Standard class? What’s happening? I actually chose to mix it with the great unwashed for two times 2 hours and ten-minute of a train journey. How did I survive? There were people walking past me flocking to the buffet car for their over-priced burgers and sugary fizzy drinks. I had to make do with a miniature bottle of wine (3 for £5 from Morrison; bargain) and no-one brought me food.
Oh, hang on; I was saving money and my fellow passengers were delightful and chatty. I didn’t even notice the higher noise level or the lack of snooty looks at my earthy demeanour. I like the first class service but this time it was a means to an end. Just get me up to Liverpool.
Getting on the train at Euston, you immediately notice the relaxed friendly ambience as most of the passengers are blessed with the Merseyside manner. People in East Sussex are friendly, the station staff at T. Wells are brilliant; the guards love to chat. But that oh so familiar manner tying me to my roots is like going home to a roaring coal fire.
I had a little roam around town, visiting Mattas the world food shop and having a half of Thatchers in the old Blacklers; now a Wetherspoons.
It’s not the most graceful fate for one of Liverpool’s most iconic shops. Those of us of a certain age have wonderful memories of Blackler’s at Christmas time. The whole shop was open plan and just glittered with seasonal excitement.
Looking around the rest of town, the great sadness emanates from the old Lewis’ building. All that personal history.
My mum worked there as a statistical clerk. Mum’s wizardry with numbers was legendary. She used a slide-rule; enough said, calculators were big heavy things with a handle.
Some shops used those little tubes shooting about the higher levels, flying to the accounts department. I’ve no idea which ones; I just remember it.
Of course, my days were planned. The first stop was Wetherspoons in Liscard, complete with its boardings from a recent traffic incident.
It’s an old supermarket; Safeway then Netto. The original Safeway had a deli counter. We’d die for the Russian salad. It felt stylish and sophisticated. For years, it was Mum’s place. My mates Slash and Peter worked there stacking shelves and running the groceries. It cemented the shop as part of Wallasey’s fabric.
But at the turn of the century, Safeway was beginning to fade. Within no time, the Wetherspoon’s emerged as an iconic substitute. One could argue that it’s full of deadheads but bollocks to that. It’s disabled friendly and the Mersey manner prevails.
All that carefully planned diet was destroyed in one day with luscious amounts of fat and carbohydrate with chips. I’d had a pastie for lunch as well. Glorious.
Here are Gail and Christine.
Then despite all the indulgence, I got myself into Andy’s car. Get in! Well, I did.
Then what happened? Peter and Jean turned up in the bar. Liverpool were beating Barcelona. How mad. Oh, what jolly times.
We saw the famous Magritte chair.
The rest of the week was mapped out:
Wednesday, a day of relaxation and little alcohol. Met this wonderful creature for lunch.
I’m sure someone piled their empty glasses onto our table.
Julie disappeared for a bit and came back with this.
Isn’t she wicked? I watched The Great British Menu and a thing about police in London. I do love a reality cops and robbers. There was football too.
Thursday was lunch again with my cousin Pat and Denis. They haven’t changed. They have children to be proud of and their gentle humour calms any savage beast.
Like me, they have travelled and discovered new worlds within and without our fair shores. We don’t brag about it. It just becomes part of our conversation.
Remember the days when that flash couple from number 46 came back from their annual February trip to the Canaries? They rarely spoke to you all year but they were ever so keen to share present their winter tans and share the prices at Ricco’s doubles bar with you.
I came back from Australia once in January. I was beautifully tanned but I felt out of place. It made me laugh. Unfortunately, the photo I took seemed to disappear from the memory card so here’s one I took earlier.
The evening was spent with the MacLeods. I will publish the recipes soon because the food was just wonderful. Our best yet. Jeanie’s ginger cake could start a war.
It’s funny cooking with Pete and Jean. There is a lot of thin ice to walk gingerly over. Suffice to say, the healthy discussion and claims of right and wrong ways are often met with an air of flippancy.
Middle-eastern food with its breads, dips and tagines is a real party maker.
Or was that the wine, the G&T or the Talisker? Wevs; it was memorable.
I wasn’t woolly the next day. I was full of the joys of spring, eagerly anticipating the adventures of a trip back home. Fact:
There are people with hangovers and there are liars.
But the trip was good. The presentation of a bacon butty in the hotel was a saver.
Euston to Charing Cross was its usual delight. I had a purseful of change to offer to those asking and it all went. The last £2.00 was given to the man at the station. Here’s the journey in pictures:
Now for the aftermath.
Thank you for reading.
In amongst the sound of Kenwood and the shuffling of tired feet, I could make out the voice of a lone singer. His nasal crackling voice sang a slow laborious melody. As we moved nearer I could make out some of the words. He sang of hope and new life. He sang of sailing far away to a land of opportunity, leaving behind all the hell and hardship of old England.
