Liverpool 8 – Kids & Cathedral 1968. THIS POST IS ILLUSTRATED WITH SOME of my photos and notebook sketches when I was at art college there.
This Watershed Tale is dream work. I used my subconscious free association to explore a type of resonance from childhood which any of us might have; to furnish in our private way. My implicit story here, might be a springboard for your own Mystery tale. Exploring, touching the membrane, released a profound pre-verbal knowledge: connection to source. It is a form of Self enquiry. Self enquiry breaches the dam. Self enquiry becomes gnosis.
The first part of this tale records my dream in 1976, which is archetypal – about Liverpool. But from the point where the two sisters gaze down “through a chink” upon the echoing hymn of the Cathedral’s charladies (also in my dream), I refer back to my journal in 1966, which records the hospital in Somerset where I worked, the Xmas show, and Mrs Woman, in precise detail. From this factual basis, the dream takes charge again, with the seedpod in my finger, and returns to the two sisters, and to a metaphysical breakthrough and meditation. The finale – the rising waters of Babylon – completed the dream itself.
Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral, during my year at art school next door in Hope Street, was my muse, my vessel of feeling and of God – I was agnostic and 18. It is a vast and spunky building. Liverpool is a pool of life. Jung visited Liverpool in his Memories, Dreams, Reflections …
In the 1960s, large swathes of Liverpool 8 were not yet reclaimed from bomb damage. Those flowers in my dream, grew up in the bomb site, with the castaway graves.
Liverpool 8 – Cathedral & Hope Street 1968
Dreams No 237 17 March 1976
MANY OF the houses and squares of Liverpool Eight have gone.
Those great spaces where bombs fell, where the rubble of people’s lives has been cleared away, are now fresh planted gardens of flowers in which yew and other dark trees grow. From the open trench of its own excavation site soars skyward a weathered half century of pinkish stone; the Anglican Cathedral. This grave never got filled in. The Cathedral stands in its own workshop. It isn’t even yet finished.
I remember the rotting gravestones of those who built with their battles of faith this tower. They were slabs piled up, they were torn out of the ground and thrown into the mouldering dark bushes with the discarded bottles of the drunk, like dead playing cards. The medieval King, Queen, Knight and Knave for a rosy crusade have no place in the modern world. Uprooted on the undergrowth lie their epitaphs. Heavy lies their argot in the discolouring rains of the centuries, forgotten is the “art gothique” – replaced by the indomitable resonance of this tower – forgotten like the bombed out slums of this city, whose sweat and vitals flowed on the Irish tongue, whose sailors of old came in from the sea and spread a dusky lichen of Lascar fever on the ground. Silenced are the voices in the tomb, silenced the fighting, the drinking and the masonry, the beds which sagged under whole families, the cats which ran around chimney-pots – silenced, to the rainbow arc of a new Babel.
Nobody wants the old graves, or the obsolescence of their tears. They’ve been swept out, like the old slums. The human graveyard is now a public garden where people may sit, walk and push their babies. And God gathers all the nameless masons of the graves, He gathers together the scuffed and blurred chisel of their writing in the open stone quarry, and points that finger, bluntly, back to the sky. Perhaps God is the maker of rain, of a new lichen of flowers upon soil of fertile carnage.
Liverpool Cathedral, from the trench
Liverpool cathedral sketches – flowers, text and grave
extending flower breathe, 1987
man in flower field 2003
I took my sister to see the flowers. We scrambled down a bank into the far corner of the trench to approach the base of the Cathedral tower, and look up it. The trench is now a garden. The deep warm spring colours of crocus points, and of daffodils, bluebells and snowdrops, with ragged robin, are the carpet that we tread. I am clumsy – so frightened of crushing them. They pulse up everywhere in the grass underfoot. She’s the nimble one, not I; I trod most gingerly, and cried, I slipped everywhere in the riot, too sensitive, of colour, the heavy glow of petals in the long grass. Among all souls, the Cathedral, one giant phallic column, sits upon the navel of the church. Red-brown brick and stone, it soars roseate to all of the weathers, an anachronistic apostle for this pool of life, this century to inherit. They are still excavating it from the earth; a part of it here is grey like a great rock being carved by the sea.
“Come inside,” I said to her, when we came close, over the banks of flowers. “come and see the great space inside the tower.” So we pushed open the heavy door in the wide dark arch at the tower’s base, and entered.
