Marigold Says...

Random thoughts on travelling and life in general.

I don’t have a photograph of the fabulous Liverpool Overhead Railway as I was never trusted with the family Box Brownie camera. I saw this picture in a junk shop many years ago and just had to have it.

G Says...

Nothing from Marigold this time. She's on strike. There's a lot of that going around lately, so you're stuck with me.

We get quite a lot of feedback from readers of our blog. Most of them complimentary, some keen to suggest subjects for a blog post. The most common refrain amongst our (presumably) older readers, the veteran and vintage section, is for more about days gone by. Specifically memories of childhood. Ever since Marigold announced one January 1st that her New Year Resolution was to be ‘kind and helpful’ we have aimed to please. In my case, with wretched results, but here is a request granted: jottings on the theme of long ago.

I spent all the school holidays of my childhood in Liverpool. We had, theoretically, moved away, but my mother preferred life back ‘home’ and Lime Street Station was as familiar to me as the local co-op. On one of the moving in/moving out occasions I remember being told to shut my pie hole. I was what a charitable person would call a chatterbox. I didn’t come across many people with a charitable nature. Certainly not in my immediate family. Perhaps kindness and understanding were as much affected by rationing as meat and sugar in the decade following the Second World War.

I’d been advised to shut my cake hole on many occasions, but now it was a pie hole I had to keep closed. Was this simply a regional difference or was the reference to a pie hole a more downmarket reference? I rarely ate cake, that was for special occasions, but pies were common enough. I asked the opinion of my Uncle Joe. He’d been in the Merchant Navy and had voyaged all over the world, so was the wisest man I knew. Uncle Joe shook his head and suggested I may be seriously overthinking the reference. ‘Stick to keeping yer gob shut’ was the gist of his advice.

Marie Antoinette’s suggestion to a starving populace, ‘let them eat cake,’ would have resonated with me if I had come across it in my early childhood. We ‘enjoyed’ a fairly dismal diet, heavily reliant on potatoes and lacking most of the foodstuffs we take for granted now. Marigold calls me ‘war boy’ because those retained memories of food rationing are deeply entrenched. Clearing your plate was an absolute requirement. Scraping it, maybe less so, but old habits die hard.

I was 8 years old, almost 9, when food rationing ended. That’s a child’s formative years with no treats on the menu. No wonder I’m an emaciated husk of a man!

With hindsight I realise food rationing may have been strangely beneficial.Rationing meant we all ate the same food. Potatoes, dense brown bread, cabbage, peas and on a good day, a chunk of meat. It wasn’t food to stir the senses but it filled you up. I was shocked to read recently that the rationing system was based on 3,000 calories a day for an adult male. That sounds a lot. Especially since I can’t remember ever seeing an obese child. Of course, I didn’t know anyone whose parents owned a car. We walked everywhere. Just about everybody did the same.

Last night at our house we had smoked salmon, avocado and olive oil on our dinner plates. At the time I was in Junior School I had never even dreamt of such items. I had a passing knowledge of olive oil: it was found in tiny bottles sold in chemists’ shops for the relief of painful ears by helping to loosen ear wax. We live a life of untrammelled luxury now, the Beckhams are frequent house guests and chefs from The Ivy ring Marigold for recipe advice.

Yeah, right.

Children should be seen and not heard was a basic rule of my grandmother’s house. Actually, she would have preferred to extend this to ‘children should be neither seen nor heard,’ but in a tiny terraced house this was not easy. My sister and I learned to play quietly without bothering adults and endeavoured to achieve silent invisibility.

Committing the sin of ‘talking’ usually meant banishment to the back yard to chop sticks in the Anderson Shelter which took up virtually all the available space. I often wondered at the protection this flimsy construction would have offered if any of the bombs that had reduced much of the surrounding area to rubble had actually landed on top of it, but verbalising these concerns produced yet another ‘shut your cake hole’ outburst. Chopping scrap offcuts of wood into sticks for lighting the fires was no hardship. I liked doing it, but had enough sense not to let this become generally known. As punishments go swiping away at pieces of wood with a fiercely sharp machete was one of the better chores. I never actually chopped off a finger but there were many close calls.

