We are losing them. That generation, the ones that built the mythology. Slipping away into hospital beds and sheltered housing, winding down without a lot of fuss. The ones who brought you up on what it meant to be a Scouser. The ones who walked down Scotland Road when it was still Scottie Road, when it had a pub on every corner, not a flyover. They could tell you tall tales of boats packed so tight into Albert Dock it was possible to walk across over the decks without getting a wet foot. They could never talk of St John’s Market without distinguishing it by saying, ‘the new one, of course’, even though it had been open longer than you have been alive.
They were our link to the old, great Liverpool – which they knew wasn’t that great, not if you were a docker working short hours or your lad was lost on the Titanic and the bosses wanted you to pay for his uniform – but still eulogised. They were radicalised, but not into firebrands, into the socialism of Bill Shankly, with:
everybody working for the same goal and everybody having a share in the rewards.
They grew up in a city of ocean liners and never closing your front door, not Harry Enfield stereotypes and ‘gizza job, mate’. The Eighties bewildered them then, as they probably still do.
They didn’t have much but they still raised you right. Looked on in bemusement at your pile of Christmas toys as they recalled their happiness at getting a tangerine in their stocking. Made sure you did well at school at the same time as understanding that there was more to be learnt than you could do at a desk, questioning everything. You knew that although they had left their schooldays before their teens they held more knowledge than you could acquire at university. They loved you without measure but encouraged you to go, feel the pull of the river, calling you to explore the rest of the world while never fully escaping these streets and the love they hold. So proud of you that they would die rather than say it, covering it up with a web of gentle teasing, nicknames and family in-jokes. Still, you never doubted it for a second. You were from the best place and the best people there could be.
Even though, of course, none of us are really that ‘from’ there at all. I used to stroll down Dale Street on a lunch break and try to picture it as it was when my great-grandparents arrived, fresh off the boat. Muck instead of tarmac, horses everywhere and a forest of masts beyond the Pier Head. I have probably seen it in old photos. But, although I couldn’t imagine the feel of it – were they anxious, missing home, relieved to be making a new start – in a somewhat rootless existence, there was comfort to walking the same stones as the generations who had come and gone before I was even thought of.
Faces I have only seen occasionally, on the few misty family photos that have survived, and still they gave me strength. Whatever gets thrown at you, you will get through, just as we got through. Famines and wars and disasters, loves and laughter and all the mad whirl of life. Survived on tea and chip butties and plates of Scouse.
I came back for the birth of my son, and I try to picture telling him about Scotland Road, ships and Shankly sometime around 2028 when he will be old enough. And I think of how distant it will all seem. I hope that one day, when he is walking around whatever comes after the Liverpool One, he will hear the echo of those distant footsteps – of the ones who walked before him. And he will know, wherever he happens to be living, that some part of this is home.