Bluecoat Chambers, Liverpool
Dot has a spacious flat above a row of shops on Allerton Road, in south Liverpool, a popular and busy shopping road on the edge of leafy Allerton, one of the city’s most prosperous areas. Getting to the Star offices in St Helens involves two buses and it has been suggested to her that it would make sense for her to move there but she has no intention of doing so. Indeed, she has no intention of staying in St Helens any longer than is necessary and fully intends to move to a daily as soon as she feels she has enough experience and a cuttings file to prove it!
She enjoys living on Allerton Road though, not least because the local shops cater for her every need. Apart from that it has also become a trendy place to live ever since the Liver Birds show began screening on the BBC last year. The exploits of Beryl and Sandra, two ‘dolly birds’, have become compulsive viewing and they are supposed to have a flat on Allerton Road after moving from Huskisson Street near the city’s Anglican cathedral.
Dot does not consider herself a ‘dolly bird’: indeed, she finds the term offensive and anyone who is unwise enough to call her one receives a sharp rejoinder. She is not and never will be a Beryl or Sandra, although she is slightly more sympathetic to the Sandra character than to the Scouse Beryl.
She was grateful to Keith for selecting her for the features teach-in. She likes to think that it is because of her ability rather than for any other reason and she fully intends to demonstrate that his faith in her is completely justified. That should stop any wagging tongues in the office, although in truth she doesn’t really care. Tongues may wag as much as they like; as long Keith thinks well of her that is all that really matters, irrespective of any ‘complications’ that may arise along the way.
She is on her way to Bluecoat Chambers to meet the artist Dianne Routledge for the feature. She is looking forward to it and spent an hour or two last night thinking up her strategy. She has a good list of questions but is going to take Keith’s advice and conduct it more like a conversation than a formal interview. She has an interest in art anyway so it should go well.
She gets off the bus by Central Station and crosses the end of Bold Street on to Hanover Street with its gimcrack shops and decaying warehouses, until she reaches School Lane where, half way down, is her destination.
Bluecoat Chambers in Liverpool city centre is the oldest centre for contemporary arts in the UK. It is Liverpool’s oldest central building, founded in the early 1700s as the Blue Coat Hospital, a charity school for orphans. It was established by the Anglican Church and a wealthy merchant, Bryan Blundell.
Like many of the school’s trustees and subscribers, Blundell profited from the transatlantic slave trade and the commodities that it enabled, such as cotton, sugar and tobacco. He and his family dedicated their wealth and lives to the school, which still exists today in the suburbs.
As Dot walks down School Lane she is fascinated by the quaint little shops, including Hornby Lowe’s cutlery store, which she read in a guide had been there since at least 1879 with its macabre display of hunting, fishing and stabbing knives, and almost opposite, another shop that sells what looks like opium pipes as well as tobacco, flints and lighters.
She arrives at the railings outside Bluecoat covered in amateur art. She stares at a few which she thinks are rather good and has a chat to one or two of the artists, then walks up the courtyard to the administration office on the left. She knocks on the door and is confronted by a stern-looking woman who she takes to be the administrator and who asks what her business is. Amy says she has an appointment to interview Dianne Routledge, an artist who has recently moved into a studio. She is directed to the main entrance and instructed to wait there.
The ground floor of Bluecoat is a rabbit warren of rooms and corridors. Dot peeps into a room directly in front of her and see a small exhibition of paintings. She is about to take a closer look when Dianne appears.
Dot sees a tall, pencil-slim girl, about 26 years old, with cascading brown curly hair down to her shoulders almost concealing a long, elegant face and brown, almost black eyes. She is wearing jeans with many paint smears and a donkey jacket. Her smile is broad and genuine as they shake hands.
‘Let’s walk across the courtyard and grab a coffee,’ she says. ‘We can always go to my studio afterwards if you like.’ Dot replies saying she would like that, adding that she has never been to an art studio before.
Routledge treats her to an ironic grin. ‘Prepare to be unimpressed,’ she sniggers. ‘Every studio I have ever been to is chaos in colour but it’s better we sit down first over a coffee if you want to interview me and take notes. I imagine you will want to do that,’ she says staring at Amy seriously.
She smiles innocently and replies that she will. Routledge is making it easy for her, she thinks. They walk into a coffee shop in one of the courtyard shops and Dot insists on paying. They both have a filter coffee.
Forty minutes later, Dot has eight pages full of notes in her neat shorthand with more than enough material for a 1200-word feature. She explains that a photographer will be coming along later to take some shots of Dianne in her studio.
They walk back into Bluecoat, through a door and into a quiet, deserted, courtyard at the back and through another door on a wing to the right of the building. They climb stairs and enter a large room divided into open space studios.
‘You did well to get a studio here,’ says Dot. ‘Isn’t this place a bit exclusive?’
Dianne shrugs nonchalantly. ‘I was short of space in St Helens and I knew there were studios here. We were told at university that they are hard to get into. We were also told they are expensive. Well, they were right about that. They are. You have to sell work fairly frequently just to pay the rent. They also wanted to see examples of my stuff.’
‘I imagine they loved it,’ says Dot. ‘Your work speaks out for women and I would not be surprised if you are offered a show in London.’
‘Funny you should say that’ laughs Dianne. ‘The Whitechapel Gallery have been in touch and I am due to go down and have talks with them. If they offer me a show you will be on the invitation list for the private view night. That’s a promise.’ She pauses and grimaces: ‘Mind you, I have a hell of a lot of work to do before I can mount a London show.’
‘My boss at the agency thought you were being outrageous for its own sake and that it’s just a publicity stunt. I explained to him what your work means and why I believed you do it.’ She smiles a little grimly. ‘Mind you, he also said the nationals will be all over you and that you will make a lot of money.’
Dianne looks thoughtful at that as they reach her studio. They both gaze at a large canvass, at least eight feet high, depicting an abstract urban scene with hints of a vacuum cleaner, a kitchen sink, brick walls, chimney pots with hints of breasts, nipples and at the very centre, a vagina. It is what your eye is drawn to immediately.
‘Thanks Dot. Yes, you obviously understand. I can’t pretend I’m not interested in money. Of course, I am, but it’s not an end in itself. I have things to say in my art and that is more important than money.’
They look at other, smaller, canvasses and then, tucked away and almost out of sight, traditional Turner-esc landscapes.
‘These are beautiful Dianne. You should make more of them.’
She looks almost embarrassed and shrugs. It’s what I used to do before I decided to do serious stuff.
Just then a man in his late thirties with a crew cut strolls up and gives Dianne a brief kiss on the cheek. A rugged face with dark brown eyes stares at Dot enquiringly. Dianne introduces her and explains that she is writing a feature about her.
‘Do you know where it will be published?’ she asks.
Dot explains that she expects her boss has a publication in mind and that as soon as she knows she will ring her. The man asks who she works for, so she tells him.
‘Is that in St Helens?’
‘It is yes. Why do you know it?’
‘I have met the news editor, Keith Wilder?’ It is a question more than a statement.
Dot stares at him curiously. Is it just a coincidence that he turns up when she is there? It seems slightly strange and he is staring at her with a faint smile hovering around his eyes. ‘Who are you?’ she asks.
‘Colin Parker. Give him my regards when you get back.’