Back in my younger days my inner nerd was satisfied by hours spent on Sunday afternoons playing Dungeons & Dragons (coincidentally with the same George Mitchell mentioned in my last Merseyside post). One particular session comes back to me, as a combination of elements gave it added resonance.
The Lichway was set at the extremity of a coastal basin and aside from the undead hinted at in the title also featured a number of aquatic related beasts, and a great treasure defended by a threatening creature whose breathing noises pervaded a funerary complex and soothed the restless dead found there. I remember it because that atmosphere continued after the game as I walked home in falling snow, listening to Architecture and Morality by OMD, and in particular the track Sealand, which seemed appropriate both to the game and to my home town on the coast. (What a prescient album choice too, given the content of much of this blog!)
I was probably aware that OMD were from the Wirral from some music paper interview of the era, but never having been there it meant nothing to me, so I was ignorant of the fact that here too were people shaped by their life on the coast. Influenced by the game I’d played that day, and the ethereal synthesisers on the track, I’d always imagined Sealand as some fantasy state on a cold northern shore, when in fact it is a real place on the Wirral peninsula, just across the border in Wales.
I mention all of this because my Merseyside trip brought so much of it back to mind (though thankfully not the snow). Crossing the Mersey through the Kingsway tunnel (not the Lichway) I headed for the extreme tip of the Wirral peninsula, a part of Wallasey called New Brighton, so-called because it was developed as an attempt to bring some of the sophistication of a seaside resort to this area. (New Brighton was later to be the subject of photographer Martin Parr’s famous series The Last Resort). However in the year before that development was begun, a threatening creation was installed upon the rocky coast with the intention of defending a great treasure; the wealth of Liverpool that I referred to in that prior post.
This was a fort whose guns were trained across the Mersey to deal with any naval threat before it could reach the great port or its shipping. Closed to the public except at weekends and school holidays I was unable to access the interior so couldn’t tell if it was filled with calming noises (perhaps the waves lapping against those thick stone walls?), but back in the 70’s a local group gigged there. Yes, you’re a step ahead of me, it was an early incarnation of what was to become OMD.
Though still a part of the mainland, the journey under the Mersey and the sand blown environment beyond gave the place a feel like an island, though perhaps that perception was created by the fort, which though now joined to the land was once isolated by high tides, and the lighthouse which is so tantalisingly close but still “at sea”.
Once more pursuing my photographic goal of a decent long exposure shot, I imagined a result that would be as calm as those sleeping undead but the incoming tide came faster than I expected and moved my tripod enough to blur not just the waters but the whole image, despite the “snowshoes” I’d fitted to give me more stability on sand.
Retreating to the rocks I tried again.
Now this is how I imagined Sealand.