Many of my best friends, the boys I played with in the street, went barefoot as they didn’t possess shoes. The boy who lived next door but one, Billy Price, wasn’t supposed to play football with us because his parents had tuberculosis. Of course he did, he was the best player in the street. We played football or Cowboys and Indians for hours in a designated ‘Play Street’ where no cars were allowed to enter. Residents wishing to park their cars outside the house was never an issue as car ownership was not even dreamt of.

Signs saying ‘no spitting’ were common as TB was widespread. Virtually everyone over the age of ten puffed away on Woodbines, Park Drive or similar cheap cigarettes and spitting was endemic. TB concerns notwithstanding.

My Grandma occasionally smoked a clay pipe. I don’t recall what rubbing tobacco she stuffed it with, but I doubt it was a brand that has stood the test of time. Cigarettes were not rationed. Denial of food was presumably acceptable, but no cigarettes would lead to riots in the street. Our corner shop sold 5 Park Drive and a (single) match, presumably in acceptance that chain smoking would be the norm.

Billy Price, the one with the consumptive parents, was an avid smoker and kept a dozen or so ‘dabs’ – the tiny remnants of discarded cigarettes he found in the street – in his ‘baccy tin’ which he guarded jealously. Whenever he discovered one tinged with lipstick he adopted a lascivious smirk as he lit it. Years later I came across Billy Price again. He was mowing the grass on a bowling green in West Kirby. So, the professional footballer dream didn’t work out too well. Very sad. He was (still) smoking though, full length ones as well.

Scotland Road, Liverpool, where my grandma lived, is no more. Well, the road name soldiers on as a busy dual carriageway leading to and from the two tunnels under the Mersey, but it’s a very different area now. The back to back terraced houses were all swept away in a vast slum clearance policy. My Grandma, along with everyone else, was relocated by the Council to newly built towns outside the city. She was packed off to Huyton, at that time a pleasant small village, but her close neighbours went to new estates in Kirkby or Skelmerdale. With hindsight Huyton was by some distance the best option.

I didn’t like Huyton at all. None of my friends had moved there so I had nobody to play with and the new house, which wasn’t really ‘new’ at all, was a massive disappointment. I was expecting an array of luxurious modern conveniences. The ‘facilities’ as my Aunty Sally always called the lavatory were now inside the house, not at the bottom of the yard, but the tiny bathroom was virtually inaccessible for much of the time as clothes were washed in the bath and hung up there to dry. ‘Not even a mangle here,’ my Grandma complained.

A few years later I made use of the washboard and a borrowed metal thimble in the erroneous belief that a total absence of musical talent would be no barrier to a budding career in a skiffle group. Lonnie Donegan’s band featured a washboard player and even the Beatles started off as a skiffle group in their Quarrymen incarnation. It wasn’t as easy as it looked on television and fame continued to elude me.

A trip to the Pier Head was always a pleasure. I went quite often with my Uncle Joe, walking the whole way as he refused to use the ‘robbing Corporation buses’ after they put the journey price up by ten percent. We went there so my uncle could engage with the men, they were always men, who stood on soapboxes and harangued the crowd. I don’t recall ever seeing a woman in the crowd. Every single man wore a hat or a cap and was smoking a cigarette.

The Pier Head, directly in front of the Liver Building, was Liverpool’s version of Speakers Corner. Fifteen years later, by then living in London, Marigold and I often walked through Hyde Park and listened to those impassioned souls who offered their views on life to anyone who cared to listen.

The Liverpool version was much rowdier, due in no small measure to my Uncle Joe. My mother often said, ‘our Joe could pick a fight in a telephone box.’ He was only a small man, but with a big voice and an aggressive attitude. Liverpool remains to this day the last bastion of Hard Left Socialism in England and in the 1950s it was ideologically a virtual clone of Moscow. Even so, my uncle would take issue with all and sundry, insisting the struggles of the proletariat were being crushed under the heels of the ruling classes and much else in the same manner. Given such a role model it’s astonishing I have never once considered emigrating to the workers’ paradise of Russia. Cuba, perhaps, but only for the sunshine.

