Ruritanian doings in Liverpool
In the late 1970's a mixed bag of the outré and outrageous gave birth to the idea that one need not necessarily be the heir of a Grand Ducal title in order to experience a life of Larks tongues stuffed with foie gras and an elegant sufficiency of Bollinger.
The entirely natural democratic predilections of all who inhabit the sun-washed shores of the Mersey ensured that this germ of an idea should be expressed in a suitably original and innovative fashion: the (almost faithful) recreation of the glittering 19th century setting of Anthony Hope's classic 1894 tales of Ruritania, with a difference.
Be you in harsh and unwelcome reality the son of a vulgar Bulgar, the daughter of 'Dagger Dick' the famous mass pie launderer of Bootle Docks, or the fourteenth illegitimate nephew of a po-faced Southport Cleric, from that day on you would occasionally be offered the fleeting right to re-invent yourself as whomever you might wish to have been - in Ruritanian times and circumstances- at the Grand Ruritanian Ball.
Since those early days there have been (by our haphazard count) seven?? such occasions when the intelligent but terminally bored segment of the population have grasped the nettle and temporarily sloughed off their dull and pedantic lives in favour of Ball gowns and the full dress uniforms of Field Marshals.
Starry nights overlooking the banks of the Mersey Bosphorus, featuring Sixty piece Orchestras, ninety piece Brass Bands, sumptuous buffets, wine that flowed like -wine, settings such as the truly appalling Adelphi Hotel, the bijoux Town Hall Ballroom, culminating in the last such, in 2001, in the sheer opulent magnificence of St. Georges Hall. Attendance being generally in the region of 200, these opportunities to revel in the atmosphere of late 19th century decadence have never been less than awe-inspiring. (The heart of even the most insouciant flânuer could not fail to be moved by the sight of two hundred incompetent and incapable ghosts of the past dancing to the Blue Danube by candlelight.)
When, and if, the Grand Ball will be repeated (a frequent topic of conversation in immediate post-Ball days) is always a matter of conjecture, and indeed part of its great charm, since the organisers (a technical term used to describe the unhinged movers and tremblers held responsible for its existence) are generally medicated quite heavily. Among the requirements for participation are a strict adherence to a dress code of between 1890 and 1914, and the ability to remain in your chosen character for the duration of the event. There are no exceptions to this sole rule and transgressors are firmly shown the outside of the doors by large hired attendants with very persuasive ways. Thus do we preserve the ambience for those whose efforts to comply with these requirements are genuinely appreciated.
To the dedicated Flânuer little else matters, and nor should it, for the absolute need to approach the occasion with a sense of imagination, and to retain a sense of the panache of the times involved will surely be much more than second nature to a true Flânuer when confronted by a unique opportunity to wear ones cigar-choosing uniform before cocktails.
Looking languidly over our shoulders we figuratively, and somewhat reluctantly, stoop to notice the rapid onset of 2008, the "Year of Clutter" for the once proud and worthwhile City of Liverpool.
If that year should include a Grand Ruritanian Ball we do not know and cannot say, for there is now a new 'Spirit' prevailing among the cobbled alleyways and broad boulevards of Liverpool: that of 'trendiness'. That selfsame 'trendiness' which has seen the demise of nearly all decent bookshops in favour of 'Café Culture', so-called Wine Bars populated by the shorn-skull football aristocracy and their incoherent paramours, the dumbing-down (itself a hideously appropriate 'New Liverpool' phrase) of most truly cultural pursuits into mere public attractions and cheap sensationalism. (Sometimes not so cheap, if paid for by the public purse)
The Liverpool of today, in common with many another British City, seems often to have more of the Detroit or New York about it than sits comfortably with people whose entire lives have been spent there.
In this artificially created atmosphere of self-aggrandisement and mutual adoration there may no longer be a place for the Grand Ruritanian Ball: our undoubted appeal to some may simply not be considered 'in line with the aspirations and self-image of the City's future', though we note with slight and disdainful interest (more would be the act of an arriviste) a recent public statement upon the wireless by a lackey of the Council that they plan, for their 2008, "One or two Viennese Balls."
Well, well, one wonders precisely from where such a sparklingly original and exciting idea may have sprung?
One whose experience of Liverpool is sufficiently extensive might well be forgiven for presuming it to have emanated from the desk of whomever's brother-in-law has just been awarded a bonus from the public purse, for 'initiative' perhaps?.
In re-discovering this wheel and frosting it with the magical dust of 'trendiness' they may, as has been done before, now price us out of the possibility of ever again hosting such an event. If that should be the case we may be witnessing the ultimate irony: the prospect of Liverpool, 'City of Clutter', denying life and existence to its sole home-grown, original, longest standing and best established cultural event.
That being so, these images are offered as testimony that individuals of intelligence, imagination and originality did, for many years, provide elements of worthwhile and enjoyable culture to the City long before it became seemingly necessary for Culture to have its own 'Company', and acted upon the true meaning of the term 'Celebrity' still longer before the world became dominated by nobodies who, despite the slavish attentions of the gutter Press, remain nobodies still.
May one be permitted a small prediction?
The celebratory fireworks of 2008 will eventually fade into a mere skip full of discarded champagne bottles, amongst which sits one small inebriated rat who will soon depart for pastures new - taking with him all trace of those whose 'heartfelt' attachment to the City is predicated upon the amount of public money available to them.
And, in 2009 and the years beyond, just who will still remain to lend a little touch of Culture in the night?
Egon Pojwicki. (Court Correspondent.)
Nota bene: To the ineffable delight of all Ruritanians everywhere, the Capital of Culture Viennes Ball in April 2008 was evidently one of the dullest parades of stuffed shirts in living memory. Click here for a few minutes laughter before the terminal yawning sets in!
Harpik for Mayor!