Thursday, February 14, 2019


Who has it?
Not me.
Though I could
If I chose
But I choose not to.
I choose to forfeit
My right to be myself
To determine my future
Because I am fearful of the consequences
Of doing so
Even though I know
In my heart of hearts
That I could be happier
If I did.

It’s the little things
That indicate the person who
Cannot choose to be themselves
Who almost wants to suffer
To be a prisoner
Of the one who tried to imprison him
All those years ago.
The prisoner who therapists said
Could take control
Because everyone is entitled
To be free
To be themselves.
But if I was myself
I would murder and maim
I would cut out the tongues
Of those who might disrespect me
Or remove their legs in case they might
Move close to me.

I have been let down
By my parents
By myself
By hope
By faith
But not by love.

I have not been betrayed by love
(Outside of the family)
But each morning I rise
And wonder how to fill
Another meaningless day
Until I die
In 20-30 years.
That’s less than the time since
We first met.
In less than that time
I will be dead
And I am told
That that time will be
What I make it
And if I breathe from my stomach
And focus on the positive
And connect with the unborn self
And am alive to the present
But this is the fucking present
Right now
As I type this
This is the present
Where I am centred
And want to weep
Because I will never have control
I have forfeited that
To all the other people I encounter
Who determine my life
And I let them
And I seem to be happy with that
Don’t I?

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Joyce, the Cavern and the Pool

I felt very disrespectful as I tried to tread Joyce off from the soles of my hiking boots onto the floor of the Cavern Club. Mind you this is no regular musical shrine. It's the almost original venue of the Beatles and other assorted beat combos from the ‘Pool. In fact it's the one over the road from the original, but it does go back to 1966 when, although the Beatles had long since left town, a local MP, Harold Wilson, was on hand to mark the opening of the new venue.

There had been quite a lot of Joyce spillage in the process of disbursing some of her ashes in as discrete a fashion as possible. We both then tried to cover up the evidence by plonking our backpacks on top of what stubbornly looked like a very bright, white, pile of powder. The whole point was to leave Joyce in a place she connected with. And in this shrine to the greatest pop band of all time, you could connect. I had been feeling a tad awkward about the total tourist excess of the venue, but, after some Theakston’s and a local singer offering ‘Norwegian Wood’ to some Scandinavian tourists, I had begun to feel better. As we prepared to climb the stairs out of the Cavern we trod heavily on the stone slabbed floor in the hope of leaving more of Joyce behind on this hallowed ground. Outside in Mathew Street, a middle aged bloke and his mother were about to go downstairs; he was telling security that ‘all this lot was her stuff’, and that he’d only come to Liverpool to remember ‘A Flock of Seagulls’. V and me laughed as this connected with our last trip to Liverpool with Joyce in 2015, although I’ve been a Beatles’ fan since I was a boy. We inspected the entrance to the renowned (upstairs at) ‘Eric’s’, a small venue where a good friend had seen John Martyn in 1979, and admired a new tribute to Submarine-era Fabs.

Downstairs at Eric's

Repairing to one of Liverpool’s oldest and most famous pubs, Thomas Rigby’s, V prepared a Cavern postcard as a memento of what we had just done; silver gel penning her Mum’s name to the photographed roster of performers who’d played there, and writing some words to her niece. Lunchtime drinking is a tricky exercise, though it’s one made easier when you’re on holiday. A very drunk woman held court at the bar, engaging with every man who entered, and we mused on the reality of her relationship to the silent, bearded, ‘guardian’ who kept her company with tall glasses of lager alongside her tacky-looking cocktails. I started trying to write some of these words into a newly-purchased diary before switching to doing it on my phone in the delusion that this would make me seem less of a middle class tourist desperately trying to be less self-conscious. Her rantings partly made me envious of her (drunken) honesty, and partly chilled me to the bone as I was reminded of past acquaintances. Her excess made me question what we were all doing in a pub at 3 o’clock on a Tuesday afternoon? Getting pissed in order exorcise some personal demons or to just blot out some fucking anxieties or other. Walking off my pint of ‘Quagmire’, running-in at a not immodest 6% and supplied, appropriately enough, by ‘The Big Bog’, a local microbrewery, V and I departed from the street and headed to the Docks via a car park. A blind man looked in danger of walking into a lot of traffic so I offered him a slightly awkward helping hand, fearful of patronising him or compromising his independence. He though was grateful. 

On the waterfront; the revamped Albert Dock on such a winter's day

We walked to the embarkation point where the legendary Ferry still crosses the Mersey, where Joyce, V and me had laid out on stone benches in the unexpected heat of a spring day, waiting for our ship to come in. We had then crossed, in time-honoured fashion, to the other side of the River to Birkenhead and a vision of hundreds of new cars from Ellesmere Port ready for export. This time V and me just walked around Albert Dock and felt the intense, icy Atlantic blast. Nick and Joyce were to be fused together in the second ritual disbursal of the day, as V distributed the contents of a tiny jam jar down the side of the wharf, most of the ash falling in to the Mersey itself. We walked around some of the waterfront’s iconic buildings, new and old, and examined some of the newer iconic sculptures: oversized Fabs and a more impressive Billy Fury whose stone figure had fresh flowers laid under it, marking perhaps the great man’s birthday or his tragic departure at 43.

