Thursday, 4 September 2014

PART 37: ACROSS THE MERSEY




Having finished the book, I’ve been sort of relaxing by sorting out my ancestry files on my father’s side of the family, doing a couple of jigsaws and meeting my sister, who lives near Chester for lunch. Anything to escape catching up on the housework. 

She said, ‘Where d’you fancying going? What d’you feel about New Brighton?’

I felt fine about New Brighton, having not visited that childhood haunt for several years and then it had been in her company. Last time I was there my heart had plummeted. It was winter and it didn’t feel a bit like when we were kids and our parents would take us on a crowded ferry from Liverpool across the Mersey on a bank holiday Monday.

Like most Scousers I have memories of paddling in the pool that was sort of enclosed by a low wall from the rest of the shore, making it reasonably safe for children when the tide came in. As well as crabbing amongst the rocks and, of course, making sandcastles and walking along the prom.

My sister and I never got as far as the paddling pool this time around because I’d actually taken the train to Capenhurst, her nearest train stop, where she picked me up and drove us all the way to New Brighton, so we came to it from a different angle to which I was familiar.

We had lunch at a Harvester’s overlooking the sea - lovely friendly staff and good fish and chips. Then we drove in the direction of the main part of New Brighton and parked by the sea wall. (Apparently during the bad storms of last winter the waves had come right over it and reached Morrison’s!) There was still no sign of the seaside resort I remembered but I could now see the more familiar Lancashire coastline where I lived across the Mersey as we walked along in the direction of the new superstores where my sister fancied a cappuccino in Morrison’s. She reckoned that it's the big stores that have helped to bring New Brighton alive again, as well as the coastal walk.

We paused to speak to a bloke fishing as the tide was in and asked him what he expected to catch.

‘Flatties!’ he said.

‘Plaice!’ I murmured, and I was a child again going shopping with Mam to Charles, the fishmonger’s, on Breck Road in Everton.

Fridays were fish days despite us not being Catholics. The queue would be outside the shop. Now Charles was what I’d call a real fish shop. They didn’t just sell mackerel, kippers, herrings, haddock and cod, but skate, ray, conger eel, salt fish (of course), fish roe and cockles and winkles (we called the latter cuwins for some inexplicable reason) You’d winkle the snail-like creature out of its shell with a pin after they’d been boiled. Fishmongers also stocked eggs and rabbits still in their fur. My mother was skilled in preparing this cheap meat and making delicious stew.

But I digress. As my sister and I walked along, enjoying the sea breezes, I noticed a plaque and being nosy I went over to see what it said. It was dedicated to an Ian Fraser (now there’s a good Scottish name) who had lived in Wallasey. A Lieutenant Commander in the Royal Navy, he had won the VC for his bravery in a midget submarine during an attack on a Japanese ship.

He had died not so long ago at the age of 87. You can read his obituary online which, as well as providing a detailed account of his wartime exploits, mentioned that he had married Melba Hughes, who was serving as a Wren at Pwllheli, North Wales, when he met her.

Now Hughes is what I’d call a Welsh name and I couldn't help thinking of the debate going on at the moment about Scotland having a referendum in September whether to leave the union and go it alone.

Liverpool and towns on both sides of the Mersey have long welcomed people from all over the world, many have settled in the area,  but none more so than those from Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

My husband although born in Liverpool, is what I’d call a true Celt.  On his mother’s side of the family he has inherited mainly Scottish and Irish with just a touch of English blood and on his father’s Welsh and Scottish with just the slightest hint of English blood. He would say he was a true Brit. As for me I am more English than he is but I do have a large dose of Welsh and a touch of Irish as well as Scandinavian. It is likely that I could have a streak of Scots because my mother is descended from a line of Border Reivers who along with the Lowland Scots, no doubt raiding across the border between England and Scotland.
It truly grieves me to think of the UK being split up. It’s almost like saying those on the other side of the Mersey are a different race from us Liverpudlians, although there are those who would say they are, I add, tongue in cheek.     

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