worth visiting. Hop on the train to New Brighton and discover these artworks just across the road from the station.

Here are some of my images of what you can expect!

There’s another mural hidden away, with a lovely invitation to a seaside day out! I’ll leave you to discover that one for yourself!

Mark’s Story

Mental Health Awareness Week

Mark

Please meet my friend Mark, an insightful and sensitive man who has asked me to help him share the story of his life experiences so that others might perhaps avoid the cycle of homelessness and drugs that has held him in its grip for some twenty-five years.

Mark is not using drugs currently. We meet in the dockland area of Liverpool at Cotton Street Homeless Shelter, a bright and non-judgemental safe environment for people in need. The city is not his natural environment, he feels much more at ease in the peace of woodlands and hills in north Wales, where his story began.

Mark was born in Wrexham. When he was just a few months old, his parents carried out an armed robbery on a local post office. They were captured and held in custody. For two days they did not reveal that they had left two babies home alone. Police rescued Mark and his sister Katrina and took both siblings to a foster family in the rural village of Rhydymwyn in the upper Alyn valley. 

While the area is known for mineral works and a quarry, the pastoral scenery moved Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) to compose ‘The Rivulet’, a short piano piece that evokes the serenity of the landscape. The German composer stayed with a family friend in the village and wrote to his father, ‘Wales is a wonderfully beautiful country, but this sheet is so small that I will have to describe it to you in person.’

His connection with Rhydymwyn is celebrated on an inscribed plaque on Nant Alyn Road. Author Charles Kingsley also receives an honourable mention, he too loved the wooded landscape and walked with streams through the hills.

For Mark, a young boy taken into the care of a foster family, Rhydymwyn was a special place to grow up. ‘I don’t know much about my biological parents’ he explains. ‘My mum was an alcoholic, I know that. But I call Doug and my Margaret my parents. I was with them and their three children for a long time. I wasn’t adopted but it was home with them.’

In a village of around eight hundred people, everybody knew everyone else’s business. Mark’s parents were respected in the community and his dad worked at the mine.

Mark was a nature boy, exploring caves, scrambling through woods, following trails.  ‘I miss it’ he says. The family lived next door to the quarry from where rock was transported to build coastal defenses. 

The boyhoood thrill of watching of watching rumbling trucks pass to and fro inspired Mark to become a lorry driver. ‘I never made it’ he laughs. ‘I wasn’t allowed into the quarry grounds but I’d stand by the gate, waiting to ask the drivers where they were going. They all knew me and my dad knew them. In the summer holidays I was allowed to ride with them. I loved it. If I got lucky, I could do several trips a day to the sea defences at New Brighton and Colwyn Bay.

I remember a time when it was really wild at Colwyn Bay, there were huge waves on the beach and I was watching from the lorry. It was special! On the journey the drivers would ask if I was behaving myself for mum and dad. Sometimes I got into mischief and in the small village I was usually blamed for all kind things I hadn’t done. I was accused of smashing up a greenhouse once but we were away that bank holiday weekend.’ Though his parents made Mark’s innocence clear, the child never received an apology from his accusers.

‘I was troublesome though’ Mark admits freely. ‘I didn’t feel right in school. I was struggling; I found it hard to control my temper. I had tantrums. Looking back, I was disruptive. So I’d bunk off. I’d go to the caves or the woods. It was peaceful there. I’d just sit and watch the badgers. My dad usually knew where to find me and he’d take me home. Though there was a ruined church in the hills he didn’t know about.’ He smiles at the memory.

Mark recognises that his loving foster family did their best to keep him safe but as he grew older, they struggled to cope. Social services offered them a respite break and sent Mark to a north Wales children’s home. He remains unable to speak of the trauma he experienced there.

On return to the family home he had nightmares. ‘I couldn’t sleep. I went into mum and dad’s room; I woke them up and told them I knew I was going to be sent back to the children’s home. They sent me to bed but sure enough, I was right. When they needed a break later, I got sent back to Broughton. It was a horrible experience.’ I see in Mark’s face, and in the tension overtaking his body, how deeply painful trauma remains.