My father used to make fun of folk singers:
“They put on their stinking woolly jumpers and stick their fingers in their ears. They spend their time in pubs drinking warm beer and picking the fleas out of their overgrown beards. No-one likes them.” He would then do one of his impersonations. It often made me laugh, if only just to see Dad making a fool of himself in front of our relatives.
Now I really wished I had a phone. I’d have filmed the performance of this lone singer and shown it to my father. This was far too profound to be made fun of. This was powerful and moving. This was not any sort of modern day middle class old fogey in a pub pretending he could sing. This was real. As he came to the end of another verse, I was completely taken in. Then as everyone around joined in his roaring jolly chorus, I thought His Lordship was going to scream. The chorus was loud. Its force shook the frame of the carriage. It punched my ribs. Now with his hands over his ears, His Lordship began to shout directly at me:
“They sing of joy and gladness as though it is their right. They will get to the city and find nothing but misery.” The singing stopped.
Royal Tunbridge Wells, Kent, Garden of England.
Could such a title be any more pretentious?
I received a lot of stick when I moved to my modest little semi in T. Wells. Of course, many friends came to visit and many good times were had. I even had barbeques in my large garden. When I took a local job, things seemed perfect. Here I was, a scally from Seacombe, now ensconced in RTW. But I noticed the calling cards. These may not be exclusive to our jolly town but I noticed them here so that’s why I’ve made the association. Here are some of the more obvious ones:
The overlong sound of a single car horn echoing around the centre of town; get out of the way, can’t you see I’m more important than you?
Temporary traffic lights: Welcome to Southborough.
Two sets of temporary traffic lights on London Road and St Johns and Upper Grosvenor Road completely closed; it happened in the Spring of 1994. TWBC doesn’t give a toss about the closing of the main route north, you’re lucky to live here.
Not letting children go out to play; only feral families do that. They might catch something.
An undercurrent of racism; it stems from fear and mistrust but I’m not going into associations with Brexit and the number of foreign workers employed within our midst. There is a whole field of hot potatoes here. Best left alone for now!
Not knowing your neighbours; short of a curt morning greeting some have little to do with their fellow residents.
Potholes; Kent highways and TWBC creating speed bumps by stealth. Paul Carter once promised a blitzkrieg of pothole repair.
Pembury Road; plenty of time to enjoy the scenery.
Hall’s Hole Road; (Reynolds Lane, Broomhill Road etc) test your nerve against the scaffolding lorries.
Endless eateries; Charity shops, boarding and cheapos only in town these days.
Make the A21 dual carriageway; yes, they’ve done it now but it’s been a characteristic call since forever.
Enough is enough.
What I can say about my time working and living in Tunbridge Wells is that I’ve been honoured to meet so many wonderful people. Once you’ve scraped through the thin carapace of the calling cards, you’ll find a town as good as anywhere; even without a Waitrose.
Many people I meet back on Merseyside have had occasion to visit. They recall the traffic, the scenery, architecture and the name of the pub they drank in.
Thank you for reading.
Today was the first day I had to wait. So far my radiotherapy has been punctual and the transport has been fantastic. Today was no exception but there were two of us. The mini-ambulance picked up another whose treatment took a bit longer. I waited. No problem.
On my phone, I played Palestrina. It just shifts your view of what is in front of you. There were faces turned into silence, watching the daytime TV calling out high above the waiting room.
I preferred my antiphonal mellifluous beauty to stark rugged grunts from small-time presenters growing beards to be “in”.
Staff appeared to expectant brows waiting for the call. Was it bad news? Will any news do?
Crumpled up paper, pouches envelopes and folders garnish static hands.
A quick look; is it the right date, day time year, hospital? There were the stone glances of the old. They were stern and often sad. What did they hide? A whole lifetime of working wellness cut down by a tumour.
There were brief smiles of recognition. But this was not social acknowledgement. I didn’t know these people. But I knew their journey.
There were headscarves, wigs, beanies and stark bald heads; the medals of dishonour. We are not inferior. We fight the notion but sometimes we cry. Outside is the quadrant, all cosy wood and green. It sits deserted anticipating the warmth of the summer.
On a far roof sit the pigeons. Day after day, they too wait. When will the people emerge eating their sandwiches and pasties?
Thank you for reading.
It’s not the same anymore. It’s no longer normal to escape for a lunchtime pint. Men left the women at home, preparing the roast. They have to stop at regular intervals to prevent the children from committing murder over cheating at Monopoly or flicking the Subutteo players. They’re fighting over the bicycles and the lego.
In storms mum, hot and bothered mid gravy making, standing on some little plastic brick creation. As it pushes through the soft sole of the fluffy slipper, she screams and the children laugh. Mum retires to the hothouse.