My favourite part of visiting the Pier Head was the Overhead Railway which another uncle, Fred, took me on several times, travelling the full length of the docks and calling at the various warehouses along the way. Uncle Fred was the clever one in the family and had an office job involving transporting goods from the tobacco warehouse, the sugar warehouse and several others. He was largely shunned by the family as he had married a woman, my Aunty Lily, who was not only a ‘Roman Catholic’ – a bad enough crime for a Methodist household – but was also known to have once voted ‘Tory.’ That was a giant step too far.

Do they still exist? I may take up smoking to see what all the fuss is about now smokers are classified as antisocial

If the Overhead Railway wasn’t an option I liked going down to the floating landing stage to see the ferry boats. On (very) special occasions we boarded a ferry, either the Royal Daffodil, the Royal Iris or the Egremont, they were all very similar, and went over to New Brighton for the day. The Art Deco outdoor baths, the funfair, the Tower, Fort Perch Rock and, best of all arriving at the Pier and seeing the sea far below through the cracks between the wooden boards as we joined the mob of excited Scousers off on a jolly for the day.

Sadly, I missed out on the diver, but my imagination didn’t. I devoured every reference by those lucky enough to remember the one legged man diving off the landing stage to collect coins thrown into the (pretty murky as I recall and even murkier now) depths of the Mersey by ferry passengers. ‘Don’t forget the diver,’ he used to call, Every penny makes the water warmer.’ Research at a subsequent date can prove injurious to memories, especially those handed down at second hand.

The one legged diver certainly existed. He is said to have been a man named Bernard Pykett, a former professional footballer who lost a leg in the First World War. He later fell on hard times and supplemented his income by diving for pennies off the end of the pier. I found a photo of him, not the clearest photo, but indisputably proving his one legged status. When Bernard Pykett was eventually banned from New Brighton Pier after many years – Health and Safety regulations were still in their infancy - he took his diving skills to Rhyl where he performed as a high board diving ‘daredevil.’ His party trick was a 75 feet dive into 2 ft. 6 ins. of water! That makes diving into the Mersey next to an unstable ferry boat being buffeted by the waves appear rather tame.

Rather disconcertingly, among many examples of street art now decorating buildings we found a representation of a one legged diver pursuing a horde of coins through suspiciously clear water. It’s a great image, but is said to represent Frank Gadsby, known as ‘Peggy,’ presumably referencing a ‘peg leg,’ and his exhortations to ferry passengers, ‘don’t forget the diver, sir. Every penny makes the water warmer.’

What’s going on? Two different men, minus a leg and using the same catchphrase, diving off New Brighton Pier? It’s not very likely, is it? Not for the first time I regretted looking more closely into my solidly formed recollections from the distant past.

When we recently revisited New Brighton it was our first visit in many years. It bears no resemblance to the resort I remember so well. Fort Perch Rock and The Lighthouse are still there of course, but the public baths, the pier, the tower, the outdoor fun fair all went long ago. The weather was decent and the parking spaces were full, as were the beaches. Buckets and spades and excited children having a day at the beach will never go out of fashion.

A lot of money has been spent on ‘doing up’ New Brighton. Sixty million quid. Well, okay, I can see there’s a cinema, a bowling alley, a Travelodge and several perfectly hideous ice cream parlours and fast food outlets, but it didn’t look like £60,000,000 worth of renovations to me. Why not stick with what made the town so popular in the first place?

New Brighton is just one more example of local government vandalism. Not far away, Chester had the largest, most complete, Roman mosaics in Europe and amazing Roman buildings that had survived for two thousand years until they were bulldozed in the late 1950s and sent to landfill. That’s a crime.

Seeing The Beatles play live at the Tower Ballroom, more than once, taking my sister on the Ghost Train as she could scream louder at the age of six than any other human who ever lived, eating candy floss in the outdoor fairground and, best of all, ‘going to the baths,’ New Brighton is indelibly etched in my memory bank.

New Brighton Lido. No, that's not me diving off the high board. Like the first Ford motor cars, bathing costumes appear to follow the rule of 'any colour you like as long as it's black.'

I’ve written previously in this blog about wild evenings, and a few lunchtimes, at The Cavern Club where I saw the Beatles on stage many times, but on this last visit we came across a giant mural commemorating their appearances at New Brighton. As I can affirm, The Beatles were often late on stage and the mural depicts four running figures, late again!