But the interior has changed. They’ve completed the rear end of the nave from inside. They’ve put in a false floor of pews midway between vault and pavement, extending over the entire length and breadth. Gone is the uplifting, uninterrupted fall of resonant space within. It is cluttered now with construct, with frameworks for theology’s cradle like any stifling church, and I could weep. We had to walk all along this false floor. At its furthest end I found a chink in it where some planks had not yet been laid. “Come over here, come and see!”
We squatted on the floor, held onto a joist of unvarnished wood and looked down through the opening. So far below is the real altar, it makes us dizzy. And up to us drifts sound, as from a choir.
“Be careful,” she said “Those aren’t vicars down there, they are buckets and brooms to clean the church! Can you hear them? What a heavenly hymn they make!”
“Before they built all this clutter,” I told her “you could come in here and hear the organ being tuned. The deepest notes don’t sound, they rumble ‘till they’re no longer outside but inside you, you are the pipe, the vibration itself going out again from here like a great ripple. Hey – that fat lady down there sitting on the altar steps to give her feet a rest? Lena Hill, at the Musgrove hospital back home, black plimsolls with holes in them for her toes – it IS her! – what’s she doing in Liverpool? I bet her ‘usband is still Christmas shopping in Taunton with his flopsy …”
We listened. We did begin to hear individual voices in the ascending celestial cadence. They echo a place in our past… “… but I punched the clock 7.30 this morning, you saw me didn’t yer love, so the Supervisor can go stuff his own nose it’s me elevenses now …” “… run ring-a-rosies round ‘im she did …” “Ooh give us a break. Where’s me fags? Come on love, the Reck room won’t clean itself you know – such pigs they are, pigs …”
These charwomen don’t sound very Liverpudlian, they could be in the West country or anywhere at all. The roar of a floor polisher somewhere blends them. “I remember Mrs Hill,” said my sister. “When Dr Cameron came to tea, he had some stories about her as well. It was when you were charring at Musgrove Park Hospital in Taunton where I had my bad leg. The “wee one-eyed Scottish doctor laddie” wasn’t very good at exams was he? He wanted to be a real GP to the crofters in the Highlands with a shepherd crook and those awfu’ black boots – he was so romantic. He didn’t want any of this hospital nonsense. Anyway, he knew Mrs Hill, didn’t he?”
“Everyone knew Mrs Hill. The student nurses called her Mrs Woman because of her ‘usband. I thought she was fabulous, she showed me the ropes and talked about life, but I couldn’t blame her ‘usband really, she never took a bath. After we’d cleaned up the Nurses recreation room for about a week, she stank so I couldn’t stand it. But – do you remember Dr Cameron’s dancing pumps for the Christmas theatricals?”
“Not the ones he went a-shepherding with?”
“Yes, the ones he left behind in our house.”
“They were covered with mud! What did they say when you took them to the hospital? Wasn’t he an actor?”
“Well they were going to do Swan Lake in the Reck room for the Christmas party. They couldn’t find enough white-coats for the dancers, so they decided to put on something a bit easier, you know what they get up to in hospitals. I put the boots in a paper bag addressed to Dr C Cameron, Kiddies Korner, because he was interning in Obstetrics. Mrs Woman took it up to the Labour Suite and left it right by where he scrubs up. He was only a Junior Wee. Why did he start coming to tea with us, didn’t he play the flute or something? He only had one eye, the other winked and watered …”
“He came to tea to chase the sheep with his viola and his crookie. What sort of a doctor do you think he made?”
“God knows. Oh look – down there. On the altar, see. Something’s starting to happen.”
In theatre they’ve rigged up a waste paper basket on stage. A giant papier-mache snake uncoils out of it in mid-charm, wrapped in a lady’s stocking. Next to the snake the wide bottom of Mrs Woman polishes the stage for the festivities. Tousled in her dirty flowery overall, and aglow with the stage lights, she rests upon her mop, complains vociferously about her Supervisor, and all the little theatre nurses applaud her. Two surgeons on stage, who are not Junior Wees but Senior Registrars, have fiddled with the lights and props. The bulk of Mrs Woman is now thrown into high relief. Her own stockings are defeated by the girth of her thighs, she wears them rolled at the knee and undresses her marriage for everyone. The snake in the basket nodded gravely, for the items of the Christmas show ranged from striptease to Socrates. The bed she lay in was made by the ancillary nurses – “You don’t need any training for that,” announced all the cleaning-angels to heaven.
