Posted by: okathleen | November 30, 2008

Pugin and Gambler’s Anonymous

Well, we did Gorton Monastery, and I survived the thunderbolt, of course I did, this is a DE-consecrated site, der. Pugin had been allowed a free hand and a strong Gothic flavour wafts about the space. It left me cold. Maybe it was the Halliwell’s corporate hangover, evidence of a city dinner from the night before in the form of seating plans and buckets full of fag ends outside. St Francis would be bemused by the money lenders in his temple. But I think St Michael might feel more adrift. I questioned some of the theory about the use of light in the Monastery and compared it with other work that Pugin was doing around that time. St Michael’s is in Liverpool, on the West Derby Road. It was completed the year before Gorton Monastery – 1866, and is one Parish removed from the home of The Nagles/Cains of Scotland Road. http://www.stmichaelsirishcentre.org/

My grandmother used to go, but to The Irish Centre ‘providing and maintaining a community centre for the promotion of cultural and social activities for the Irish Community on Merseyside’, and not to mass, she had her own special place for mass. Now St Michael’s is home to Gambler’s Anonymous (no not M&S). Tuesdays at 8pm. Holy Mary Mother of God, the Church won’t direct against it, it’s not a sin. I wonder how many PP’s attend, that’s if they can make it back from Haydock Park in time….


‘Northwich is a dream town, a fanciful creation of a disordered brain. The streets swagger at eccentric angles, and the houses lurch forward drunkenly. I entered the library and experienced sensations usually associated with the deck of a ship in a heavy sea. Walking made me dizzy, and I expected every moment to collide with the wall.’

I’m afraid the religious theme continues as Florence and I arrived in Northwich yesterday. And what a day. There was no colour, a sepia wash had been sprayed overnight and wrapped itself like a shroud all day. Miserable, filthy fog gave a grey and smokey rinse to the forgettable architecture of Northwich town centre. Off Flo flounced to do her bit for Duke and Edinburgh in Age Concern, as my fingers twitched at the prospect of more toot, and the ever elusive Eldorado, just waiting to be discovered in a poor, decaying Northern town. Passing people as grey and colourless as the day, hunched up, stunted and miserable, I heard music in the distance.

Outside St Michael’s (yes M&S), were a duo on keyboard and guitar. These were no ordinary buskers though. He strums and warbles, and she murders an electronic organ, whilst an elderly soul wrapped in a grey blanket and wedged in a wheelchair holds the takings. They are the Choi family; missionaries from South Korea, come to save the heathens of Cheshire. They grin like lunatics whilst singing, which may have something to do with the pitiful wailing that soaks into the smog. Bizarre.

Their noise competes with a one man band stationed a little closer to the hub of the precinct, stamping his drum and zealously screeching into a mouth organ. His dog, a border collie, guards a few coppers in a grey cap, and has the look of an embarrassed child.

Not to be outdone, a hundred yards away the Salvation Army belt out Good King Wenceslas, as a dubious looking Santa from the Rotary Club sips tea from a polystyrene cup. I’m tempted to buy a lemon and suck it in front of the tuba players just to prove a theory, but I have work to do, and cannot be sidetracked.

In the St Luke’s Hospice Shop a couple pick up a fur trimmed santa hat for a £1, mmm, she says, this’ll do Fred, but we’ll have to cut holes out for his ears. I ponder this image for a nanosecond before unearthing yet another chipped plate from under a pile of LP’s and harlequin glasses.I don’t hesitate, and pay £2, and imagine picking up my cheque at Sotheby’s as it proves to be Persian – circa 1754.

I know it’s not.

And I know that this isn’t my motivation. The plate appeals. It’s hard paste porcelain, and faded navy and white chrysanthemums swirl wildly around it, a tiny discoloured divot adds to its appeal. Maybe it was damaged as it was rinsed in the freezing water of a belfast sink, maybe when it bounced on the quarry tiles of the back parlour.

Is it tasteful, is it beautiful? Who cares?

I love it, but why? It has age, it has a story and a texture years old. When I get it home I look up the Registration mark: 23rd January, 1875. Where has it been for 130 years?

On 23rd January, 1875, Charles Kingsley died. He wrote the Water Babies, I imagine a child sitting at a wooden table, eating bread and butter off my plate, being told the story of the little chimney sweep. Fire in grate, dog on hearth rug, uh oh, am I turning into Tracey Chevalier? I could blast Girl with a Pearl Earring out of the sky with my Child with a Chipped Plate saga… Kingsley wrote:

“A blessed thing it is for any man or woman to have a friend, one human soul whom we can trust utterly, who knows the best and worst of us, and who loves us in spite of all our faults.”

A social bond is well being, health: whether that bond is friend, dog or religion (does Goliath the goldfish count?).

A must have. The world health organisation said so. Pugin thought so, imagining his religion and Gothic as a truth, and the Choi’s must think so – it’s a long way from South Korea. Maybe next week instead of charity shops, I should hit the pet shop again. Or are my objects becoming social bonds? A la Samuel Beckett and Happy Days. My little bag of things. Life in a bag. Chipped, cracked, used up stuff, just in a little bag.

Five or six social bonds necessary. Mmm. And I am one or two down….

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