There is no point in being political. No matter who you follow, which party was in power or who you’d like to blame, the eighties saw a period of fundamental change. This is not the right time for a political rant. A lot of people fell on hard times in this decade. For me, the eighties started well. After a few months of unemployment, I began working and we had a big family wedding.
The job at the community centre was a scheme which finished in August of 1979. Hello dole. I found Dominick House the most depressing environment I had ever known. Lines of unused fixed grey chairs waited patiently in line, quietly hoping to be relieved of their sad, pointless destiny. From behind barriers of smoke stained glass little people in ties and grubby collars eyed you suspiciously before saying their piece to the cardboard index form resting on their side of the counter. I cannot remember if the glass ever came down but at one point the staid civil service dress code was relaxed. It didn’t improve the mood.
Fortunately, I had found an inspirational piano teacher who set me off teaching the piano.
By the end of the year, I had achieved a diploma (LTCL) which gave me a credible qualification.
My brother’s wedding was a big old do. He was married at Our Lady’s in Leasowe, the reception was at the Twenty Row and the evening took place upstairs at the Chelsea. A very Wallasey sort of affair. At least the church is still there. I do not recall the order of closures and I’m not even sure what closed or is still open today. But since 1980 and up to today, places have just vanished.
The Stanley had already gone. That old barn of a place with its thinning patchy lino floor, the over loud jukebox and the sharp edge of intense voices, putting the world to rights, had faded into the stony ground it had stood on. It was sad. It was my first proper local. Others followed but the Stanley was my first love. Other pubs went through changes of name or theme but it was clear they were struggling. Eventually, they left all us. I just had to accept their demise. There was nothing I could do about it. Going out was not an option for some people.
Most of the shops in Borough Road were also going. Again, I cannot name them. It was a general thing. Close close close! A lot of these businesses had been there for ever. The unique personality of Seacombe was eroding away. Instead of a myriad of colourful, often quirky shop fronts, we were left to view hoardings and bars as though some anonymous force had come in the night to hide away the area’s history. At the bottom of Kenilworth there were two sweet shops; Townsend’s and Connor’s. Mrs Connor was a delightful lady, happy to serve children with their little penny sweets and quarters of pineapple chunks. Townsend’s was the newsagents. The lady in there was a little more fractious with the children. So we went to Connor’s. There was also a baker’s, a greengrocer’s, a chippy and a bicycle shop. I gave the bike shop quite a lot of business. It was usually tyres or replacement lights.
After having to sell my old car, I pedalled around a lot and so things were quickly worn out. Cycling over the four bridges was a liability.
Once the tramlines were covered by puddles and I went base over apex into a beautifully sculpted pile of mud and filthy water. I splashed spectacularly. There was blood amongst the sweat. Other equally spectacular mishaps followed. When I was younger, my parents had never been keen on me going about on a bike, but now I had one, and was guilty of riding furiously. Served me right.
My other brother then got married. Two families with established Gandy connections came together.We had the evening do at New Brighton baths. I was to go to one final wedding party in 1989. Then the sea took it.
The decade was nearly three years old when the biggest hammer blow came. The Gandy was to close. Dad had been there for thirteen years and Mum for fifteen. At the age of fifty-one, both my parents were being left high and dry on the scrapheap of the unemployment register. That was it; their working careers were effectively over. My father had a couple of other short-term jobs after that but any chance of full-time permanent employment had gone.
It was the same for many others. Even for younger people the future was unclear. There was nothing. Anyone who still had a job was in fear of losing it as local amenities closed one after the other. Personally, I was unaffected. I was teaching children from the other half. This was the families who were not under the threat of redundancy. My patch stretched across a lot of the Wirral; Mostly Bebington and Prenton. I even went as far afield as Frodsham. I had no pupils in Seacombe.
Business was never consistent but I had enough to give me a comfortable existence. My parents were struggling however. It was not the end they wanted. Mum was a wizard with the finances. She knew the times of year when we would be stretched and she was prepared; a little bit here and a little bit there. She kept a fund available for the really hard times. Saving for Christmas started in January. I know of other families who have needed to do this. It’s one of those times when people who did not need to save like this would look down their noses and sneer:
“Well there’s not much of a Christmas spirit in that is there? How can Christmas be magical if you’re preparing for it from January? It seems so cheap buying half price decorations.”