The show was a dreadful flop because of a bust curtain right at the beginning, but all the students received free sausage rolls and mince pies at the Interval, with the Supervisor’s compliments, and someone gave Mrs Woman a cigar for her trouble. She left her bucket and mop where they were, cut her cigar in half, and shared it with me backstage. We squatted side by side in a sort of tent between the curtains so the Supervisor couldn’t see us for dust, and the smoke was good and dark.
“I don’t know what they’ve done to me back,” Mrs Woman went on “and me ankles won’t stand for it. You could be an ancillary nurse yerself, you know. They’re ‘aving an epidemic up there in the Maternity ward, and they need all the ‘elp they can get, it’s better than going around every day on all fours, look at me, why don’t you try it love, you’re only seventeen, you shouldn’t be scrubbing floors at your age you should be enjoying yourself. ‘Ave a word with Mrs Jeffreys. She’s the Supervisor up there. When she’s ‘ad a glass or two she’s alright, didjer just see her red face? Now’s a good moment to get her. Say I sent you. But if you see Sidney on the way upstairs, ‘e pushes the trolley, that dirty old swine, don’t let ‘im getyer under the mistletoe, ‘e’s always trying it on. “I’ll tell your Supervisor about you,” he says when ‘e catches me “I’ll tell her what time you clocked in today if you don’t give us a kiss.’ ‘ ‘Oo cares about my Soopervisor?’ I says. ‘My Soopervisor can go jump in a bucket. The Xmas shopping doesn’t get done by itself yer know, 2,000 years I been ‘ere nearly, cleaning up after you lot, and nobody tells me any more when I clock in and when I clock out or whether I should do it meself at all. I’ll give you Soopervisors! You can take ‘er on if yer want a punch on the nose from me, and I’m going out now to do me shopping, I don’t care about Soopervisors, and if I see my ‘usband’s flopsy out there in the High Street I’ll trip ‘er up with the greatest of pleasure an’ a ‘appy New Year to you, five kids I’ve ‘ad, thirty years of marriage, thirty years, look at what I’ve suffered. And I’m not getting no joy out of the inland revenoo for it neither, married or not, they sew it up nicely for themselves, we’re always the losers, we always were. You enjoying your cigar? Hey, you’re just not with me this morning, are you love, the morning after the show’s never so bright is it, ‘oo’s your little friend with the white coat then? Wasn’t he a cygnet in them bally-dance pumps? They orter teach ‘im to dance a bit better, ‘e was all over me floor, ouch – me back’s killing me when all’s said and done, thirty years, thirty years of …”
But in those days when I was seventeen, I also read the works of Leo Tolstoy. The ambiance of Anna and Vronsky through Mrs Woman’s flowery overall, made it smell rather over-ripe. I drifted away from her to wonder about human life, the littleness of human lichen upon the altar of trans-substantiation. I saw a synchronicity of fire and water, the miracle, the enigma of consciousness. What did Anna and Vronsky see in each other glowing, who did they see?
These thoughts nourished me while I helped clean hospitals for pocket money and heard the problems of Mrs Woman, So Anna K fell under a train! the charwomen leaned on their mops, it made their day.
Something hurt in my finger. It was a greenfly. It had burrowed into my finger from some flower or other, and eaten its way up along the bone for the last couple of days, and was now a severe pain. I squeezed and stretched the flesh till the wound opened and out popped the parasite. It was brown and dry, and it had burst open like a seedcase in autumn. I ascended like a spider the echoing threads of the chorus around the altar, to the heavenly floor above. On the new floorboards by the gap, I found my sister still waiting. The medical drama became a whisper again, a ripple from my adolescence in the deep of time and space.
My sister is now a small plump child in kindergarten. She has to stay there as a boarder because our parents live away in a different part of the country. This was my school also. I waited by the staff room. I didn’t know whether to address all my former teachers – some of them friendly, some menacing – by their surnames or their Christian names, because I didn’t know how old I was. Such untidy ignorance embitters and distresses me. I thought I had left school and grown up, but I haven’t, because I’m here again as a day pupil, with a message for her – a message from our mother, who is not in Yorkshire any more. But she didn’t want it. She is crying, she is very upset about something; I tore or defaced the letter before I gave it to her, and now neither of us can read it. She is not interested anyway. She is too small a child to be burdened with things she can’t understand; like reading; like being made to swim so deep a sea.
