Earlier this year, giants came to Liverpool.
I was rapt. Addicted.
Each day I woke my girlfriend early. A morning taxi to see a giant diver wake up near two football stadiums. Forced rushing after a night’s drinking to see what a little giant girl would do next.
If you just saw the pictures, the videos, or caught a glimpse in the street passing you by… Then you’ll get part of the spectacle.
But what you won’t have sensed is the emotion.
For that it required obsession.
A man I met in the crowd had taken the day off on Friday, went to watch the uncle climb out the sea in the morning. He thought after following it past Moorfields he was going to take the train home. Instead he stayed, following the puppets solidly until I met him on Sunday.
Why? Why did we love it so much?
1. The spectacle. Played out on the stage of the city. Giants – sleeping in a dell on Everton brow, striding taller than terraced houses, sailing down destitute roads on a land boat, morning exercises in a shopping centre.
2. The machinery. Men abseiling down to attach ropes to the head of a giant. Paired royal servants, queueing to jump off a ledge to get the force to lift a massive leg. Twenty earnest technicians manipulating controls and pulleys to play a vast puppet dog. Cleverly, the machinery was part of the play. A giant turns to look at a worker standing on his shoulder. The hoards of puppeteers were the real attendants to the giants, not hidden stage hands.
3. The characters. There’s a strange psychological trick about large people. Large with delicate features and a calm demeanour. They dominate and emotionally rend. I was surprised how much this mattered, and how well it worked.
4. The ritual. By the last day I was making flasks of tea, wearing water proofs, packing snacks. Ready to wait for an hour or two in the right place before the crowds, to get the best view. If it had carried on for a week I’d have probably had a rucksack, a tent, a small stove to cook appropriate meals. The event itself free – it was set on the public landscape of the whole city, so it had to be. Consumerism dissolved.
5. The story. It was the simplest of stories, also ropey around the edges in its telling. Yet it caught me up, I cared. I was utterly convinced that as they left on the boat, he was going to look after her forever. My disbelief fully suspended.
Now it is all over. Months have passed. Life isn’t exactly ordinary, yet nor is it magical.
And I know I’m lucky to have even them, in this world where all decays to death.