What is it about returning to the home of my childhood? I’ve just had four days of pie and chips plus a Sunday roast from my dad’s lovely neighbours.
I have crowed incessantly about the worthiness of my sacrifices of all things considered to be unhealthy for a so called balanced nutritious diet.
“Oh look at my modern healthy lifestyle. I’m such a brave pioneer to eschew all processed pre-made food for a diet of natural home made goodness. Now where are those darling little clementines?” See the smug expression on my beardy weirdy close to nature little face?
But hang on, there is bacon in my fridge and pancetta lardons in the freezer. I also have a large Tupperware container of white bread flour. Rest assured good people, they are purely for those feeling sorry for oneself desperate, for comfort food days. The bacon will soon be despatched to the freezer; you may breathe easily. Smugness returns in spades. “Now where are my sachets of quinoa, foxglove and sumo wrestler’s armpit tea?” Now back to reality. And it is a harsh reality.
Short of ringing for a pizza, I cannot live on a leaf pusher’s diet. If I’ve taken the trouble to get off my rear end to go and see my dad I will happily accept the fruits of his freezer. My wheelchair won’t fit into the kitchen anyway. So I will fall on my sanctimonious sword and eat pie and chips with a side salad of tinned spaghetti hoops. The secret nutrition thought police reel in shock.
I will end my argument there. On Thursday morning, I prepared my travelling outfit. I’m not a slave to any fashion but I do like a jacket. It was also another chance to wear a scarf and fingerless gloves.
The journey to Liverpool is now becoming routine. Even the lack of ramps at Euston and the two nights in shining armour who helped me and my chair was nothing out of the ordinary. People are generally fantastic. As is the “Steve was here” mark on my dad’s skirting boards and doors.
In the late sixties, he bought a beautiful piece of dark wood. He polished and varnished it before putting four legs onto it. It was our coffee table for decades. In the need for furniture more suited to his needs it was recently moved into the hall way underneath the coat hooks. I don’t know how it remained standing on three legs after one of my famous collisions. But on Sunday it was finally moved into the front room. A sorry end to a much treasured, well used latter day family heirloom. I say the journey was routine but I refer only to the actual travelling up to Lime Street.
On the train from Tunbridge Wells, I had a dreamy notion of sitting on the splendido pendelino looking cultured whilst completing the Times crossword. But the Crossword cost me £19.90. That’s £1.40 for the Times and £18.50 for the reading glasses at Boot’s in Euston. Soft-arse had forgotten his glasses!
In addition, the Liverpool underground was not in use due to major refurbishment. There was no-one available to pick me up so I had to think. Then, just when I was resigning myself to another white knuckle ride on the ramp of a hackney cab, I remembered the ferry ‘cross the Mersey. Damn, it’s just gone into my head. It’ll be there all afternoon; Gerry bloody Marsden’s squeaky little tuneless voice is echoing as I write.
Furthermore, after an intrepid young student boarded the train with a double bass at Sevenoaks, (it was taller than her) elephants came into my head.
That’s the elephants from “Carnival of the Animals” (Saint-Saens) Now do you see what it’s done? I’ve gone off on a tangerine. Oh I’m in such a mess.
The weather was dry and mild but any notion of the pleasant was assassinated by the rather rude swirling wind tugging at the gap between the back of my shirt and trousers.
It soon paled into the background.
For the first time this century I was rolling independently along the streets of Liverpool.
They bustled with the thrum of every day shoppers laden with bags, fags and phones, clucking away in that oh so familiar scouse twang. My guard was down. I felt my roots return. My “er” pronunciation was lengthening as my mouth widened. The “k” was becoming guttural.
I’m sure I was adopting the local air of the street wise, hanging in groups on the corners and entrances.
Then, as I emerged before the open esplanade leading to the landing stage, I was awash with the joy of seeing old friends. The watery sun blazed across the open flagstones, watched over by the stark concrete and stone of buildings old and new.
Here the wind increased to a persistent affront to perfectly groomed hair. I glanced to the landing stage and there was the boat, bobbing playfully in the foaming swell of the royal blue Mersey.
I paid my £2.60.
“When I first started commuting it was five pence,” I commented.