‘We had a good life.’ he says, changing direction. ‘We had family holidays once a year. We didn’t go abroad, we stayed in Wales. Mum and dad taught me a lot. When I needed stuff like trainers, mum would deduct a bit of my pocket money to show me the importance of saving up and the value of things.’ 

And while Mark was a challenge, he knew instinctively where to find peace for himself. ‘I always had those places, the caves, the woods, the dilapidated old church, where I’d feel comfy and at ease. Sometimes I’d cry to myself in my own space where I could just be me, away from everyone. Don’t get me wrong, I had mates in the village but I liked my own space. I needed it, still do.’

Mark left home after his fifteenth birthday, though he stayed in the village, moving in with a friend’s family. He quit school to work as a labourer in a steel and timber yard in Buckley. When he was sixteen he got a flat of his own. Around this time his sister was in a relationship with a man she was to marry.

‘I begged her not to marry him’ Mark remembers. ‘I thought she was too young. She didn’t need a wedding certificate to live with him.’ When he heard from others that she was being abused, he went to see her at work.

She had black eyes and wounds across her face. ‘I could see what he had done to my sister; my only real family, and I knew I had to do something to stop him. Straight away I went and bought a can of petrol and poured it through their letterbox. I set their flat on fire. At the time, I wanted him to be in there. Now I am glad he wasn’t.’

Mark was arrested for arson, convicted and sent to a young offenders establishment in Shropshire. ‘I was detained for five years. I knew I had done wrong. I accepted my punishment and knew I just had to get on with prison. My sister divorced her husband after the fire and we stayed strong together.’

Reaching his twenty first birthday, Mark was moved to Walton prison in Liverpool. ‘I’d heard about it and I was terrified. I learned to keep my mouth shut. I learned you have to keep your head down and just get on with your jail. I didn’t think about anything else. You blank things out just to get through. Prison is volatile. Things happen that might not be your fault but you can get pulled in. So I stayed out of trouble and I didn’t give cheek to the officers.’

In this environment, Mark discovered drugs. ‘Prison woke me up to another world. I was a kid from a sleepy village in Wales. I’d never used drugs but going to jail was a culture shock. One day the vicar came to see me. He told me Doug, my foster dad, had an aggressive form of cancer. When he left, my pad mate asked if I wanted heroin. I turned it down but later, when I was looking at him, all smashed and relaxed on the bed, I thought I want to be like that and so I took a smoke. I knew nothing about addiction. I didn’t know then what heroin would do to me. I just knew you got off your cake.’

‘By the time I left prison at twenty-three, I was a heroin addict and didn’t even realise it. A mate told me. He’d come to pick me up, and as were driving back to Rhyl, he noticed I was feeling sick. He was using himself and recognised the symptoms. He offered me a smoke, said it would sort me out. It did. I felt brand new. That’s when I realised I needed heroin, not for the buzz, but just to function.’

Breaking free from heroin is a monumental achievement and addiction remains a daily battle even in recovery. Mark has been in and out of drug use for years. ‘I’d get clean for a long time and then something would happen in my life and I’d go back to it, and the stealing, the robbing cars and breaking into houses to fund it. I’d get caught, I’d go back to prison and I’m not proud of any of it.’

Five years ago, Mark became aware of an abscess in the groin area of his right leg. ‘I knew it was there, I felt it. But the next fix was more important. I’d say ‘I’ll go to the doctor after the next fix.’ That was more of a priority to me than getting the doctor.’

When the abscess burst, Mark was in his council flat and fortunate to be with friends who called an ambulance. Rushed to hospital, he learned his leg would be amputated and he wouldn’t be going anywhere for six months. 

‘I lost my flat while I was in there because it wasn’t suitable for a wheelchair user. I felt like scum in hospital. I was a drug user and I’d done this to myself. I just shut down from everyone.’ 

When the time came to leave, Mark was deemed, by Chester Council, to have made himself homeless intentionally because his flat was unsuitable for a wheelchair user.  ‘I came out of hospital and went to the homeless hostels but they had no places available for people with wheelchairs so I stayed on the streets. Later the council found me a room for thirty days at a Travelodge in Liverpool. After that, payment stopped and I went back to the street. Now I’m here and I want to make changes.’

