As Grandma and the Little Girl Giant slowly disappeared from Liverpool’s historic Canning Dock in a French engineered mist, many collective and individual memories would long linger in the minds and hearts of Liverpudlians and visitors alike. Xolo knew that they would be missed, and even the meanest of souls must have been touched by the sight of the Little Girl’s best friend, front paws on the dock railings, peering longingly through the mist as the boat appeared to glide out of port.
My personal plans for following and viewing the Giants as they made an epic journey around Liverpool over the 3 days were jeopardised by a badly timed running injury, which ruled out any cycling and at one point threatened walking the many upcoming miles. With a hop and a skip though I managed, and every sharp pain was more than compensated for by seeing the utter joy of fellow spectators, and the opportunity to take in the heart-warming sights and atmosphere across the city.
Barriers disappeared as strangers engaged in excited conversations……….about Giants! We chatted about the glorious sunshine, our pride in Liverpool, the incredible crowds, the price of ice-cream, train delays, relatives war time memories, real grandmas, the brilliance of the Lilliputians, and yes even Joe Anderson! Visitors were amazed and appreciative of ‘friendly scousers’. I met one London couple on their second journey to their “favourite city”….. “were everyone talks to you”. A recently reunited brother and sister from the Wirral had no qualms about claiming Liverpool as their ‘own’
Of course there have been detractors, but critical self-reflection will no doubt come later, and yes there are lessons to be learned. Let’s make no mistake though, this was Liverpool at its glorious best, showing all who viewed with open eyes what a vibrant, innovative, efficient, welcoming city it is. We had ‘City Stars’ with permanent smiles welcoming and directing visitors to the next hot-spot, we had under-pressure transport workers showing the kind of human-touches that did them such credit. Even G4S staff seemed to drop their guard and engage with people. Liverpool Police officers demonstrated something akin to a true community policing approach, many a smile was evident.
This was indeed a gigantic undertaking, one which would see in excess of 1.25million spectators converge on Liverpool, and the sheer scale of the logistical operation is to be applauded. The speed and efficiency of the clean-up operations alone was highly impressive. Those outlets and businesses which took a proactive approach undoubtedly reaped the benefits, as will the city for many years to come.
This amazing city of ours was displayed, warts in all, in all its glorious diversity. Locals ventured out of their normal domains, sometimes in wonderment, perhaps not always appreciating its diverse richness…”you wouldn’t get me marryin in an arl warehouse”, as one happy couple was doing on the Dock Road. The comments of first-time visitors amongst the 40,000+ who ventured to St Georges Hall just sent shivers of pride down my spine – “what an incredible gem Liverpool has here”. Such extinguished past visitors as Charles Dickens, Henry Morton Stanley, William Gladstone, and of course Lord Derby would have no doubt agreed. I wonder if Grandma knew about the origins of Whitechapel as the bed of the ‘pool’? What would military hero Noel Godfrey Chavasse make of his park as a gallery for viewing the marching Liverpool Pals volunteers?
Newsham Park one of Liverpool’s magical ribbon of parks, dating from 1868, provided the perfect outdoor theatre. I wonder if the visiting Buffalo Bill extravagances of 1891 and 1903 were as dynamic. This was a great demonstration of engaging often under-supported communities, and spreading both the social and economic benefits of such events outside of the city centre. Even a longer than anticipated wait due to Grandma’s neck mishap did not dampen the community spirit. Picnics continued, children were ushered forward to gain a better view, refreshments were shared, and there was even sporadic singing. The assistance of the British Red Cross (North) was greatly appreciated by those struggling in the heat, and gave a small hint back to their much greater heroic efforts in World War One John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’, played on a giant record player, soothed the Giants to sleep and the thousands of spectators slowly dispersed ready for the Saturday morning show which promised, and I believed delivered, equal wonders. The efforts of local volunteers in making the park look at its best were well rewarded.
Clarence Dock, dating back to 1830, holds a key part in Liverpool’s mercantile and social history. Some 1,300,000 Irish immigrants passed through the dock in the period 1845-52. It was much later home to the Clarence Dock Power Station and its famous three chimneys. Its mightily impressive graving docks remain, and now a new life as an outdoor drive-in cinema adds to this rich history. I doubt however if it has ever witnessed a show such as that enjoyed again by thousands on the Saturday evening. Giants on buses, drummers on cars, a dancing dog, big big symbols, energetic and expressive Lilliputians, proud veterans, and of course ‘that hug’. The interaction of the crowd both with each other and the magical theatre in front of them was genuinely warm.
City centre office blocks became the theatre balconies of the street. Roads, historic and relatively new, were filled with expectation, and crowds moved in unison to follow the genius of the giants. Churchill Flyover gave another hint of what could be its future contribution as a ‘promenade in the sky’ The Old Haymarket weigh-scales would surely have strained under the bulk of these Giant bundles. Where else could provide the setting of Chinatown, its magnificent Arch, and The Blackie. The route to Newsham acknowledging the city’s many historic communities and arteries. The image of Nan in her equally giant wheelchair passing the Metropolitan Cathedral, and even giants dwarfed by the magnificance of the Anglican Cathedral. How proud would Sir William Brown have been of the part played by his namesake street? …….and oh if Castle Street only still had its castle! The Three Graces did just that and provided the perfect back-drop. Surely the Liverbirds were for one moment tempted to temporarily fly their roosts and follow the parade! The Strand echoed a roman chariot arena, its broad dimensions coming into its own.
We read that the family unit is no longer as strong as in previous generations, but perhaps under the magical influence of a time-travelling Grandma, here it was evident everywhere. Children on dads’ shoulders, brothers and sisters looking out for each other, mass family picnics in Newsham Park, Nans’ centre stage, generations of the same family sitting on steps and walls in eager anticipation of what was to unfold. Members of my own family migrated back ‘home’ to Liverpool from around the North West and Wales. This was more than just days out.
My viewing point for the finale was, quite by accident, between the Pumphouse and Canning Dock. A superb morning was enhanced by a few unexpected beers and the temporary frienship of a couple from London, a lady from North Wales and her daughter, a brother and sister from the Wirral, a young G4S steward who originally hailed from Nigeria, and a couple of Scouse lads. We laughed, we chatted, we appreciated, and we all wanted it to happen again – tell me this weekend did not benefit our city and its residents.
The finale was dynamic and allowed many people to view various elements, though some suggesting it fell short of that offered for the previous Giants event in 2012. The site of the brave recruits to the Liverpool Pals and their grieving widows with black umbrellas was poignant, and hopefully refocused all on the underlying sadness of the ‘story’.
Let us again reflect on the commemoration Royal de Luxe came to support, and the sacrifice made by not only the four Battalions of Liverpool Pals but volunteers across the UK. These were real men from real families many of whom paid the ultimate sacrifice and endured torrid times. ‘Memories of August 1914’ is just one element of the 14–18 NOW cultural programme and further details can be found at the link. A memorial to the men of the Liverpool Pals is set to be unveiled at Lime St Station on 31st August – read here
As Twitter sang to the praises of the city, the organisers, and the creators the BBC produced a smashing range of pages covering the events. Great credit should be given to all of our local media outlets for doing such an upbeat and comprehensive coverage of the Giants in Liverpool.
A TV documentary is scheduled for BBC NorthWest at 19:00 on Tuesday 5th August…I for one will be glued to the box!
The BIG question now of course is will the Giants be back?