I was having a whale of a time. The beauty of starting work after the schools finished was not having to get up early. I also started my Open University course. This was the start my beautiful relationship with the reference library.
That grand old lady of Earlston with its well-trodden stone steps and lightly creaking body shaped chairs, was an oasis of peace and tranquility. On most days, I would turn up and do my work. People were respectful. They spoke in hushed tones. The books were as old and gracious as the building itself. Sometimes I would pick one and open just for the pleasure of looking at something that had been created before I was around. They were all hardbacks with comforting textures and muted colours. There was nothing garish here. I still loved to see the model boats in their glass cases. I first saw them at Seacombe Ferry when we came over from Fazakerley.
In 1984, there was a brief burst of optimism. Over in Liverpool, there was a garden festival. There were going to be tall ships arriving with a collective sail out one Saturday night. The week before, King Street and Seabank Road became very busy thoroughfares. It was novel. A brief burst of tourism. But it wasn’t to see us and the special placed we lived in; it was to see the ships. And this was the eighties so everyone was in a car. By the Saturday, the place was heaving. I have never seen so many cars parked on our road. My parents wandered down to see the ships. It was a unique and memorable sight. Then came the great exodus. Within minutes, our road became clogged with cars. I nipped out to the offy to get some supplies to find a whole line of steaming chugging vehicles buzzing away pointlessly in the middle of the road. Outside our house was a gleaming mini. Inside they looked patient and optimistic. I returned and settled down to watch the Raiders of the Lost Ark. At the end, I decided to go back out and top up my supplies. The same mini was outside our door. It looked less shiny.The occupants were standing outside looking desperate.
There was nothing they could do. We discussed the different routes they could use but they were stuck. It was indeed a unique and memorable occasion.
Just before Christmas in 1985, I had the letter telling me of my graduation. It was a holiday to remember; not that I did remember much of it. At the time, my father was half way through a two-year spell working for the MPTE cleaning buses. Once more, he had to face the ignominy of redundancy. For me, three other piano teachers stopped working in Frodsham. I cleaned up. One evening’s teaching became three evenings plus Saturday morning and all day Sunday. In fact, it was seven days a week.
All over Seacombe, things were still closing rapidly. Whole swathes of old housing were flattened. I didn’t notice when the old shops and big houses in Brighton Street disappeared. But it gave us a clear view of the drill hall. Now I could hear the sharp cracks of target practice and the faint booming of five-a-side football. Borough Road was becoming distinctly residential.
That wasn’t a bad thing as it was offering extra housing. But I was losing count. I was spending less time in Wallasey and was looking to use my degree to find a place on a PGCE course to go into school teaching. I was still intending to stay in Wallasey however.
As it happened, after a year at Leeds University, I was finding it hard to land a job on the Wirral. The music advisor interviewed me on each occasion and made it perfectly clear that he considered my chequered past inappropriate for work under his jurisdiction. I had actually been forewarned about this rather self-important narcissist. I will refrain from reflecting on my response at the time.
Needless to say, I found a school who wanted me in North London and that was that. When Oldershaw rang up inviting me to interview the day after, Mum’s tone was a little curt when she informed them of my defection to Enfield. So in July 1990, I left Wallasey.
Now I have memories. I see the changes every time I return. In particular, I remember the countless reports in the local press informing us that New Brighton was about to be transformed. It was going to be put back on the holiday map. It never happened. New Brighton has morphed into a shopping centre by the sea. Whatever I or anyone else thinks of this, it shows change in a changing word. Extra employment is always helpful but perish the thought of these high street names deciding to close up because of “rationalising” assets.
My first London address was in Muswell Hill. I liked Muswell Hill because it reminded me of the old Liscard. There was a roundabout with shops on the streets. It had a Marks and Spencer and even an army and navy shop. The affection for my home town remains strong. It might be something to do with getting older. Three times a year I visit with my wife and daughter. Rose loves seeing Grandad Joe and her big cousins. I have to really think hard if I’m turning into Kenilworth from Brighton Street because all the familiar landmarks have gone.
Like my father, I was unable to see my working career through to retirement age. Since taking up teaching, I have been dogged by a progressive debilitating chronic illness. But I’m still here. Horizons may broaden but roots still run deep.
Thank-you for reading.