‘None of this is self pity. I don’t blame anyone for where I am. I got myself here and there comes a time when you need to make change. If I don’t, I’ll be in the ground.’ I ask Mark about the bandage on his leg. ‘I had cuts and scratched at the scabs. My fingers were dirty from the street. The cuts got infected and turned into ulcers.’

Mark has asked me to share his story with you because he is determined to raise awareness of how choices around drugs impact the users, their families and friends. 

‘If I can change one life, for someone not to use any drug – cannabis, ecstasy, spice, heroin and all the rest – then I’ve achieved something. I want people to just say no. Please don’t make the choices I did.’

And if Mark could have three wishes, what might they be?

‘First I’d have my family back. After dad and mum died, our family split and I’ve lost touch with all of them, including my sister. Second, I’d have my leg back. And third, I would not have made the mistakes I’ve made in life.’

This takes you to a version of Mendelssohn’s beautiful ‘Rivulet’

Flying Above The River Mersey

The River Mersey is a mighty waterway in northwest England with an extraordinary history. John Lennon airport sits on the Liverpool bank, facing the shores of Wirral, where the Manchester Ship Canal transports shipping inland.  Here’s a glimpse of it all, from an easyjet flight on the runway into the sky above the clouds on a beautifully clear day, with low tide in the river below.

Postcard from: historic Grade 1 listed Sefton Park

November 1 and magic swirled around Liverpool’s magnificent Sefton Park, an elegant retreat of 235 acres in the heart of the maritime city.

The park boasts a boating lake, a fairy glen, a bandstand – said to have inspired the Beatles’ Sgt Pepper Lonely Heart Club Band – an immense Victorian palm house, statues a plenty, including Eros and Peter Pan, and an awesome annual Lantern Festival, attended this year by at least 20,000 enthralled people.

Small people with huge lanterns made for the thrilling parade

Small people with huge lanterns made for the thrilling parade

Inspired by  Liverpool’s Lantern Company, in the previous weeks hundreds of people from the local community had attended workshops to create  ghoulish creations to light up this  black night, culminating in around 700 lanterns performing in the great battle between the Orchestrator of Doom and the  forces of light.

Not yet awake, the corpse couple

Not yet awake, the corpse couple

The atmosphere was thrilling; a steady stream of illuminated dancers swaying and rotating their way through the darkness accompanied by the thumping rhythm of drums and brass.

Dancers aglow, inspiring crowds to dance with them

Dancers aglow, inspiring crowds to dance with them

 

The beat was irresistible

The beat was irresistible

Dead or alive, flesh and bones were soon moving everywhere!

man

In the dim light, one of the wonderful performers dwarfed by the giant skeleton

Giant birds swooped into the crowd, including a huge owl, the bird of magic and darkness, assistant to priestesses and protector of the spirit world.

Huge lanterns carried on the performers' shoulders

Huge lanterns carried on the performers’ shoulders

 

Some lanterns so huge they had to carefully led by a team of performers

Some lanterns so huge they had to carefully led by a team of performers

 

Rising up the process through the park, the ghoulishly grooving corpse couple!

Rising up to parade through the park, the ghoulishly grooving corpse couple!

 

Buzzing glowing insects swarmed

Buzzing glowing insects swarmed

 

Breathtaking!

Breathtaking!

Postcard from: the jellyfish of 53 High Park Street

Sounds like an ordinary address yet something weirdly wonderful has been happening at 53 High Park Street in Liverpool as part of the UK Biennial of Contemporary Art 2014.

On a sultry July night a motley group of  local residents, including adults and children in pyjamas, international art connoisseurs and curious passers by gathered around the unassuming window of a disused garage. Waiting patiently for the appointed hour.

At 10 o’clock precisely the metal roller shutter rose slowly to reveal the surreal art installation of 20 live jellyfish in a giant tank  illuminated until the early hours of morning.

Shutter up!

