Woolton Hall – No News is Bad News

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Woolton Hall is one of only 27 grade 1 listed buildings in Liverpool and most of them are on the docks. It dates from 1704 and was remodelled by Robert Adams in 1774 – it is considered to be one of the famous architect’s best works. It is one of Liverpool’s heritage treasures but has been empty for many years. I blogged about it in January 2015 at the height of the St Julies furore when it was on the market with Savills estate agents with an existing planning consent for the hall to be refurbished as a day care centre and  become the centrepiece of a new build care home facility. Someone visited about two years ago and took some photos that show that it wasn’t in too bad a condition – in visual terms at least. http://www.derelictplaces.co.uk/main/residential-sites/30679-woolton-hall-liverpool-sept-14-a.html

Since then not a dicky bird. In a previous incarnation I worked on the conservation of historic buildings and areas and the alarm bells are ringing. For historic buildings at risk no news is bad news. South Liverpool is peppered with the sites of similar mansions which have long been demolished and replaced with detached up-market houses. The maths are simple: for a developer a site is worth a lot more with the historic building gone. No need to do anything –General Winter or  fire-raising vandals will do the work. And once it’s down no one can prove that it wasn’t dangerous. The site of the old St Julies school adjacent to the hall will become available once the new school now going up is completed. Those alarm bells are making my ears ache.

I tried to contact Chris Griffiths, the Council’s conservation officer, but he has left and not been replaced. The Council’s planning people say that two years ago a party was informed that retirement apartments would be a suitable use of the site. Since then, nothing. I will check with the  Woolton Society and will endeavour to get the building added to the Historic Buildings at Risk register. If anyone has any news concerning the hall please get in touch.

ST JULIES, WOOLTON: IT’S GOING UP!

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Well, the new St Julies is going up! Against all our best efforts it’s a floor higher than the old one and it is 30 to 70 metres closer to the village (see photos). It will be faced with reasonable brick but there is no doubt that it is much more prominent in views from the village. Could anything have been done to stop it? I am a retired planner so might be able to throw some light on what happened. Well first, the Council and the mayor used the oldest trick in the book. They put up a number of red herring proposals that took varying amounts of the playing fields and woods. The proposal chosen had least impact. Surprise, surprise. And they offered the sop of part of the grounds being opened up for public access. The proposal contravenes the Council’s own unitary development plan (UDP), still the statutary document for guiding planning decisions in the city, via its effect on the green wedge (Policy OE3) and the conservation area (Policy HD11). Except, compliant Liverpool planners amazingly informed the Woolton Society that they ‘see no problem building on conservation/green wedge areas’. Why have a UDP at all? Why pay planners when you can just have a big rubber stamp on the mayor’s desk?

Equally amazingly, the tame consultant taken on to prepare the heritage statement on the impact of the new school said:

The new development will reflect the orthogonal nature of Woolton hall and make a positive contribution to the local character and distinctiveness of the area. And: The open character of the land which is proposed to be developed does at present allow views over it from the north but the current views are towards the current unsightly building of St Julie’s school and their replacement with a co-ordinated design for the new school buildings will be an enhancement of that view.

‘Orthogonal’ comes from the Greek for ‘right angle’. I think the author means ‘huge box’. Look at the photos and make your own mind up.

The problem with trying to get a good design was that the school wanted the new build to be next to the existing school to avoid disruption to the pupils’ education – and the site of the existing school will make a good site for new housing development. Crucially, it is difficult to challenge a local planning authority’s decisions and get the government’s secretary of state to call in an application unless there is some strategic issue at stake or procedure hasn’t been followed. The only possible way would have been to employ an expert barrister at great cost and with little chance of success. That’s local democracy for you.

Book Review of No Country For Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

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The story is that, when Cormac McCarthy was beginning his writing career, he was advised by a professor of English Literature not to use speech marks or speech attribution  – ie ‘Go away,’ Joe said. If that professor is still alive and you come across him I’d be grateful if you’d do me a favour. Ask him to remove his glasses and give him a right good poke in the eye for me. This stylistic quirk works in this book most of the time (with good dialogue you can often tell who is speaking without attribution) but, occasionally, you get confused as to who is speaking and whether or not it is speech or the character thinking. To my mind, the use of speech marks/attribution is simply good manners on the part of the author. When it is in the form of ‘Joe said’ and it is broken up with the subject’s thoughts and reactions you don’t notice it.

Anyway, now that I’ve got that out of the way. I read this book after seeing the film twice – and loving it. The plot is simple. Llewelyn Moss stumbles upon a drug deal in the desert that has gone horribly wrong. Bodies and bullet-riddled 4x4s everywhere. Packages of herion, a caseload of cash. This is Moss’s chance. He takes the money and goes on the run, pursued by Chigurh, a mob hit-man, and a soon-to-retire sheriff. Even though I was familiar with the plot and the characters, I enjoyed the book and read it at a fair lick. McCarthy is terrific at setting scenes, defining character with a few deft brush-strokes and pacing a thriller.