Another name on the mural, King Size Taylor was also a regular and I spoke to him several times, always about football, never music. Wikipedia tells me he was 6 foot 5 inches tall. He seemed much, much bigger to me at the time. A girl singer, Priscilla White, often sang with his band. She later went solo as Cilla Black. I wasn’t a great fan of hers as a guest singer, but she kept on turning up!

The Art Deco swimming pool – the largest in the world at that time – opened in 1934 and in the first two months after opening more than one million people passed through the turnstiles. I loved the sheer scale of the place, especially the high diving area with a 15 feet depth of water awaiting the brave souls (show offs) who queued up to earn the acclaim of the crowds. The pool itself could accommodate 2,000 swimmers and there was seating for 10,000 spectators.

In the 1950s when I was a regular visitor, over 150,000 other people joined me inside every sunny weekend. I was a bit young to fully appreciate the regular Bathing Beauty competitions, but one of my mum’s former work colleagues from the Food Office was once crowned Miss New Brighton. My parents didn’t approve.

I occasionally, very occasionally, went to the baths with my family, but if left to my own devices I often managed to defeat the turnstiles and get in for free. This facility became substantially more difficult every succeeding summer as I grew in size and lost the ability to contort myself into unlikely positions. Every child under the age of ten on Merseyside seemed to know the turnstile trick.

Harrison Drive baths was on a much smaller scale, but was even easier to gain free entrance there. As with the Lido it was filled by sea water, but I remember the water being significantly colder than in its bigger brother.

Having been told 16 laps of the Lido pool amounted to one mile, I attempted this many times, but ‘ran out of puff’ long before reaching my goal. In fairness I was very young and my ‘racing’ front crawl stroke reverted to doggy paddle rather quickly.

On February 26, 1990 during an especially violent storm, the River Mersey burst its banks and an estimated 13 million gallons of sea water flooded the bathing area of the baths designed to hold ‘only’ a million gallons. The cost of repair was deemed excessive at £4 million and the bulldozers moved in. Yet another lost architectural gem.

New Brighton Tower, larger than the one at Blackpool was gone before I was born, but the pier was demolished in 1978 and the iconic Tower Ballroom where The Beatles played on 27 occasions burnt down in 1969. As for the huge fairground that extended far up the hill, it’s long since been replaced by characterless houses. Hundreds of them. I much preferred the Dodgems and the Hall of Mirrors.

We took the long route into town, following the river from Four Bridges through Seacombe and Wallasey and going past the venerable Guinea Gap baths, which has survived the approach of the bulldozers for now. Marigold ‘needed’ a cool drink so we stopped near a florists which had a table and two chairs outside. Flower shops aren’t usually weirdly quirky places run by eccentrics so this place was a rare find.

The owner, Beryl - love that name – turned out to be one of those people you talk to for five minutes and feel you have known them for years. We bought some odd items, no plants though as Marigold is Europe’s most notorious, albeit unintentional, plant killer. We also had a coffee each, with biscuits, at the bistro table on the pavement . To a rowdy background accompaniment of Marigold and Beryl laughing like loons, I sat down and was immediately joined by two whippets who seemed to imagine I was a long lost relative. 100 yards away the owner of the whippets, dog leads in her hand, waved hello. The dog owner entered the shop next door, the whippets stayed with their new best mate. For the next half hour! Whippets like eating custard creams. Just one of the facts I discovered in the time I sat with a whippet on each foot.

Over the road was one of those Weigh and Save shops, but with a difference. Very much a one woman affair it offered a riotously mixed collection of ingredients, herbs and spices, sold by volume, and contained in a random assortment of tins. We could have spent hours in there. I also browsed an antique shop - on the cusp of ‘junk shop’ really. We bought a 1930s tin lorry and were sorely tempted by a battered tuba that the owner insisted ‘played a lovely tune as long as you can play a tuba.’ Neither he nor I could play a tuba so the claim went unverified.

Not your typical Weigh and Save shop

Late Again mural. The Beatles were on the poster, but often arrived late.

The Beatles in The Cavern Club. About 1962, just before their first record, Love Me Do hit the charts. Rehearsing was the only chance they got to sit down as the place was a madhouse when the audience arrived.