Shutter up!

 

This was ‘The Physical Possibility of Inspiring Imagination in the Mind of Somebody Living’  by artists Walter Hugo and Zoniel who describe the surreal juxtaposition of the jellyfish appearing within this old building as ‘a reflection on the fact that inspiration can happen anywhere at any time…We hope that people local to the area will like having the installation right on their doorstep, within the heart of the community.’

 

Entranced?

Entranced?

Curiously, while High Park Street watched the jellyfish, London’s Gazelli Art House watched High Park Street, through cameras within the installation creating a ‘virtual corridor between the two cities.‘ That they were being observed remotely was of concern to some, others were were less perturbed.

‘We’ll I’m glad I’ve seen it’ declared one of the senior residents, wrapping herself into her dressing gown. ‘I remember when this place was a garage. I didn’t know anything about this, it was my granddaughter found it on social media. She phoned me up and said ‘Nan, you’ve got to get to the top of the street, there’s big tanks with jellyfish and hidden cameras sending pictures to London.’ I quite like it; makes me feel sleepy. As long as they are not bothering anybody it doesn’t bother me.’

Watching them while others watch us...

Watching them while others watch us…

 

 

Travellers of the virtual corridor

Travellers of the virtual corridor

 

Enter the dragon

Chinese new year 2012   Europe’s oldest & smallest Chinese community   Europe’s largest Chinese arch 

Europe's largest Chinese arch, Liverpool

Liverpool’s chinatown is the oldest and smallest in Europe, born out of  historic associations with the far east through shipping. At the height of the international trade between east and west, Liverpool became a temporary home for hundreds of Chinese seamen, many of whom, after repeated visits to the port, decided to make their home in northwest England.  The city is twinned with Shanghai and trade links are burgeoning once more. Chinese new year is celebrated with gusto in the city; it’s a loud, thrilling spectacle. Here’s a taste of the drama. As ever, the modest pictures are taken on the trusty camera of my phone.

Dispensing with the Year of the Rabbit, the Year of the Dragon begins on Monday January 23.

Enter the dragon

The celebrations retell the ancient story of how Chinese peasants were terrorised by a fearsome mythical beast marauding in their village.  The action takes place in the heart of Chinatown, where there are murals on the wall and bilingual signs.

Telling the story of the port in pictures

Historic maritime streets with bilingual names

Local pub

And in translation...

As people gathered to welcome the year of the dragon,  street vendors were selling these wonderful puppets.

Pet dragons

Chinatown parking meter

Chinatown security grille

Visitors invited to share fortune cookies

The scene is set

Local businesses remember how the lion came down from the mountain to chase away marauding bad spirits. Shops, restaurants and Chinese supermarkets hang lettuces, to symbolise good health, energy and luck, alongside tangerines which represent prosperity. A small red envelope contains a financial reward for the tireless martial arts experts and dancers who dance within the costume of the lion for hours.

Rewards to be collected by the lion after chasing away the bad spirits

Heralding the arrival of the lion

The lions arrive to the sound of banging pots and pans used to scare away bad spirits

After a tirade of ear splitting rip roaring firecrackers the lion steps up to claim his reward

The restaurant owners give thanks to the lion and wish everyone a happy new year

It takes a full afternoon for the dragon to chase the bad spirits along the street, dancing to gong, cymbals and drums as he goes. Claiming lettuces, tangerines and red envelopes along the way. He is welcomed everywhere, bringing new year prosperity and good luck.

Which animal represents the year of your birth?

I am always astonished by the extreme physical effort it takes to achieve the new year celebrations, the lion dancers are supremely fit and agile. Here are some of the behind-the-scenes preparations.

Lion head awaiting the dancers

Great trousers- these become the lion's legs

And here's the lion's lettuce reward for freeing everyone of the bad spirits

Climbing into the costume, moving like a lion

While two dragons served the businesses, this pair danced magnificently to entertain the crowds

Souvenirs of a fantastic day out

Liverpool's Chinese arch, late on a chilly January afternoon

HAPPY NEW YEAR OF THE DRAGON 2012