Last Sunday afternoon, I found myself in Liverpool. Fiona and I had escaped School for a brief visit to one of the most dynamic and exciting cities in Europe. Some weeks earlier, an over enthusiastic football fan had accidentally set fire to the Royal Liver Building but, thankfully, little damage was done and the waterfront was looking as majestic as ever. Fans of reinforced concrete (do they exist?) need look no further than the Royal Liver Building for inspiration. Like the Bund in Shanghai, the Royal Liver Building exudes a sense of confidence that reflects the city’s historic status as a global centre of trade and commerce. The docks may be in decline but the city is still an important cultural and sporting hub and it has a distinctive soul and unquestionable resilience. Dropping by the Georgian Quarter and Penny Lane, we were reminded of the city’s difficult links to the slave trade. At one point, one in five African captives crossing the Atlantic Ocean was carried in a Liverpool slave ship. Indeed, much of the city’s prosperity was built upon this most insidious of trades.
In 1999, Liverpool City Council acknowledged the legacy of slavery by issuing a formal apology and this period of the city’s history is covered in some detail within the context of the International Slavery Museum, which opened in 2007. Liverpool is a city which has taken great strides in terms of acknowledging and addressing the sins of the past. In the city’s more recent history, the Hillsborough Disaster looms large. Visiting Anfield, for the very first time, I took a moment to pause in front of the memorial to the ninety six fans who were killed on 15th April 1989. I remember, as an eleven year old boy, watching those dreadful scenes in Sheffield. The families of those who died at Hillsborough have continued to campaign for justice with a tenacity and courage that has sustained the memory of those who were lost for thirty years or more.
Emblazoned upon the side of the stadium are those immortal words ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone. Originally from the musical Carousel, the song was a hit for Liverpool band, Gerry and the Pacemakers Gerry & The Pacemakers – You’ll Never Walk Alone [Official Video] and has gained renewed popularity due to Michael Ball and Captain Tom Moore.
As I took a moment to pause and reflect, a slightly wizened looking elderly man slowly ambled past wearing a high visibility jacket emblazoned with the words ‘Do not buy the Sun’. This served as a reminder that even after so long a period of time has elapsed, the city has never forgiven Rupert Murdoch and The Sun newspaper for denigrating the memory of those who lost their lives in 1989. Having just won the Premiership, after a thirty year wait, the Club is riding high and continues to inspire the people of this city. Standing next to the statue of Bill Shankly, I reflected upon the critically important role that sports plays in our sense of individual and communal identity. It has a unique ability to bind people together and Liverpool without its football clubs would be a much less emotionally engaged city. Sports clubs such as our own Fleetwood Town help to build community and lift aspiration. They serve as a focal point in times of trouble and allow people to escape from their daily lives. Football fans feel that they are members of something bigger than themselves. The current disruption to sporting events is more than an inconvenience, it is a psychological and emotional challenge for those who have invested so much in supporting their clubs.
This morning, I was awakened by the cat purring very loudly at about 3:00 am. Given that our youngest daughter usually comes into us at about 5:00 am to inform us that the day has started, I have become accustomed to very early starts. On this occasion, I decided to listen to a podcast that my brother had recorded. He was interviewing his former teacher, the concert pianist John York. John won the Debussy Prize in Paris in 1973 and made his Wigmore Hall debut in 1974. For almost fifty years he has been a regular fixture in our concert halls and on Radio 3. He has enjoyed very successful partnerships with the cellist Raphael Wallfish and has appeared as a soloist with orchestras including the London Mozart Players and London Philharmonic Orchestra. I first met him some thirty years ago so it was wonderful to hear his voice still brimming with the same sense of intellectual urgency and irrepressible enthusiasm. Both John and my brother were lamenting the fact that their concert diaries are relatively empty until well into next 2021. John is a resolute optimist and he spoke with great emotion about our need to hear live music. He is confident that the performing arts will recover relatively quickly from this dark period because there is something deep within us which cannot live without live music or live theatre. Consequently, after almost fifty years of professional engagements, John is spending lockdown practising the piano and waiting for the moment when he can spring back into action. To listen to John play the beautifully haunting ‘Prayer’ by Ernest Bloch click on the following link
Feeling inspired by John’s uplifting words, I picked up Malcom Gladwell’s Talking to Strangers – What we Should Know. This is a great little book and this morning I was struck by his comments about what is termed ‘the illusion of asymmetric insight’ – the cognitive bias by where we believe that we know ourselves better than our peers know themselves. Gladwell explores how this bias impacts upon decisions made by New York district judges, members of the CIA and other scenarios where the ability to ‘read people’ would seem to be important. What emerges is the thought that we are remarkably bad at reading those around us and that we should probably spend a good deal more time listening rather than jumping to conclusions. Gladwell quotes the psychologist Emily Pronin who argues that:
The conviction that we know others better than they know us – and that we have insights about them they lack (but not vice versa) – leads us to talk when we do well to listen and to be less patient than we ought to be when others express the conviction that they are the ones who are being misunderstood or judged’.
Critically reflecting upon how this might relate to me, I fell fast asleep and, for once, was not awakened by three year old Teigan trying to manually open my eyes at the crack of dawn. Wherever you are, I hope that you are beginning to enjoy the loosening of restrictions and the opportunity to reconnect with loved ones and enjoy the natural wonder of this beautiful, perplexing but wonderful world.
All best wishes,
Mr Jeremy Quartermain