“The people of Liverpool, in their indiscriminate rage for commerce and getting money at all events, have nearly engrossed this trade.” This might have been said last week during the awakening news reports on the massive, growing trade in scrap metal which has created a countrywide crime wave of thefts of lead from school and church roofs. Had I chosen to do a linear walk today, along the dock road, I might have reflected on the metallic mountains lining the north docks and on Liverpool’s pre-eminence as exporter of these mangled goods, and brought that quote to mind. It’s actually from William Matthews of Bristol writing in 1794 of Liverpool’s slave trade fixation.
Interesting though it would have been to do a reverse route of the one I took almost a year ago with Paul and Emma [see here and here], following the river out from the centre to the suburban edge, I chose not to. Rather, for my last day’s walking I took on a quite different challenge: to retread the roads most familiar to me, the roads of the area which was home for the first twenty years of my life and has been for numerous years intermittently since, the place which nurtured my closest friendships, the continuing seat of our family life, where I was educated (after a fashion) and where I own (a mortgaged) property. The challenge: to carry with me the words of Eliot, as quoted on my very first blog on this website, and to see how they felt today: whether ‘to arrive where we started’ would be to ‘know the place for the first time’. It was, a bit, of course, and then in other ways, it wasn’t.
It was a meander, from leafy Crosby through the complex mix of terraced housing, rented flats and historic seafront homes large and small which make up Waterloo. I found myself taking in some of the key sites and routes of my early years. These included Moorside Park where I played Sunday football and messed about on mopeds as a teen, Victoria Park, closer to home, where I stood awhile on the patch of green where we used to spend virtually every available hour in the school holidays, again kicking a football around. I photographed the very spiked railings which once punctured my newly-purchased expensive ‘casey’ after virtually the first kick we’d had with it.
My journey took in the roads where the two sides of our family converged many times weekly: Queensway, where my Mum’s mum lived and where today I took a photograph which replicates one I have on the wall at home: the view from my Grandma’s house, directly along the sun-kissed terraces of Kingswood Avenue; Dean Court, the high-rise flats where my Dad’s mum lived out her later years (interested to note how Sefton Council have - justifiably - kept faith with their high-rises whereas Liverpool City Council have spent the last decade daftly demolishing theirs); and then the most pivotal site of our family life in my childhood: King Street, where numbers 11 and 13 were occupied by Davies’s. Many of them were born there, and the cramped kitchen of number 11 was the hub of all our activity (on the way to the shops, you popped into Nana’s for a cuppa; on the way home from work, you popped into Nana’s for a cuppa; after church, you popped into Nana’s for a cuppa; on a Saturday morning, you popped into Nana’s for a cuppa. And there you met aunts, cousins, Grandad reading red tops and smoking, neighbours. Sometimes you checked out Grandad’s prize pigeons in the yard. Sometimes you met yourself coming back).
I had a real revelation whilst walking down St John’s Road. In Hull I delighted at the rich range of independent shops which made up the Hessle and Holderness Roads and said ‘I struggle to picture any equivalent road in Liverpool’. It was here under my nose all the time. For on the block where I own a top-floor flat, just a small segment of long St John’s Road, the shop fronts read:
Feathers Victorian Tea Room and AntiquesThe whole of St John’s continues in this variegated vein. The only observable difference between it and Hessle Road is that today St John’s wasn’t all that busy. But it’s not at all bad for a suburban street without a bus route.
Charlie Chans Chippy
Azanin Costume Hire
Fast Booze (Crosby’s Finest Off-Licence)
Outreach (Sefton) Ltd (Care in the Community)
Pets Aloud (Pet Foods and Access)
Plaza Cinema Support Shop (local folks saved the commercial cinema from closure and now run it themselves with charitable help)
Porterprint Design and Print Solutions
Eterna Bespoke Dressmaking Service
Ian W. Elsby Footfitters (Established 1966)
After a good lunch at my Mum and Dad’s we walked the very short distance to the end of the road and we were on Crosby beach, to bring to an end my coast-to-coast journey at a place which captures my beginnings. When I played on that beach as a child I would ruin socks and trousers with the oil slick wastes I picked up. It is pretty clear of pollution and it’s full of lifesize Antony Gormleys now - they’ve been there almost two years and like most locals and our many visitors I love them.
Gormleys or not, I could (and I do) spend hours here, gazing out at the point where the Mersey opens out into the Irish Sea, the ever-changing light and tides revealing and then hiding views over to the hills of North Wales (Snowdon on a good day), up the coast to Blackpool Tower and - out, out, squint your eyes or stare for long enough like the Antonys and you might just see - a hint of Ireland.
I took pictures today of things I’d never have thought of taking elsewhere: empty parks, rows of ordinary houses, a level crossing over an empty railway, a plain back alleyway. I took these, of course, because each one was imbued with personal meaning for me. Made me think that perhaps next time I do one of these walks I’ll take pictures exactly like these in very plain places which I don’t know, then spend my time finding local people who can interpret the meaning in them to me.
To conclude this overlong blog at the end of this rewarding two month journey, I share the one thing which moved me emotionally today. Turning the corner of Blucher Street onto Oxford Road to check out the little row of shops opposite St Edmunds RC Primary School. Part of my masculinity was formed here, as from a boy to a young man I regularly visited the barber on this block, Maurice, and he treated me as he treated all the customers, with integrity and a firm but gentle hand. Maurice led me in unintrusive but quietly interested conversation about school and later work and occasional forays into sport or world affairs. I guess I learned a bit about the art of conversation-making from him.
Though he himself preferred the look of Mark Lawrenson in his ‘prime’ nevertheless Maurice was a decent man who gave a decent trim and I realise now, as never before, that he is among the number of adults who, quite unwittingly, had a formative influence on me.
As I turned the corner I imagined that Maurice would be long gone by now. There was a ladies’ hairdresser on the corner, as there always was, with two very young women at work, and now carrying a modish name. Perhaps the barbers’ business may have continued too, I thought, though it would probably now be called something like STUDZ STYLISTS. But no - as I investigated more I saw that Maurice’s was still there. And glancing through the familiar red and white shutter blinds I saw that there, inside, was Maurice himself, working away at a customer’s head, his own hair grey now but still full, and his 1970s moustache still in place. And this is where I found myself unexpectedly but profoundly moved. I staggered across the road and held on to the school crossing railings for a minute or two.
I can’t explain why I was so moved to find that Maurice was still there. Maybe a reaction to all the changes I’ve put myself through over the past few weeks; all the changes in our city and society I’ve been tormented about and toying with in the company of others on this questioning journey. Maybe seeing Maurice was the first real sign to me that I had come home, and a reminder that home means a lot to me, and an affirmation that after all, home still tangibly, if tenuously, exists.