Hear Us O Lord From Heaven Thy Dwelling Place

Trip 1 (September 2021)

A group of artists, poets, retired sea captains, Art Doctors and composers sailed to Douglas this weekend to record material for podcasts we’ll launch early next year, including time spent collecting plastic from Peel Beach with the extraordinary Beach Buddies, some swimming, hanging out with Bee Gees statues, chatting with Douglas Record Shop owners about the project and local bands/sound artists (buying some TEA and BAAD ACID vinyl), interacting with the public on board, recording below deck and chatting with the Chief Engineer.

The Isle of Man has about 85,000 people and has received UNESCO Biosphere status and feels on the up. Travelling on 9/11, silent Ferry screens full of those images; popping heads into the Northern Soul all nighter, dining well next to the Super Mario crowd, cheering in the Old Market Inn as our BBC updates tell us Emma R has won in straight sets and hearing ripples of support during our return crossing as Mo scores his goal. We quietly sing Frere Jacques into the bracing Irish Sea wind to the rhythm of the Steam Packet engine and stand in awe as the Queen Elizabeth speeds past us out of Liverpool as we arrives back. We stand and look across the Irish Sea to the Lake District or Stranraer, chatting about the links between Isle of Man, Panama Canal and Lowry and grinning at the constant phrase ‘traa dy liooar’ (roughly – ‘time enough’, ie the Manx ‘mañana’).

Alan Dunn (13 September 2021)

Anxiety of travel (compare Lowry’s lifelong fear of customs and immigration officers, of border controls of every sort – though in his case there was at least some justification for his fear) – convinced that you haven’t got the right documents, that you’ve filled them in wrongly. That your passport, which you’ve already checked many times, is somehow not your passport at all but someone else’s. Waiting in the departure lounge on the landing-stage, looking up at the stone walls of the Mersey – never having seen them before from this angle, down on a level with the mud, the seaweed growing thick on the walls below the high tide mark. Never having left Liverpool by sea, despite having lived here for twenty-one years. Heading out into Liverpool Bay, passing the wind farm like a strange stark forest, the turbines like grey twisting trees – ‘unnatural’, ugly perhaps (a blot on the horizon?), but giving us cleaner, more sustainable energy (later, on the return sailing, someone says that each revolution of a single turbine can power a household for 24 hours) – the paradox of this.

Helen Tookey (13 September 2021)

Louise, sound artist, asking me is it an emotional experience, making this trip, and my realising that it is. Not just in relation to Lowry, the idea of following in his footsteps (though there is that), but more so the fact of being here now on this ship with a group of other people, all brought together through Lowry, through this strange connection with a long-dead writer – his ability to make us see differently, feel differently, come to know a place differently. On the ship (Manannan), the Escape & Safety Plan (everyone walks past it): ESCAPE SHOWN FOR ALL SAFE HAVEN AVAILABLE. FOR ALTERNATIVE SCENARIOS SEE SAFE HAVEN PLAN 2892009G. The cosmic significance of this, which would certainly have struck Lowry – what is our safe haven plan? What are our alternative scenarios? Sign onboard: We support the TRAA DY LIOOAR scheme. Giving people ‘time enough’ to think.

In Lowry’s story Present Estate of Pompeii his protagonist Roderick Fairhaven (ironic name?) reflects, in apocalyptic mood: ‘What it amounted to was a feeling that there was not going to be time… And Roderick could not help but wonder whether man too was not beginning to stand, in some profound inexplicable sense, fundamentally in some such imperfect or dislocated relationship to his environment as he’. But the commitment of the hundreds of people litter-picking every Sunday on the beaches on the Isle of Man, and the cleanliness of those beaches – I walked slowly up Fenella Beach at Peel with Roger, one of the volunteers, and we didn’t find a single piece of plastic. And the family telling me enthusiastically how much they had salvaged and recycled for their own use – everything from gloves to firewood.

Helen Tookey (13 September 2021)

And Lowry in Forest Path to the Spring describes exactly the same: "and of course we got much of our wood from the beach, both for making repairs around the place and for firewood. It was on the beach we found one day the ladder that was later to be so useful to us and that we had seen floating half awash. And it was also on the beach that I found the old cannister that we cleaned and that in the end I used to take each evening to the spring for water. […] And everything in Eridanus, as the saying is, seemed made out of everything else, without the necessity of making anyone suffer for its possession: the roofs were of hand-split cedar shakes, the piles of pine, the boats of cedar and vine-leaved maple. Cypress and fir went up our chimneys and the smoke went back to heaven."