There were a few things that irritated me, however, apart from the lack of speech marks/ attribution.

Overuse of the word ‘and’. Too many passages went like this: ‘and he sat down and tucked into his breakfast and ate a tortilla and drank some coffee and wiped his mouth…’  I must say that here it works in action scenes but when overused it grates.

Chigurh, the hitman, uses a compressed air cylinder to power a cattle stun-gun contraption to murder his victims and blow out the cylinders of locks – mainly on the front doors of houses and hotel rooms. Great idea and it works well on the screen. Except… most houses have deadlocks and bolts. Maybe if a victim was off their guard and just had the Yale lock on it would work. I know it’s a home security detail but…

Chigurh is a nasty piece of work. Trouble is, he’s not human. He’s like a Terminator-style  robot programmed to kill. Throughout the book there are italicised passages which set out the sheriff’s thoughts. In the first, he thinks ‘somewhere out there is a true and living prophet of destruction’. Maybe this is what Chigurh is meant to be, but I would have liked a little background and characterisation – even if it is at the level of Alan Rickman’s badass Sheriff of Nottingham who whispers in a victim’s ear as the knife goes in: ‘I had a terrible childhood, you know – I’ll tell you about it some time’.

And, finally, the ending. I hate authors messing me around. If I’m  rooting  for the protagonist and he gets shot (along with his wife) well before the end, with the rest of the book given to philosophising by the about-to-retire sheriff on how everything in America is going to hell in a handbasket (to be fair, he’s probably right), then I’m being messed around. I don’t like it. I don’t necessarily want the protagonist to win but I want a climax at the end. Got that?

The film actually improves on the book by putting the climax much closer to the end. But there is another inconsistency in the book. After the executions we have a key scene in which Chigurh is driving down the road and another vehicle crashes into him. The scene is related from the point of view of an omniscient narrator who gives details of the other vehicle and its driver that Chigurh couldn’t possibly know. Who is speaking here? The author? God? He hasn’t piped up before so I don’t think it is a postmodernist thing. In the film the scene is a simple car crash seen from Chigurh’s point of view. Much better.

So, to conclude. A really good snappy read but with some inconsistencies and irritating stylistic quirks.

Film Review of ‘Looper’: Chuck Norris & The Tinkling of the Ivories

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I do love a good sci fi time travel movie. Not the ones that are about travelling back to, say, medieval times. No, I like the ones that make you think about time travel itself. Suppose someone went back and killed you when you were a child – or your mother before you were born – as in eg The Terminator – would you suddenly pop out of existence now? Suppose a man goes back in time and meets his own mother and they fall for each other, as in Back to the Future? Could you be your own father? How about a man having a sex change, with an implanted womb and ovaries (assume this is possible in the future), and he goes back in time to have a child with himself as a man. Wouldn’t that be illegal? If it isn’t it ought to be, along with Scottish country dancing. Not to mention being against the laws of physics and nature. These are clear. You can go forward in time but not back. There were two items in the news recently. In the thirties, Einstein disagreed with the ‘spooky action at a distance’ that occurs in quantum mechanics. With entangled particles, measurement of one is instantly ‘known’ by the others, breaking the law that nothing can go faster than the speed of light. Well, researchers have just shown that this in fact occurs and that Einstein was wrong. The second piece of news concerns the astronaut who has just blasted off for a year long stay on the International Space Station. He is one of a pair of identical twins – the other is staying on the ground. The idea is to compare the effects of being subject to gravity and weightlessness. However, the twin in orbit will come back younger than his brother, only by a small and not noticeable amount, but measurable, in accordance with Einstein’s laws of general relativity – he is travelling eighteen thousand miles an hour faster relative to his twin brother on the ground. If he went to a nearby star at close to the speed of light, when he came back he would be much younger – in fact his twin would most likely have died of old age. All these spooky things really happen. Except that going by what we know now there is no way of going back in time. Right? Not in this film.

‘Looper’ is set in the future, in 2044, and also 30 years further ahead than that. In 2074, time travel is invented, and at once made illegal by a nervous government. At the same time, surveillance technology and CSI-style forensic skills make killing people very difficult, so crime syndicates manage to get hold of a time-travel device and use this to get rid of troublesome people. Victims are sent back in time to 2044 where lowly paid assassins blast them with shotguns and get paid in silver bars strapped to the victim’s body. But there’s a catch. The killers are known as ‘loopers’, because one day they must close the loop. Their future middle-aged selves must be liquidated, because they have amassed too much information about their employer, so are sent back in time for assassination with the special retirement payoff of gold bars strapped on. The younger self must then pull the trigger, and accept, with as much zen calm as possible, his fate in 30 year’s time. One of these loopers is Joe, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt  – but when his older self, played by Bruce Willis, comes back, he somehow evades the execution and Joe has to hunt himself down. Best to leave the rest of the complex plot there if you’ve not seen the film yet.

