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Revealing the magic of Merseyside; It's not all Liver Birds, Beatles, comics, listed buildings and footballers, you know. Merseyside is full of quirks, mysticism and secrets, as we will reveal in our three-day A to Z series.

Byline: Compiled by Peter Elson, David Charters, Emma Pinch and Laura Davis

BIS for Bird. Not the colourful species flocking to Mathew Street on Saturday nights, but the seafaring, runcible spoonpossessing owl in the poem by Edward Lear.

From 1832-1836, he was engaged to paint the menagerie at Knowsley Hall by the 13th Earl of Derby, and, during this time, wrote his Book of Nonsense for the Earl's children. As well as the Owl and the Pussycat, his characters included an Old Person of Leeds, whose head was infested with beads; the Dong with a luminous nose and the Quangle Wangle, who sits on top of the crumpetty tree wearing an enormous hat.

AIS for the Arno - a public area of rose gardens, fields and a quarry in Oxton, Birkenhead.

Mums loaded the boots on the bright red tricycles with marmalade and jam sandwiches, alongside the bottle of dandelion and burdock, fizzing under its crown cork top, and we issued bloodchilling shrieks into the fuzzed air of humming summer - our feather warbonnets of many colours standing proud and our faces painted with lipstick.

"A thousand deaths to the palefaces!" And then the whole tribe pedalled furiously into the high noon of our childhood to do battle with the pesky invaders, insolently holding the sandstone cliffs over the field, where spears grew in the ferny clumps and dogs snouted in the undergrowth.

Today, a new mood prevails and children are rarely seen, though the booted feet of dog-walkers still squelch through the mud.

CIS for Cathedrals.

Just as medieval spires lead the eye to Heaven, the space age Liverpool's RC Metropolitan Cathedral looks like a lunar module primed to carry us there. This is the only 1960s monolithic concrete building to win affection, hence its nicknames "Paddy's wigwam" and "the Mersey funnel". It stands at the opposite end of the aptly named Hope Street to its neo-Gothic Anglican counterpart Liverpool Cathedral (no nicknames).

This summarises Liverpool's familiar dichotomy of being together and apart. While thousands of working-class Catholics funded their cathedral, Liverpool Cathedral was the last to be bankrolled by the merchant classes. Most notably those South American meat barons, the Vesteys, funded the central tower, echoing a huge funnel on one of their ships and also reflecting that on Edge Lane's Littlewoods Building.

Devotional pub quizzers know the RC Cathedral was designed by an Anglican, Frederick Gibberd, and the Anglican cathedral designed by an RC, Giles Gilbert Scott.

DIS for Drainpipes - trousers, that is.

Well, not everybody had guitars, but most people had legs - except on Friday nights when the lament was, "legless again".

So, if you weren't in a group, at least you could look like you were by wearing tight black trousers, which showed how skinny many people were in the 1950s and '60s, as Merseyside emerged from the ashen ruins of war. If you wanted to look real cool, you wore a black leather jacket as well, though some of the more poetic types favoured corduroy.

Real drainpipes were for romantic chaps to climb into the bedrooms of lovers, or when they came home late and bevvied without their keys - maybe that's just a picture in the imagination.

EIS for Emma Hamilton. More upwardly mobile than a helium-filled bouncy castle, and far more fun in the tumbling department for aristocratic admirers, Lady Emma Hamilton was England's first superstar and pioneer MAW (model, actress, whatever).

Vulgar, blousy and unhampered by braininess, this Wirral blacksmith's daughter, born in Swan Cottage, Ness, motored instead on high-octane "X" factor. After attending a private school for young ladies in Fenwick Street, Liverpool, she excelled in bed-tests as a muse for top-drawer daubers Romsey and Gainsborough. Her menage-a-trois with doddery diplomat husband Sir William Hamilton and England's supreme Naval hero, Lord Nelson, caused a sensation, and the press turned the lovers into Georgian Posh 'n' Becks fashion icons. But, like today's WAGs, once her man expired, she became an embarrassment and crashed and burned in Calais, but the standard was set.

FIS for Fish and Chips. That's what your newspapers were for - after you had read every word, of course. Is it just a fancy, or did the fish and chips really taste better when wrapped in the Daily Post? It certainly kept them hotter.

Friday and Saturday nights after the flicks was the time for fish and chips, eaten at the bus-stop. The heat of the food in your mouth mixed with the cool air to make halos over the chattering heads. A light sprinkling of vinegar raised flavour from the chips, which lurked under the crisply-battered and soft-middled cod. The smell of fish and chips clung to your clothes for days, reminding you of happy times and Jean Simmons, though she might not have fully appreciated the compliment.

Most of Merseyside's great chippies now sell the usual variety of Chinese dishes - perfectly good in their own way, but not as good as fish and chips.

Word reached this office of a poor fellow who ordered three portions of cod and chips with two tubs of mushy peas and was charged pounds 16.50! He needed smelling salts to regain his composure. "That's the last night out we're having," he told his wife.

"Scrooge," she whispered to their son.

Gmore, possibly because, when launched from a catapult, they could penetrate tank armour - or was it on the advice of dentists?

A self-respecting gobstopper, as sucked by every Merseyside boy and girl, was about the size of a golf ball.

The idea was to watch them change colour as you sucked them. But this could take several days, giving the gobstopper its third role, after tooth-rotter and missile - that of a dust collector. You put them in a pocket, where they clung to the fabric gathering dust, snot, fluff and any other undesirable substance hidden there.

Gob is a much favoured word on Merseyside, as in "shut your . . .". A gob-iron, of course, is a Liverpool mouth-organ, as blown by John Lennon (see L, where you will note he has not been mentioned).

HIS for Hats. Once the most colourful thing about racegoers at the Grand National were male faces whipped red raw by cold and whisky.

The hues you'll discover at Aintree these days are as exotic as anything you'd find high up in the canopy of steamy Papua New Guinea, flirting and preening.

You see, a smattering of summer weddings just doesn't provide enough scope to express fully the finer nuances of us ladies' personal style via the timeless medium of headgear, so we have christened the National the Ascot of the North.

One of our number unaccountably found herself in one of the cheap seats there, a few years ago.

Ah, the sophistication of wearing a strappy dress from Coast, fascinator feather waving merrily in the minus three breeze, heels sinking into the soft mud of a violently angled bank.

The best views to be had in her enclosure were in the John Smith's Tent. Here, a can or 12 of the ubiquitous brew produced several entertaining episodes of overrefreshment.

Our friend did spot the horse she'd backed, just once, through the diamond-shaped spaces in the wire and waving fascinators, whereby it considerately took the trouble to fall over its own feet and quit the race.

IN TOMORROW'S Daily Post, don't miss the second part of our alternative A to Z of Merseyside.

Compiled by Peter Elson, David Charters, Emma Pinch and Laura Davis
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Dec 15, 2008
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