Billy Fury under a brilliant Mersey skyline
Around the city of Liverpool and on Albert Dock you can enjoy the wacky art installations, the Superlambbananas (see below). Images from the city’s musical heritage, its natural beauty, the local community or from a lamb’s world (a wolf) are depicted on their side. Walking around the gentrified warehousing that contains the Tate Liverpool, we mused on how the development of Liverpool seemed to lack the crass social engineering of London even if these riverside apartments were out of most people’s reach.

A Superlambbanana featuring The Real Thing, China Crisis and The Mighty Wah

A Superlambanana featuring Echo & The Bunnymen (and The Mersey)

Detouring back to the city centre, The Central pub on Ranelagh Street beckoned as I had hankered after going into it ever since that earlier trip to the ‘Pool’. A glory of mirrors and wooden cubicles; steady drinking but nothing too excessive. At least not until a female customer got into a telephone barnie with her boyfriend. Considerate-like, she conducted it outside the pub. Valerie surmised that she’d been let down just one time too many by some scally and wasn’t prepared to put up with his shite any longer. When the woman came back into the pub, this verbose and somewhat tired and emotional lady was refused another drink. On her way out, the disgruntled customer repaid the compliment with the ‘cunt’ epithet. ‘I don’t think she likes me,’ the barmaid mused afterwards.

The telescreen does nothing to spoil the view in The Central pub
Two pints each were sunk before we decided to find some food, having read that the bar Tess Riley’s was just around the corner, which it was but we had unintentionally diverted via the shopping mall and Radio City’s iconic tower until we eventually found the huge pub. It was absolutely rammed; folks even older than us were doing a kind of line dance in the bar area. No food was on offer so we quickly exited, deciding that we should bow to the inevitable, ‘The Richard John Blackler’ in Charlotte Row, otherwise known as Wetherspoon’s. Friendly service, easy to find a seat, adequate burgers with a complimentary pint; what’s not to like? We were then drawn to ‘Smokie Mo’s – JR’s’ next door, a music pub that featured a soul-based duo, Jo and Jake, who were performing on a stage in the window as we stood watching from the street. After a few moments we hurried in, only to find that their storming set had just climaxed with Jo’s powerful interpretation of ‘You’re My World’, a song made famous by local lass Cilla Black. We exited immediately and Jay, the other half of this excellent duo, gave us a wave from the window, appreciating our conclusion that there was obviously no point sticking around any longer.

What now? Other bars seemed tame after that, while an Irish pub, the one next to.. eh… ‘The Irish House’, was stuck in its seeming never-ending and pretty anodyne solo acoustic set mode. We stomped about before deciding to return to Smokie Mo’s when we heard another performer take the window stage. Though possessed of a powerful and impressive voice, overall Joanne Wenton (see picture below) didn’t quite make the impact of Jo and Jay, largely because Joanne’s uncanny ability to deploy original backing musicians came care of her laptop. But, hey, that’s the deal. How else are you going to hear a version of ‘Let’s Stay Together’ comparable to Tina Turner’s take on Al Green’s original just for the price of a pint and only minutes from Lime Street Station Liverpool? We danced to Joanna doing a cover of a song by a local act, The Real Thing, ‘You to Me are Everything (the Sweetest Song that I can Sing, oh Baby…oh Baby)’. Joyce would definitely have wanted it that way.

Joanne Wenton, 'The Queen of Soul', performs at 'Smokie Mo's -JR's'  
It had been an emotional day. We had made the pilgrimage to Liverpool’s most famous musical venue (and a few other haunts besides). For all the probable power of a cleaner’s hoover, it is quite possible that some of Joyce will remain in The Cavern Club, secreted between the cracks where the stone floor meets the old brickwork walls. Our work was done.

Don't stop the dance (@'Smokie Mo's - JR's')

Sir Harold Wilson and the Adelphi Hotel, Liverpool

We were given a key to the joint entrance to rooms 100 and 101 in Liverpool’s most iconic hotel, The Adelphi. Four years earlier I had only managed to get as far as the plaque outside that very modestly marks the fact that Harold Wilson - the 20th Century’s most electorally successful party leader - had used the suite as his Constituency Room.

The entrance to the Sir Harold Wilson suite, replete with modest plaque

The dark wooden doors led you into two rooms that are virtually unchanged since the Labour leader had used the hotel to conduct constituency business for his Liverpool seat of Huyton, located close to the city centre where the hotel stands. Opening the door to the sitting room, we were struck by the large dark marble fire place, replete with electric fire that looked vintage 1960s, an original looking dining table and even a fold-out green beige card table. The sofa was decidedly of a different vintage. However the huge windows, subtly painted mock Georgian wall panels, and phenomenal ceiling plaster moulding that would in Harold’s time have sported a chandelier not an electric mock candelabra, made it easy to imagine yourself in a time when the PM needed somewhere very comfortable to, perhaps once a month, conduct meetings with local party officials and trade unionists or to simply be based for a night in advance of a Saturday morning constituency surgery in Huyton.