“Yeah but how much was your house?” retorted the girl. You had to laugh.
On deck, I looked across to the eastern edge of The Wirral. It’s not the glamourous side; it’s the working side.
Now in the modern world of services and call centres, you could easily find holes in my statement. But I remember the docks and the ship building. I remember the oil terminals and the train tracks. I was looking at history. I felt the thick air and heard the rude clanging of steel against steel.
The river was lively. I was anticipating a robust crossing. I wasn’t disappointed. The walk up to Dad’s was sad. Coming out of the terminal, I saw the outcome of urban deprivation. There were gaps where the pubs used to be. The rampant grass where the Seacombe Ferry Hotel used to be was littered with the accessories of human ignorance.
Give someone some waste ground and they will furnish it with all manner of litter and dog mess. Brassey’s has been gone a long time. It’s just an anonymous space. Yes the trees are nice but so was the bitter.
Further along, the old Leasowe Castle stood soulless and lonely.
I could taste the cheese and onion sandwiches. The grated cheese would scatter over the plate waiting invitingly to be picked off and nibbled as a little pub grub bonus. Am I being selfish? Am I standing up as some rusty old Luddite raging against the inevitable progress of time?
Litter was the main feature of my short roll home. Along with the boarded up windows, the outlook is grim. When I think of the fuss and money spent on Hoylake in preparation for The Open and all the world famous players with their commercial retinue, I get angry.
At the bottom of our road there used to be a row of shops. Only a convenience shop remains. Once where we could buy fresh bread, sweets, stationery or even a bicycle we now have the one stop. Recently the owner was attacked for drugs money and cigarettes. I’m not clear about the details. Did they find the assailants? Probably not. Further along was another old pub; The Brighton closed its lovely old doors a few years ago.
In Kenilworth I saw some children playing football against a wall. I used to do that. These kids were using an open wheelie bin leaning at an angle against the wall. The smallest one insisted that he could “gerririn deeole” every time. He insisted on showing me. He missed. “Next time lad,” I said with my teacher’s tone of encouragement. (He only just missed.) Kenilworth Road is a little bit of heaven in amongst the darkness of the general area. We’ve been blessed with good neighbours.
Friday was baby and Weatherspoon’s day. I saw my lovely niece Laura and her gorgeous new sleepy little bundle called Nancy.
Laura made a possible slip by mentioning that her partner Craig was keen on cooking things from scratch. I went into motor mouth mode about the process of cooking a beef rending. Laura smiled nicely. She loves her food too.Tom and my other niece Steph turned up.
“It’s like Christmas day again,” said Dad.
The Clairville is in the old Safeway’s supermarket. I’ve never seen it not busy.
It was a brilliant catch up with old friends. We just stayed. Outside the wind and rain were compounding the sullen nature of the darkness. It was a taxi home. Or so I thought.
The first hackney was displaying his hire light but insisted he had a job to go to. “Yeah right.” The second one said he couldn’t because he wasn’t insured. What in hell’s name is he doing driving a taxi? Maybe he’d borrowed it for the night. Imagine that? We used to have pirate videos, now we have pirate taxis. He said he’d ring through for one. LIAR!
The roll home took about twenty minutes. That’s ten minutes short of the time I waited for the ghost taxi. It wasn’t too wet but the wind howled around me as I buffeted my sturdy wheels over the cracked paving. I may as well have rolled over cobblestones.
If you ever want the satisfaction of doing fifteen rounds with a heavyweight, get in a wheelchair and go from Liscard to Seacombe.
Sunday was another old friends day. I saw Julie and Colin with a screamed hello and wave from Joey and Kate next door plus a little chat on the phone to Pete the flautist.
Just to stay in keeping with the pie and chips ethic, we had fish finger sandwiches. I’d forgotten all about them. If a cuppa soup is a hug in a mug (scary advert), then this is a hug in a butty.
I opted for tartare sauce in order to elevate my fine fare about ketchup class. Have I been down south too long?
They kindly drove me to the station on Monday. Five and a half hours door to door. Not bad. My mate Steve offered to get some supplies in. He stayed for a while whilst I luxuriated in my return to the comforts of home.
Thank-you for reading.