“Why can’t ‘he’ take the little beggars to the park instead of leaving them with me? Now ‘he’ will come in all sloppy mouthed and stinking from the gallons of cheap weak ale. Then he’ll try to kiss me while I’m carrying the scalding hot roasting tray. “
The meal is devoured in minutes before ‘he’ falls asleep on the sofa, leaving that hint of beery fart swimming gently among the smells of kitchen mayhem.
She wishes she had the courage to do what her mother did last Christmas: Both her dad and big Len fell asleep on the sofa but Dad’s cigarette was still alight. As it began to singe the arm of the settee, Maisy, her mum, fed up at trying to wake them, poured the bowl of washing up water all over them. They sat there, confused and drenched in grease-sodden glory looking at each other.
Pubs were once the true adults’ playground. It was men only in the bar; all standing smoking their Players’ and Capstan full strength with the pale warm bitter. Behind the bar was big Shirley. She liked the banter. It was the only time she was ever complimented on her bulbous breast and shiny red lipstick. As she barged between the cloth caps and raincoats, collecting glasses, she’d squeal at the frequent pinches and surreptitious gropes and her quaking bosom.
A son’s first visit would be celebrated with a great Shirley kiss to the forehead, leaving the blushing teenager to go home with his giggling father before facing the wrath of the woman from the galley, outraged at young Len’s inaugural lip-shaped tattoo. then young Len would go green and vomit on the parlour floor.
And what was on offer? Beer and crisps. There was whisky for the end of the session and bottles of pale on the cold shelf for the sissies.
In the lounge were groups of couples. Before long, the men would gravitate towards the bar for extended conversations whilst the ladies, sipping their gin and orange would gather on one table before launching into a hysterical rant about the injustices of being a wife.
Emboldened by the constant feed of gin, one would stand up against the “please myself” mindset of the working man:
“Look at you, you just go off and gabber with all the other pigs around the trough, laughing about your football and racing.” As he puts down the next round of drinks before the clucking hens he says, “what are you moaning about, I take you out don’t I?”
Some pubs offered sandwiches or a steak and kidney pie sitting alone on the bar in its scorching display case. No chance of infection there. By the end of the session, some drunken fool would go for it, leaving a tender incinerated mouth to remind them of his beer induced folly.
I can’t quite work out when it all started to change but along came beer gardens.
Then children. It wasn’t sudden; nor was it widespread but on warm days we’d find ourselves basking in the delights of a rare heatwave encroached upon by children with drunken parents-enough to drive us back inside. Perhaps it was a side-effect of the open-all-day policy. Picture the scene:
“Eh luv, dat Telegraph’s gorra great beer garden with swings an a slide.”
“Yeah, we can ‘ave a quick drink before shoppin’ arasda.”
Three and a half hours later, Tracey is looking in her purse for the shopping money.
“We’ve gorrenuff for the chippy,” she announces. Darren’s asleep. The children have been going around the tables draining glasses and bottles. Tracey’s all pink on one side and the children begin to moan about their own sunburn.
“Listen luv, we’ll have to pop in me mum’s to borrow some shopping money.” Darren looks delighted at the thought of seeing his future mother-in-law who’ll carry on spoiling his three semi-drunk feral children.
Who will he tell to “fuck off” first? (It’s usually Tracey.)
Meanwhile, all the regulars have retreated indoors to moan about the idea of children in the pub. After finally talking Darren round to an in-law visit, Tracey stumbles in and empties her purse on the counter.
“Can I gerra larger with da?” The barmaid refuses before Ian the knicker sniffer emerges from the corner and buys her one after giving an encouraging peck on the cheek and a tweak of the bottom. He laughs at the pervy inferences from the other locals.
“Yerall thinking the same, at least I ‘ave the bottle to get stuck in,” he shouts, sitting back down with his flat bitter.
In the late nineties, I heard a complaint from a fellow drinker:
“You go in the Dorset Arms now and it’s all knives and forks and menus.” It’s true and it applies to loads of pubs. Children play amongst the tables and multiple menu cards. The card scanner sits firmly on the counter. The till shows the bar person’s name as the cutlery and plates rattle.
I now go to the pub to eat. It’s very good. I coo coo at the babies and call the children mate. Once you’ve got past the concept of the pub being a place for a quick half, it has developed its style along the cafe society lines.
But hang on. Pubs still exist. The food is there but the drinker is still the priority. The drinker is not chastised for choosing to drink. In fact, many places have a happy medium.
I love it.
I love the explosion of eating places. Better still is the increase in disabled facilities. A sign of the times? Yes!
Thank you for reading.
I’m writing this quickly before I forget it.
1tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp chilli powder or a fresh one sliced up, wevs
1tbs tomato puree
1 tbs red wine vinegar
1 tsp sugar some chicken
This also suits sweet potato, butternut squash or both
chopped ginger (loads)
2 fat garlic cloves.
3 tbs Plain thick yoghurt
salt to taste