The trouble with U2, said someone far smarter than me (curiously, it was Crowded House’s Neil Finn), is that they’re addicted to big.
He was making the point the day after they’d frottaged their way onto our iPhones with their charmingly nuanced latest, Songs of Innocence.
Well, when he’s got the Pope on redial, it’s only natural Bono would seek to spirit his way into our hard disc while we slept, like some filthy, fallen angel.
But there’s something of Liverpool in the leather trousered one. Something bombastic, unsubtle, desperate and unsexy.
For we, too, are a city with an obsessive predilection for more. For spectacle. For show at any cost.
It’s no surprise that we fell in love with the giants. And no surprise that, once we did, we’d be addicted to their street-filling, eye-watering, headline-grabbing rush.
But, if we’re honest, we’ll admit it: this year’s visit was a bit Look Who’s Talking Too.
It’s hard to knock events like the giants – but, when they went, I really felt like they’d taken that part of our story with them. And, while I thank them for the memories, I really, really hope they don’t come back. Yes, they’re big. Yes, they have big brown eyes that move about. But so far so that-bloke-off-Pointless. But do we really want him parading through the streets every summer? (Actually, I do. But that’s me).
It’s a law of diminishing returns and, for the daytrippers from Billinge and Wrexham, the city presents the same crowded streets, the litter, the leering loons on lampposts, the screaming kids and the crappily cobbled-together Echo souvenir issues. A city drunk on cakes and ale.
The giants moved on to Limerick, if I recall. That seems right. Limerick is where we were 15 years ago. We’ve grown since then. We can take it from here.
We’ve grown, so we don’t need tall stories. We don’t need to be mollified, told how every visitor spent the equivalent of the GDP of Belgium in St John’s Market. We’re told this because, obviously, we can’t call them out. What can we do with stats like this? It’s like when you’re told how hot the surface of the sun is, and you try to calibrate it with by remembering that time you singed your finger on a Bunsen burner. It just doesn’t compute.
It’s the same thinking that infuses everything the city seems to be saying these days – we’re bombarded with hyperbole and statbombs. Expected to swoon at the fact that twice the entire population of the Earth came to IFB (even though most Twitter pics we saw were of a yawning portacabin peopled by a few giddy bloggers and a cartridge ink salesman from Cork).
While U2 – once-ruthless world conquerors – are reduced to playing for tricks at a watch convention, Liverpool finds ever more hysterical reasons to say ‘look at us! Aren’t we the bee’s knees! We have an arena and Sony once made a good game here.’
Not content with the majesty and humanity of a marathon (nor, for that matter, the dignity) we have to wheel in X Factor rejects to massacre Adele covers at every mile post, to spur the athletes on (notwithstanding the fact most of them are running for causes even more motivating than the Hummingbirds). Have to chuck kids’ poster paints at the runners so that they cross the finishing line looking like one of those Rolf Harris canvases Rennies Arts and Crafts have stuffed in the wheelie bins round the back.
We have handsome and historic buildings – more than our share – that we hand over to people who think interior design is a QVC crafting kit and a fire sale’s worth of satin.
Headquarters of the White Star line not auspicious and atmospheric enough? Don’t worry, we’ll deck the elegantly proportioned halls and boardrooms in resin chandeliers and padded headboards until it sinks. You wanted a theme hotel, yeah?
There was a time when Liverpool needed to shout. When we needed to say, hey, we’ve changed. Come back, no, really.
Not any more. We’ve moved on. We need to change the narrative. Stop with the needy. Stop the carnival. Be comfortable, and confident in who we are. And watch ’em come.
Something’s changed. Now, when I look at Liverpool Waters, I don’t see bold ambition. I see the sort of mad, inappropriately scaled skyline a kid let loose on Minecraft would make. Less the building blocks of a grown up city, more the futile dreams of planners who’ve lost the plot.
We don’t need giants. We don’t need banners covering up empty buildings. Empty buildings are fine. Don’t worry. It’s like putting your mum’s foundation on your zits. Quickest way for people to call you zitface, right? Not every brownfield site has to have computer generated, Minority Report-style gleaming skyscrapers wished upon it. They could be, just, parkland. That’s ok too.
The next stage of our evolution needs to be the slow burn. The long game. The subtle. The clever. We need a long, leisurely, lingering embrace of an event. Not a drive by mugging by some big-boned granny. We need Liverpool Nights – a summer long seduction of a festival, with little surprises, parklets and oases of sheer joy. Go on, let us do it.
We need to be cool. Calm. Collected. We need to stop with the bragging way, way before London and Manchester start doing a Shania ‘OK, so you’re Brad Pitt…’
Next month, Liverpool heads to MIPIM – a sort of speed dating event where cities try to shag investors, and investors keep their cards (and their cash) close to their chest. We’ll be in the ring with Manchester, London, Barcelona and Stockholm. But, for those of us who choose to live, study and work here, we know we’re more than a match for any of them. That we don’t need tall tales (even those in paisley nightgowns) to sell what’s special about us.
What we hope for. What we really hope for, is that we kick back, swing on the back legs of our chair. Say, “yeah, we’re Liverpool. And we’re gonna make it”.
With or without you.