As anyone who’s ever spent any time with a Scouser knows, Liverpool is a city which creates a monstrous sense of civic pride in those that hail from there. No one likes a boaster at the best of times, but you’re an especially despicable human being if you’re seemingly genetically programmed to boast about coming from somewhere which only you fail to recognise as a steaming, rundown shithole. I’ve been to Liverpool before, and as the saying goes, it was very much a case of once and never again. Not if my very survival on this earth depended on my revisiting the place would I even consider the prospect with the least bit of pleasure. But somehow this concept of the city as the origin of all things wonderful is still allowed to perpetuate.
This is only exacerbated whenever something even loosely successful happens to the place, as is proven by the continual belief that they have a great music scene because The Beatles were from there, or that their football team is still any good because it was back in the 1970s. And now, this. Never mind that the other European Capital of Culture for 2008 is Sandnes in Norway, nor that last year’s Capital was that powerhouse of modern culture Sibiu in Romania – this will still be seen by Scousers everywhere as yet further proof that they do indeed live in the most thriving, relevant, important city on the planet.
It seems that TV programmers across the land are delighted with this state of affairs, as there’s been a seemingly endless dribble of crap soft-documentaries with loose connections to Liverpool. So far these have included braindead and pointless interviews with such cultural luminaries as Ringo Starr (whose so proud of Liverpool that he lives half way around the other side of the globe) and some attempts to show that Liverpool’s urban music scene is alive and well by showcasing scally white rappers in backwards baseball caps. But still, six months in to the year, this lazy programming is still going on.
Take, for instance, last Friday’s effort – Alexei Sayle’s Liverpool on BBC 2. In case your life thus far has been blissfully untarnished by any awareness of Alexei Sayle, he warrants a very short introduction. Sayle was a part of a loose group of left-wing comedians who were briefly popular in the 1980s, despite the fact that their main party trick – making fun of Margaret Thatcher – was easier than sitting down. In essence, the man owes his career to piggybacking on the success of Ben Elton, which is a damning indictment of a lack of talent if ever you needed one. Since then, he’s been shoving his big beardy face in front of any TV camera that he gets near and spouting off about all sorts of things with the sense of superiority given to him by his Scouse roots.
Alexei Sayle’s Liverpool is extremely funny, but sadly for him, entirely by accident. It was full of all the usual Liverpool clichés (the Cavern club, a ferry on the Mersey, Anfield), but also included one or two absolute gems which I’d never heard before. For example, did you know that the people of Liverpool were responsible for the current trend of wearing trainers with jeans? It must be true, because the lead singer of The Farm said so. Similarly, Liverpool is the New York City of the UK – admittedly, not because it has a thriving art scene, or a world-famous theatre district, nor because all the taxis there are yellow, but apparently because it has a multi-cultural population. Lots of Irish people live there, we’re told and it has the biggest Chinese community in Britain, outside of London. By qualifying that statement, it sort of loses any potency it might have – kind of like saying that hamburgers are actually the most nutritious form of food, apart from all the others, or that that fat wanker from The Royle Family is the biggest twat to ever come out of Liverpool, apart from Alexei Sayle…
Ah, it’s all so depressing, this communally encouraged, self-perpetuating fantasy that Liverpool is anything other than a shit hole. But Sayle did mention something that excited me. “Liverpool”, he said, “almost exists like a city separate from the rest of the country, a sort of Republic of Scouse”. Independence for Liverpool – now that’s an idea I could live with.
Alexei Sayle’s Liverpool is still available on BBC iPlayer for a couple more days. Its worth watching, but only if you can find a way to secure your hands to prevent you from gouging out your eyes with your thumbs.