Priscilla White was never late. Always ready to dash onto the stage at a moment's notice

We’d gone to New Brighton, primarily, to look at street art. The difference between graffiti (vile) and street art (often magnificent) isn’t exactly subtle and I have no difficulty in loathing one and venerating the other. The area around Victoria Street, extending from where the pier once stood, up the hill towards the railway station, used to have shops that sold sticks of rock, several chip shops, shops that spilled out onto the pavement selling items for the beach, ice cream shops and the odd café.

Since then its decline has been staggering. Boarded up shops were the norm until fairly recently. The renaissance of what’s now called the Victoria Quarter has seen shops reopen for business, but the most eye catching aspect of the area is the street art. Impressive murals have been commissioned from renowned artists and Victoria Street is now a tourist attraction in its own right.

We were especially appreciative of one depicting Mike Jones, a volunteer lifeboat worker with the RNLI who started his career aged just 18 in 1980 and celebrated 40 years of service last year. Lifeboat personnel are true heroes. Mike Jones certainly deserves the honour of being the subject of such a striking piece of art.

The ultimate goal for the Victoria Quarter is to recreate Liverpool’s glorious Lark Lane here on the Wirral. Regular blog readers will know my affection for Lark Lane and it’s not a bad role model to aim for. We wandered around, my pathetic painful left foot grumbling away, constantly, looking at artworks.

It’s thirsty work, art appreciation, so we decided an outside table at a café next to the Bow-Legged Beagle looked inviting. While Marigold went inside to order I foresaw a potential problem when a couple of heavily tattooed men sat down at the next table. They weren’t a problem, but I waited with some trepidation for Marigold’s reaction to the dogs that accompanied them.

When Marigold returned she stopped dead in her tracks on the realisation she would somehow have to pass very closely to two scary looking dogs. One was an American Pit Bull, rippling with muscle and menace and the other was a mystery to me but was simply HUGE. By that time I had checked the beasts over. The Pit Bull was on a tight lead – a muzzle would have been preferable – while the Yeti/Dog was a big softie.

The yeti’s owner told us his dog was a Neapolitan Mastiff, nowhere near fully grown yet, which I had suspected as its feet were about as big as mine. He was a ‘rescue’ as he had failed to win a rosette at Crufts, so had no ‘stud value’ and his previous owner dumped him. After much hesitation Marigold gave the beast a dog treat. Actually a crab treat as ‘he’s partial to a bit of crab.’

We didn’t get close to the Pit Bull. He and his owner were the epitome of menace. I suppose that was the intention. The Mastiff though was much more docile. As was his owner.

‘What’s he eat?’ Marigold asked.

‘Five kilos of meat a day. Plus a few treats. Not meat you’d want to eat though. I get it from the abattoir.’

I could sense Marigold was thinking the same as me. Five kilograms of meat every day is a lot. Five kilos of dog poo? Wow!

Later, I looked up Neapolitan Mastiffs in the Observers Book of Dogs, published in 1929 which I always carry with me.# Without success. This book is rubbish. They don’t even mention cockapoos.

# No, I don’t.

I was forced to search the Internet for information. The Mastino Napoletano, also known as the Neapolitan Mastiff, used to be deployed in bloody gladiator battles in The Colosseum of Ancient Rome and was used as a fighting dog by Roman legions. It’s one of those dogs that are banned in many countries as it’s classified as dangerous. But, apparently, not Britain.

In Romania, however, it can be kept as a house pet if the owner can show a special certificate guaranteeing the dog's mental health. We’ve travelled extensively throughout Romania, but never noticed any Neapolitan Mastiffs. Obviously the canine sanity rules are stricter than we may have imagined.

Marigold and a mermaid friend

Don't forget the diver

Life boat hero

Love this one. The sharp eyed ones among you will spot Marigold making a guest appearance on the bottom right

This recently opened pub was forced to close by the arrival of Covid. The owners blamed Messrs Johnson, Hancock and Cummings and left nobody in any doubt about their views

With the departure of Dominic Cummings a name change was called for. Here's the new name added above the front door. It's still not very complimentary

Number 10 Downing Street. The 3-D effect here is remarkable

He'll be a big lad when he grows up. His head must weigh six stone!

Marigold asked me not to include her terrified expression on the photo, but that's her hand dispensing a crab stick

Completely different, but Marigold liked it so it gets included.