The film is well-paced and constantly interesting. There are obvious nods to The Terminator, The Matrix, Memento and even Shane – the mother/love interest is shown attacking a massive tree stump outside her farmhouse with an axe. I found the sound quality poor in the quieter scenes and there was a typical Chuck Norris bit when the older Joe, guarded by three armed thugs, breaks free from his bindings, grabs a weapon and kills all three. ‘With one leap I was free.’ And then there’s the ‘tinkling of the ivories’. Have you ever noticed that in the better movies/TV dramas the emotional scenes are attended by silence (The Fall and Wolf Hall are recent examples) while in others you are ‘told’ what to feel by the pianist in the background? I can work it out for myself, thanks. Reminds me of that advert on the box where someone is walking in the hills to the sound of a choir. He stops and turns to a real choir massed on the hillside and orders them to stop.

So, in conclusion, despite the unbelievable Chuck Norris bit and the tinkling of the ivories, a great film. Well worth watching.

Time Lapse Kindle Countdown Deal – 99p for a week!

Buy the ebook version of Time Lapse, my latest novel. 99p for a week only! Some early reviews: ‘Amazing!!! The mystery filled each and every word…a bit uncanny…’ ‘Well plotted, well written and well worth the money.’ ‘A bit tighter and more slick than his first book…a page turner.’

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Time-Lapse-Pete-Trewin-ebook/dp/B00TS7P0TC/ref=sr_1_1_twi_2_kin?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1427026107&sr=1-1&keywords=pete+trewin

 

The Killer Inside Me…Who, Me?

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I read this book in two days and with a growing sense of unease and disbelief. The main character, Lou Ford, makes a great villain. A deputy sheriff in a small Texas town, he is obsessed with righting a wrong. His brother, Mike, was killed by Chester Conway, the corrupt businessman who controls the town. Ford hatches a plan to kill Conway’s son and a local prostitute – a woman he loves – and make it look like a murder-suicide. Straightforward revenge tale? Not quite. Mike was jailed for a sex crime that Lou was responsible for – and Lou has violent tendencies, what he calls The Sickness. In total, he murders four people, including the girl who loves him before he is caught and is about as classic a sociopathic nut-job as you get in fiction. He checks every point of the 20 on the Hare Psychopathy checklist, from ‘glibness/superficial charm’ to ‘lack of remorse or guilt’. I know that the book was written in 1952 and that the checklist wasn’t compiled until the 1970s but Thompson had obviously researched the  studies of morbid psychology of the time – at the end of the book he even lists the volumes in the library of Ford’s doctor father; Kraft-Ebing, Jung, Freud, Bleuler, Adolf Meyer, Kretschmer, Kraepelin. The key thing is that Ford is not the antagonist, he is the protagonist, with everything seen from his point of view as first person narrator. The author, Jim Thompson, clearly has some sympathy for him.

But should the reader feel sympathy for someone who is so bad, someone who is almost the epitome of evil? In Breaking Bad you feel sympathy for Walter White but then I don’t think that he murders anyone himself – if he does it is in desperate self-defence. He has fallen into crime rather than sought it out. You think: ‘in the right circumstances that could be me’. But Lou Ford murders a woman who loves him with his fists. Slowly. The justification seems to be that his father shamed and punished him for having an underage affair with a housekeeper which made him want to get his own back on women in general. And the hick one-horse town he lives in has made him feel bored, resentful and trapped. Obviously, a jury would never acquit on that defence. He’d get the chair or life, probably one of those 200 year joke sentences (the joke being that no-one lives to 200). Or more probably committal to a mental hospital.

If everyone acted like Lou Ford, society would quickly break down and it would become like one of those apocalyptic zombie films. We need rules and most of us readily accept them. ‘Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.’ ‘Do unto others as you would have done unto yourself.’ ‘Live and let live.’ We all depend on the kindness of strangers.

The Killer Inside Me was a fascinating and courageous thought experiment. As Steven King said ‘Thompson had three brave lets. He let himself see everything, he let himself write it down and then he let himself publish it.’ But it can’t be a model for the modern crime novel. Can it?

 

 

Woolton Woods: John Lennon Link

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The recent Eric Pickles ruling on the Welsh Streets in Liverpool recognised the importance of the Beatles heritage – namely Ringo Starr’s birthplace – in his decision. As many people are aware, John Lennon grew up in Woolton and is associated, along with the other Beatles, with many buildings and sites – the baths, library, picture house, Strawberry Fields, St Peter’s Church Hall, his childhood home on Menlove Avenue, Eleanor Rigby’s grave. In David Ashton’s memoir (‘The Vanished World of  a Woolton Childhood with John Lennon’ – on the internet) he recalls roaming through Woolton Woods – sadly under threat at the moment from the mayor and the corpy – with the young John Lennon. Julia Baird, John’s step-sister, mentions John and Cynthia courting there in her book (‘Imagine This’) – and catching them  snogging in the long grass. No, I’ve not found the tree with their names carved either side of a heart and I’m not going to locate the wall. Enough detail.

You can see the makings of a Woolton Village John Lennon trail here. And if Ringo’s birthplace can be a Liverpool cultural heritage asset why not Woolton Woods where John and Cynthia spent so many happy hours?