Harold's sitting room (Room 100)
Room 100 at the Adelphi was handy on election night too (1966) (c/o 'Harold Wilson' by Ben Pimlott, HarperCollins, 1992)

Harold’s bedroom was equally original, minus the bed with its mock leather headboard. The huge, fitted wood and marble washstand cum chest of drawers, replete with deco-looking chrome towel rack, and the large marble fire place were not only in place when Wilson used these rooms but when this incarnation of the famous hotel opened in 1914. 

Harold's washstand

A huge wooden, mirrored, wardrobe had certainly been in the room for more than half a century. It is hard to imagine that a hotel that for several decades has had a funding problem – one not remotely alleviated by its comparatively recent transfer to the ownership of the Britannia chain – would replace anything that wasn’t broken, save for maybe the odd light bulb and, sadly, the original carpet. 

Sir Harold Wilson's bedroom

The bathroom separated the two main rooms; its tasteful frosted glass lattice work door opened to a porcelain furniture set that may not have been 1914 but was probably at least 1950s. Valerie mused on the idea that Sir Harold had used the very same bath as her. From the bathtub you can look out via an enormous window to the rather grand building opposite that in Wilson’s time housed Lewis’ department store. Above the entrance to Lewis’ (now no doubt housing offices or flats) is a slightly odd but no less iconic stone sculpture of a naked male, which was referenced in a famous local tune popularised by a mostly local act, The Spinners. The sculpture almost matches the campness of a much smaller, metallic one depicting a naked young soldier sporting what looks like a Teutonic hard hat, which is located in the Adelphi Hotel ballroom.

The view from Harold's bathroom

When I booked the Sir Harold Wilson suite, I discovered the rather odd fact that it is actually known as Room 101. In fact it isn’t really known as the Sir Harold Wilson suite at all. The scouse-sounding and very helpful guy who took my phone reservation confirmed that he had typed into the booking that the ‘Sir Harry Wilson suite’ i.e. Room 101 had been requested. After successfully checking in to the suite we heard an older person’s voice outside the door informing her husband that Harold Wilson had stayed here, and evincing a disinterested response.

Wilson is mentioned on the Adelphi Hotel’s website, as is his ‘preferred suite’ where we stayed. However the Huddersfield-born man, part schooled in Liverpool, who represented a Liverpool constituency for 33 years, 13 of which as Labour leader and eight of which as prime minister, remains almost an incidental figure in the catalogue of famous people who’ve either made Liverpool their home or who were born and raised there.

If that’s true of Liverpool, it’s much more so nationally. In 2006, a decade after his death, a metal sculpture of Wilson was unveiled in Huyton by the then Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair (the only Labour leader to serve more years as PM than Wilson). Blair is reported as saying that his fondness for Wilson was because he was the first ‘modern British prime minister’, more or less code for the fact that he was (more or less) working class. Wilson was a ‘modern prime minister’ because unlike every predecessor save Lloyd George, and patently unlike Blair (or his successor but one, Cameron), he wasn’t privileged. Wilson’s immediate predecessor as Labour leader, Hugh Gaitskell, was, according to Wilson's biographer Ben Pimlott, superiorly conscious of the huge class gulf between them, while some of the upmarket press mocked Wilson for being a philistine. Yet he had a first class brain, got a first class degree from Oxford, and founded the Open University – the only Wilson policy legacy that Blair noted. Only a year before Blair unveiled the sculpture, he gave a speech to the Labour conference in which he attacked the Wilson-led Labour governments of the 1960s for being responsible for Thatcherism by failing to understand the depth of economic and social change. Ironically, just prior to entering No 10 for the first time Wilson urged change on both sides of industry in his famous ‘White Heat of Technology’ speech. As prime minister Harold Wilson would be weakened by often senseless industrial action; his successor and close colleague Callaghan was destroyed by it. However Mr Blair’s simplistic attack on, in effect, Wilson’s legacy was rich coming from the man ultimately responsible for fiscal mistakes that subsequently helped undermine the Brown Government amidst global economic meltdown. In supposedly praising Wilson, Blair failed to mention the neo-colonial American war that he kept British troops out of (Vietnam), in marked contrast to the one Blair sent British troops to fight in (Iraq). If, as the comment attributed to Churchill has it, ‘to govern is to decide’, then Wilson’s decision to in effect break with Washington (and for which the UK economy was punished by the US) was very much about governing - and doing so in the national interest.

Perhaps you don’t get remembered or properly respected as a British prime minister for the wisdom of what you didn’t do – as opposed to the damage caused by much of what you did (Margaret Thatcher). However Wilson did much in general to expand higher education and its availability to people of his background. A BBC story written in 2009 about long abandoned car production in the Merseyside town of Speke begins with a reference to what it calls ‘the dark days of the 1970s’. While there was much industrial action, there was also much less inequality pre-1979, and, for all the faults of Wilson’s public housing and welfare programmes, far less homelessness. As we walked around the centre of Liverpool the number of very visible homeless people on the streets was shocking. No doubt they congregated in the centre to try to tap visitors coming out of pubs, but their plight in the middle of winter was, and is, very real.