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Issue Date:- 8 September 2008

Alien in Liverpool, La Machine

AN outbreak of arachophilia took place in Liverpool over the last week, 3 September to 7 September 2008, when many thousands flocked into the city to see a specular alien, which first appeared on the side of the Concourse House, a block awaiting demolition, near Lime Street Station on Wednesday, 3 September 2008.  A giant spider; it hung there, unmoving, inviting speculation as to its intentions.  A base camp of scientists was established near the Echo arena to find out more about the creature.  Then, on Thursday, it was coaxed down and conveyed to the Base, still sleeping, until Friday, when it was aroused and began marauding.  At first, it was checked by a wall of Chinese fire crackers, then fire and finally snow subdued it, until 6pm when it re-awoke and paraded round the back of the Arena, along Gower Street accompanied by musicians on cherry-pickers playing evocative music as it trundled along.  The public were guarded by an incredibly industrious chain of stewards, with red and white tape, who kept folk clear of its colossal legs as it lumbered along.  Its arachridan characteristics were clear to see as it investigated as it moved along.  Amongst its less endearing traits were its tendency to spit spray, or blow smoke as it passed.  It lumbered down the Strand and re-entered Salthouse Dock, where it took a bath with the help of a gigantic crane and giant water cannons showered both the spider and the spectators liberally!  What areas the rain had not soaked, those cannons sought to drench.  It was taken in good part however.  After its bath, suitably dried and perfumed, it continued its ponderous way along until it reached the Cunard Building where, beguiled by harp music and subdued by snow, it eventually slept the night to re-awake on the morrow and in the afternoon made its way past the Town Hall (where it caused some special measures to be taken for a wedding party!) Then along to Derby Square, where water was once more liberally sloshed around.  The crowds along this route were quite densely packed and it was amazing how good humoured it stayed despite the fact that many parents with young children were naturally feeling very defensive.  At Holy Corner, Church Street, the spider was snowed on again and slept.  (How many of us recognise the name Holy Corner, I wonder?) When it woke, with some delay, it accompanied Manzimouk, a small driveable crane and performed manoeuvres, accompanied by loud bangs and flames.  Outside the Adelphi Hotel, it encountered a tempest then found its way back to Concourse House where it was hoisted up to spend another night.  Its huge size (50 feet, and 37 tonnes) was so apparent as it stretched over four storeys with its legs touching a 5th!  On Sunday, 7 September 2008, its final day in the City, there was much misinformation abounding and a large number of people with accompanying children congregated around St Georgeís Plateau and Lime Street in the expectation of seeing the Spider wake and react to the music.  However nothing happened which caused considerable disappointment for the waiting youngsters, especially as no formal information was forthcoming and it was left to the security staff and the police to answer queries, as best they could.  Most of the crowd dissipated, but appeared again for the finale, when the spider came down from the wall and marched relentlessly (at 2 miles an hour) towards the Queensway Tunnel.  Here it met with tremendous opposition from special effects machines: water cannons, fire, fireworks, smoke and snow all assaulted it until it made its escape down the tunnel; disappearing into a cloud of smoke, going who knows where.  Where will it reappear?  Will it reappear?  Yokohama in Japan is being mentioned.  It was a most exciting ending; music, noise, light and colour all fed into the fantasy unfolding before us.  It was all thoroughly appreciated.  The spider, commissioned by the Culture Company, was the creation of La Machine, a collaboration of artists, designers and technicians formed in the early 1900ís and now based at two locations in France, near to Toulouse and Nantes.  The associated creative company was Artichoke, based in London.  Made from steel and reclaimed poplar, the spider was reassembled in Cammell Lairdís in Birkenhead.  There are 66 people in the French company, 250 technical and support crew and 20 British musicians.  All involved were warmly applauded at the end of the performance.  This was an highly imaginative, innovative work of art and brought great enjoyment to many thousands.  There are detractors who feel the money spent could have been more usefully deployed but those who flocked in obviously appreciated the stimulation and fantasy afforded by this happening.  It was interesting to note that all ages, people engaged in different ways.  There were those who watched quite passively as the Spider passed them presumably seeing it merely as a distraction to everyday life.  Others marvelled over the mechanics and to the clearly visible manipulation by those who sat around the Spiderís middle controlling its huge legs and movements and others who clung to its limbs en route.  It really was a marvel of construction.  Even very young children seemed to accept that it was a machine.  Perhaps its sheer size and obvious mechanics made it unlikely to be a living threat, although one little voice did ask, "What does it eat?" On a different level, however, many people enjoyed the story line as it evolved, suspending incredulity for the duration of its stay allowing it to become a real entity.  It will certainly fuel conservation for a while yet and will no doubt live on in the memories of those who witnessed it and in the Cityís annals for years to come.  It was truly exceptional. Throughout the event, despite inclement weather at the start, heaving crowds and those with the urge to climb high places, crowd control (where possible) was, on the whole, sensitively done, with humour and good nature by the forest of stewards.  The police were friendly and approachable but high profile enough to deter trouble makers.  The masses were largely co-operative and behaved responsibly with good humour.  Liverpool was enjoying itself once again.  Will we feel bereft when our reign as Capital of Culture comes to an end or will the momentum continue?  So far the estimated number of people attending events, this 08 year, has passed the 6 Million mark, not including the Spider visitors.  Attendance at establishments and exhibitions is also well up.  Next week sees the Cycle Race pass through the City.  Jose Manuel Barroso President of the European Commission is quoted as saying:- "Itís turning out to be one of the most successful Capital of Culture programmes that we have ever had.  We are now trying to create a net work of European Capitals of Culture to build on Liverpoolís experience." Merseyside certainly knows how to respond when given the chance.  Hereís to a successful future!

Click here to see more photographs of this event.

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