The second spell at The Gandy was a bit longer than the first. These days they’re called gap years. Prospective students may find some temporary work with some corporate national to save up and go travelling. I chose a year in the Gandy followed by ten days in Lloret De Mar. I had just spent a year getting a couple of A levels from Withens Lane. I could have gone straight into higher education but I felt the need to prove myself; that I could do a prolonged full-time period in work. So I started as a goods receiver in the warehouse in Oakdale Road. It was clearly better than the factory. I was in another tin office but it was by the door; a very big door that went all the way up to the ceiling and wide enough to get a lorry in. (That is a big lorry; because you can’t say lorry without putting the word big in front of it.) And it was the summer. I was free to pass through the gaping door to work inside or out. Opposite was the field and the little children’s play area. In the distance was the back of the factory. It stood as a stark reminder of where I could have been. But here I was in the relative quiet of the warehouse with nothing to assault my ears but the tinkling of distant radios and the bubble of the chatting ladies, discussing the universe and beyond as they neatly boxed up the brake shoes and discs. It was an unusual landscape. Turning from the playground, I would be confronted with the flour mills. Now they were dark and satanic. I had watched the Liver Building undergo its major cleaning operation. To my surprise it was white; freed from three-quarters of a century of the billowing black smoke of a million coal fires. I fancied the mills were white too. Or at least they were not meant to be a dark grubby brown. Behind the warehouse was rough scrub.
I wondered how many rusty bedsteads and bicycles were littered amongst its coat of sharp nasty briar and bramble. This was industrial land. It belonged to the people who lived and worked there. It was there to be used and abused. I actually felt sorry for it. On the other side there was the approach to the tunnel. What thought did the thousands of passing motorists give to this sad little stretch of unloved earth? They were more concerned with getting on, fiddling in their pockets for change and grumbling about the price of the toll. That hasn’t changed. This desperate landscape was now mine. Again, I was in admiration of those that were dependent on its existence. Even though I was resting a while, I was still a passing stranger. It was my chance to become like everyone else; part of the daily grind. I could laugh, complain and deal with things. Best of all, I had money to go to the pub. What else would a young working class man want? There is a question. A whole lifetime of study could go into it.
My favourite pub was The Stanley. Standing at the bottom end of Borough Road, it became a regular venue for Sunday nights. But I liked all the Seacombe pubs. I thought of the Seacombe Ferry as something from a bygone age. It seemed massive. But somehow it was never to be full again. For many ferry passengers, it was like the old bit of land by the tunnel. It was just there. Something to be walked past without a second thought. I always liked to pay a visit to the grand old lady. The King’s Arms, The Shepherd’s Rest and The Dale were also frequent stopping points. Then there was the Labour Club and the Conservative club. I went on the Labour Club’s trip to Haydock races in late August one year. One of the Carry On films does a coach trip; I think it’s “Carry On at your Convenience.” Well, it was a bit like that; a riot on wheels. There was a lot of drink and so many memorable characters. I was fascinated by this old bloke called Jimmy who would sing and play the spoons. He was a hero. If you wanted a lesson in how to work hard and play hard, Jimmy was your man.The Nelson became pub of choice when Eric the Cad was the manager. Within a short space of time, my two brothers, two of my cousins and I had all worked there. It was often packed to the rafters. There was one pub up by the Pool Inn but I cannot remember its name. (some animal’s name?) Well, I never went there! (No offence.)
Reality struck after the Christmas of 1974. I had seven months to go. It was dark and cold. It was dark when I went and dark when I came home. This was a miserable time. I did not have to imagine the grim murky days. I was right in amongst them. It was one of those things I had to stick to. Booking a Spanish holiday in January was little consolation. But I was glad to be doing it. I could look my parents in the eye as an equal. Having announced my intentions of a career in teaching via college, there was suspicion of my appetite for real work. To a lot of people outside the profession, teaching appeared easy; great holidays and short working days. But that is another argument.
(That’s not me.)
The work and social life continued and the time did go by. The first highlight of the year was the end of January. We were going home in daylight. The work itself was slowing down. The job was changing. I was getting more involved with handling the empties. That is the old brake shoes that were returned to be recycled. I was dealing with scrap.
One cold windy afternoon, when there was little to do, I dragged the young cleaner outside and announced that we were going to clean up the yard. We did. It was refreshing and invigorating. We were fighting the beast of the winter wind with numb filthy fingers. But the yard was cleared. It was almost cathartic. Sometime in January, I discovered the delights of the late night tunnel bus back from Liverpool. Getting off on Gorsey Lane to walk the full length of Gorsedale Road knowing full well that the driver could have dropped me off just before the booths and I could have gone up the ramp and nipped back through Lloyd’s Corner, made the task a tortured one. Once again the wind knew just how to find me.
It turned out to be brilliant summer. The weather was glorious and I was coming to the end of the Gandy marathon. After returning from holiday I signed on for three weeks. I hadn’t thought it through. I should have worked until the end. But it gave me my first taste of Dominick House. I would get to know it much better in a few years.
The summer of 1976 was a bonus. I had signed on for the College summer break but they found me a job. I was going to work Cadbury’s. All through my time at the Grammar, wafts of the gorgeous chocolate would come swimming over us in the playground. And now I was going to work there. It was handy; well the money was. And I was doing the night shift. I packed tea bags, cookies, strawberry creams and ice pops. One of the other students asked me where the freezing room was. I told him there were thousands of freezers all over the Wirral and beyond. I don’t think he twigged. I was glad to have worked nights. It was something else to put me on a par with my parents and neighbours. It was the long hot summer of the ladybirds but my main problem was wasps. They were on the night shift too. Around the rubbish bins were legions of wasps looking for the sweet life. All that sugary sticky ice pop goo.
My final job of the seventies was at Seacombe Community Centre. Before Dominick House the Labour Exchange was in Riverview Road. Then it was the community centre. I felt humbled.
I was humbled by the people’s generosity. They were generous with their time and effort. The place was full of real working class heroes. Some were in there every day doing work for nothing while I was fumbling about and getting paid for it. The work was nothing high and mighty. I did a lot of painting and stuff for the youth clubs. But in that year, I found a real sense of place with my home town. In that windswept corner of Seacombe, resting in the bare angular shadow of the tunnel ventilation shaft, there was a little pocket of human kindness. I had worked at the Gandy, The Brighton, The Nelson, Cadbury’s and now the community centre, the most local of all. I wondered if I was in Seacombe to stay.
End of part four.