Fenella Beach pink with the beautiful scallop shells, thousands of them, dumped into the sea by the seafood processing places just along by the marina, washed up here by the currents, and then, one of the volunteers told me, collected by farmers who crush the shells and spread them on the fields for fertiliser. I brought back a few of the shells (it seemed okay to do this, since the whole beach was covered with them). All of us thinking also on the boat on the way back to Liverpool about what else we might be bringing back, in the way of new knowledge – new connections – new ideas to try. New ways of doing things?

Helen Tookey (13 September 2021)

Beyond the blue horizon: reflections on a sea crossing to the Isle of Man Giant blades of wind turbines gracefully revolve in a farm of harnessed energy spread out across Liverpool Bay, a grid that slowly locks into shape as we sail by, courtesy of the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company, our destination Douglas, three hours away. Set against a backdrop of mournful Welsh mountains, the whirligigs perform a silent choreography that bids us farewell while, opposite on the Sefton shoreline, the heads of Gormley’s rusting men, ignoble and tiny in comparison, are just visible above the incoming Mersey tide - another field, Another Place.

My simple pencil sketches chart the line of the horizon through the portside window. Inside, the hubbub of passengers’ banter and snacking accompanies the ferry engine’s constant drone. Frère Jacques – Brother John – Sister Suzie - Phil and Don - Brother Michael - Auntie Gin. Captured snippets of conversations scribbled at the foot of each notebook page: “I don’t want anything scary” - “it took eighteen attempts for the ship to dock” - “I’m not going to tell you what my drink is” - “I wore a mask for seventeen hours” - “I met Nigel Mansell” - “I saw Norman Wisdom” - “I’d never heard of him” - “it’s the drugs” - “it’s rolling a bit” - “we wrote to ask if we could have our wedding rings blessed” - “we do activities as birthday presents” - “and on the third day I walked” - “ ” - “ ” -“ ” -“ ” -

And everyone else, it seems, absorbed in screens, prospects framed by a flat world of digital transmission. Someone’s singing, ‘We all live in a shallow submarine’. Someone’s ringing a bell, and I wake from my reverie. We are approaching land. The Island’s three-legged symbol, the Legs of Man, one spoke short of a swastika and spurred to boot, greets us at Douglas harbour, a fluttering flag that’s seen better days, faded red and gold, its edge torn to shreds. In better nick, a Cross of St George flies above a mini mock-mediaeval castle standing valiantly out in the bay, the sea lapping at its turreted tower, an absurd folly to ward off future Viking invasion perhaps?

An all too brief stay in a Norman Wisdom-themed hotel. Quick trip to the local record shop, its final trading day in the basement of a building due for a more no doubt lucrative retail refurbishment. Alan and I, two vinyl junkies, head straight for the bargain bins. Before an evening meal together, our crew marvel at an inspirational account of the award-winning Beach Buddies’ mission to not only clean the entire Manx coast but provide a template for the rest of the world. It’s not enough to just stand and stare, and we don’t. Next day, Peel’s beach is several bags of gathered detritus cleaner, thanks to our - and many other locals’ - efforts. In the grey Sunday-morning light, the town seems reluctant to wake up. A flotilla of moored vintage fishing boats, most on their last sea-legs, cram the enclosed quay. A sign, NO BERTH, ignored. Listless Legs of Man flags line the promenade. Roger investigates the old sailors’ home where local-turned-international photographer Chris Killip had documented the last generation of Manx seafarers and boatbuilders, old men of the sea like Jimmy Craige who washed up on Lowry’s beloved Dollarton shore.

On the return journey, the sea and sky observed again in a sequence of sketches, this time from the stern of the vessel, the island’s mountainous silhouette receding eventually to nothing on the horizon. A huge arcing trail of sea spray and ploughed waves shows the path we have travelled. Polluting yellow mist emanates from the boat’s engine. Other vessels laden with containers, oil and cruising tourists pass by. We wave half-heartedly. The wind farm heaves into view again, its grid unlocks as we follow the curve of Crosby Channel into the Mersey, and Liverpool is ahead.

Bryan Biggs (September 2021), and below is video of Bryan's drawings from Trip 1.