Something now is happening, something new. Within her visibly I sense an unknown sister … our other sister, who was born to die. A speechless sorrow surfaces. The child’s name before she died at birth, was Bridie. My father gave her name, Bridie in her Bravery, to the red-pink campion flowers that dance hardy in all weathers by the roadside.
In this moment, time has stopped; to touch a child unknown, belonging to, and intimate with us, who lives in all the flowers.
Something from her reaches into my silence, to be heard. She was too small to be burdened with the school of life, where her mother never held her, where they took her away to die. I maybe looked for her since I was four years old, when my mother could not talk to me of her grief. Did I draw all those babies at that time for my mother? That is possible. There is something children are not supposed or allowed to know; a gulf that parents and children cannot bridge to each other. Something was not enough wanted … something still alive, but deep in the sea, an awareness received and felt, before the enclosures of our language came.
There are transpersonal meetings with the dead, quite outside the fabric of our years. They arise afresh, and do not have our words.
I think we know less about ourselves than monkeys do. We can connect through any time and in any space, by our willingness being open, being quiet; but it does not speak the way we are taught at school.
False floors were built for this, a theologists’ heaven in Liverpool’s Tower of Babble-On. They are filled with rows of pews like desks – a Sunday school, a crammer of dogma for gnostic children. They immaculate the birth on earth of God. They confine the babel of His babble to a totalitarian grammar, meek and mild.
See sisters straying onto this hymenal heaven with their lost sibling. They are genuine heretics. What are they doing there?
They found a small rent in the mourning weeds of original sin. Lost to theology, they look down through the gap in wonder, to where each and every life babbles regardless, deep in the soul. A kingdom in a shared memory is theirs to share again. Mrs Woman of the vintage guild of Mops gets someone else to do her clocking in. A Scottish houseman in his peaked cloth cap, one eye bright brown, the other a watery wink, romances the ewes on his days off duty. The little girls see the eternal serpent of knowledge dressed up in a Christmas stocking. They see the distribution of the Eucharist from Mrs Woman’s operation, with the innocence condemned by centuries of Church Supervision.
Inside the church they see a hospital. Inside the hospital is a theatre. Inside a theatre are the needs of the flock, and a rood-screen or curtain of the tabernacle. Children of Israel floated their Arc of Covenant on the sea of their wanderings. They birthed the medieval Mystery plays. Shell after shell opens, like a babushka doll, in Mother Russia.
Our tower to heaven has around it a moat of flowers. They were planted with a rain of grief for the ones who fell under doctrinal dispute, for those who were born and forgotten ; and for the chorus walking hidden on earth, which jests, which births its own responses through the maidenhead, and which the pulpit extinguishes if it can.
Rest in Peace! Chinks in the dogma allow stray odours of life to bloom, like flowers through a paving stone.
In Faulkner Square 1968
And I seem to have stumbled in the radiance of those flowers outside, their vulnerable upthrust, because the next awareness in my dream is of water, the waters of earth which have risen through the soul, which earth can no longer contain. By the waters of Babylon we sat, and wept. A stormy channel divided us from land for whose tender shores we yearned.
So near, so far, and in so deep a sea did you and I swim, we could be nowhere else, for it carried us further and further out and into itself. Whatever happened to us, was in its hand. I was sure we would reach the other shore if we swam, and that was that. In the turbulent tossing sea between dark and light, day and night, I shouted, I loved the waves which swept me up and down, trod buoyancy over unimaginable depth. Then I put my head down to swim, as you must do, and the lift and surge of the ocean waves increased. Greater and greater they grew, then a wave broke over, submerging me.
And I struggled, strove against drowning, to become a fish, to awaken by two, by two … upon the Ark of Noah, to light.
My adventure invites fellow travellers. I am a poet, an artist and a seer. I welcome conversation among the PHILO SOFIA, the lovers of wisdom.
This blog is a vehicle to promote also my published work – The Sacred India Tarot (with Rohit Arya, Yogi Impressions Books) and The Dreamer in the Dream – a collection of short stories (0 Books). Watch this space.
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