Where do you start? We were a family of five squeezed into a three bedroom terrace in Seacombe. My nan lived with us. (That’s six! ) We managed. The street was part of our playground.
We had the usual disagreements and infantile indiscretions but like the other families around us, we had close bonds and we were far from the normal idea of three boys; close in age and growing up together.
There was a popular western TV series in the sixties called Bonanza. It featured three grown-up sons; Adam, Hoss and Little Joe (Michael Landon-Little House on the Prarie.) Now that was an image of three closely bonded brothers striving to follow the same path.
We weren’t like that. We had different aims. We had different hobbies and activities. Naturally, I’d have liked to have been better at football and cricket but I wasn’t.
Fast-forward to 1978. The first monster left home. Phil moved to The Pit. By this time, our directions seemed clear. Tom was established with BT: up poles, down holes and paying homage to the great green boxes of spaghetti, placed strategically on street corners.
Phil was in retail; always working on a Saturday and doing something at the Chelsea Reach. I was a student about to enter the disastrous final strait (it was dire) of my failed degree. But I was music through and through. I had the piano to prove it.
We were now full red-blooded “men”, set to shake the world. It didn’t just start then. We’d had lots of practice before. And we had common venues.
The Nelson, Grove Road:
We’ve all worked there at one time. It was a bunch of gangstas. On Saturdays, I’d get in there about eight and our Phil was always there; pissed but not swaying. I don’t know how he did it. Slowly, the crew would arrive; including Tom, the Hayes family (John Mick Twee Sue), Eddie Kelly, Mark Ward, Sammy the leper, Derek Ward, Lee Maguire, Tony Norman, Steve Murphy, Mick Fagan, Jerry Bowman, Sandy, Nick, cousin Joan and a whole posse of other greats and not so greats.
The pub heaved. I could mention the relentless sniffing around we did. It was like the hounds of love following the bitches in season. But that might become tedious. We don’t want any references to anvils or gravestones.
Cousins Joan and Irene also worked there. The manager was a lovely man called Eric Cadwallader. He was the daddy. He ran a damn good pub and was generous to all three of us.
Phil and Lee ran the pit. Many others stayed there. Situated on the first floor, (Those poor residents below.) the pit parties were legendary. Sometime around four in the morning, those of us still alive would listen to Crime of the Century. Perfect hangover music.
It was a shorter walk to there than Seacombe when returning from New Brighton so I stayed there a lot, usually in front of a blazing gas fire in the kitchen on some cushions. They had a cat called Willie who used to lie like a human. I’d wake up on the sofa with him next to me, stretched out.
Like the Hayes family, we were seen as a definitive group. We’d gone past the bickering stage. We liked to drink and party. Any drunken deviances would be broadcast around the pub the next day. Tom was always good at that. (The bastard.)
The Golden Guinea:
It was a hole of a nightclub on the seafront. It was our Thursday venue. Around half-twelve, Phil would buy a pizza thus attracting the hungry wolves. Samways always got there before me. By this time, Phil was a rounded sort of chap and Tom was catching up. It was odd that we did reverse size. Phil was the tallest and Tom was the smallest. Did Tom have a chip on his shoulder? Too bloody right he did. Tom was the most openly competitive whilst Phil and I, still as avidly competitive, were more discreet. The Guinea was damp, cold and loud. It was on three floors but every room felt like a cellar. It didn’t matter. We still got on like a house on fire becoming some a sort of brotherly institution.
The Chelsea Reach:
Who doesn’t remember the Chelsea?
This was our real playground. For a period of time, Phil and I were its best customers. Phil worked and played in there. All I can say is “Saturday nights and Sunday mornings in the cocktail bar.”
On some occasions, it would continue elsewhere. Often, there would be a short pilgrimage to The Rani. I don’t recall our Tom ever going. (Fussy eater.) It was dark and tacky. Upstairs, the toilet windows were barred. Can you imagine past escapades when some Jack the Lad would escape, catlike across the rooftops to avoid paying?
Oh the waking: The head (obvs), the trail, the counting of the money and that emerging feeling of dread as the memory slowly returns.
“I said what?” to that girl I fancied.
“I said what?” to her mate. “Who did I say was beautiful?”
“Where did I fall asleep?”
Beer talk was a deadly affliction. Instructions would be left to poor Mum:
“If so and so rings, I’m not in.”
“So we’re doing your dirty work?” Dad would comment in his unmistakeable admonishing way.
Tom was more of a weekday visitor with the legend that is Kelly. They’d plant themselves by the bar in the main room and pipe to their hearts’ content whilst commenting acerbically at the usual posers. You know the type; a lukewarm half tucked into their chest and carrying the wiggle of smugness.
But not all good things are permanent. There comes a time when one steps up to the plate and takes on the burdens of adult responsibility-you know-marriage, mortgage, children and the switching of allegiances and priorities.
It didn’t happen to me though. I was unsalaried and freelance. Marriage etc did not come my way until the next century. This was not the end of the brotherhood however. On the times we were together, the goodwill and wicked persiflage would be fired relentlessly from one to the other. Occasionally, Dad was around to fire his hilarious broadsides.
It’s not been some utopian blissful co-existence. There have been hard, brutal times when it was difficult to understand how our lives had turned and the resounding consequences on those around us. Phil and I parted from Wallasey’s fair (Fair? Open to discussion with the state of the place.) shores but Tom has been Wallasey through and through.
In 2005, the lovely Babs parted our world.
It brought us right back together. Differences were brushed aside as our bonds tightened. Distance was no excuse. We were there to support our dad. I was not as frequent as I’d have liked to be but I still did it, right up to the end.
On Dad’s passing, we had to work together. We agreed on the criteria for our sad business. Once again, we will avoid any sharp edges between us. We have far too many other knives to dodge to be firing any arrows of blame across the bows at each other. We are what we are but we’re still brothers. From the early days as a cute little trio, waddling about in the bar of the Sun Inn and the beaches of Merseyside to the people we are today, our attachments are unequivocal. We stood united with the rest of our family on that cold, blustery January day. Family is a ring of steel; it bends and twists but never breaks.
We are lucky to have had our times together.
I still get stick for my intellectual proclamations whilst we still share anecdotes and desires.
And Walllasey is still our base.
Thank you for reading.