It’s Whit Sunday and when I was a little girl this would be the day I’d be wearing a new frock and white pumps because Whit was a religious bank holiday when we celebrated Pentecost and the Holy Spirit descending. Some of us still do. But a lot of people in Liverpool will be are celebrating three ships sailing in to the Mersey.
The last fortnight or so a lot of publicity has been given to Liverpool FC captain, Steven Gerrard, who is leaving our fair city for America. He’ll probably travel by jet but in the fifties most likely he would have gone by luxury liner. He could do the same now because over the last decade or so cruising has suddenly become extremely popular. So it’s not surprising that the Echo has given even more space in their newspaper to the arrival of the three Queens in the Mersey this weekend. They are the super duper liners, Queen Elizabeth, Queen Mary 2 and Queen Victoria and it isn’t only the city that has been alerted to their arrival. Thousands and thousands of visitors are expected to invade the waterfronts both sides of the Mersey, jostling to get the best view of this unusual sight.
My fellow Liverpudlian novelist Lyn Andrews is coming over from the Isle of Man to travel on one of the Queens. Her very first Liverpool based saga was called THE WHITE EMPRESS so it’s not surprising she has a strong link with Cunard liners. Elsie and Keith, a couple from my church, St Paul’s, Hatton Hill, are members of the Cunarders and will be sailing on the Queen Mary 2, having boarded the ship at Southampton and cruised to Cork and Dublin and then across the Irish Sea to Oban before sailing down the coast to Liverpool (if I have my facts right) before sailing to Guernsey. During the cruise they will celebrate their joint 87th birthdays. Even Carole and Norman, who own the b & b, in Ambleside where my husband and I stayed last week will be in Liverpool to join one of the Queens for a cruise.
THE QUEENS: This leads me to question why isn’t one of the liners named after a King of the British Isles? Why no King George VI? Even Henry VIII’s ship that sank in the 16th century was named after his sister the Mary Rose and one of the ships that sailed with Christopher Columbus was called the Santa Maria. The queen’s erstwhile royal yacht was named Britannia that A at the end signalling that she was regarded as feminine.
On the whole masculine names seemed to be used for fighting ships and aircraft carriers. My mother’s cousin’s ship was The Black Prince which was torpedoed during WW1 and sunk with the loss of hundreds of men.
Naturally as a writer of Liverpool based sagas I have used shipping and sailors in several of my novels. The book I remember most is FLOWERS ON THE MERSEY. For research I paid a visit to the Maritime Museum down by the Albert Dock. It had not long been open when I went there. I was able to go on a mock-up of one of the emigration ships with sound effects. I also purchased a copy of a slim book that gave all kinds of information about voyages to places such as Australia. I was able to discover the kind of food that was served. For further information about liners I bought a book called FALLING STAR Misadventures of White Star Line ships. The Titanic was one of them but it was some of the other tales which brought tears to my eyes. The book was extremely useful when it came to describing a collision between two ships in the fog in FLOWERS ON THE MERSEY.
I always try to use real names of ships in my books and so I was able to use the Corinthia in a recent novel IT’S NOW OR NEVER set in the fifties because my cousin, Maureen, had sailed on that ship to Canada.
I have crossed the Mersey by ferry numerous times and even cruised along the river one evening on the Royal Iris. I have crossed the Irish Sea to Ireland and the Isle of Man, as well as visiting the Isle of Skye and the isle of Iona in the Hebrides. It took some time before I crossed the English Channel to France and sailed round part of the coast of Crete.
But I have never been on a cruise on a big liner because my husband is a fell runner and so he prefers terra firma where there are mountains. If I did ever get the opportunity to go cruising I would choose to visit the fjords in Norway because that is the country where my mariner great-great- grandfather, Hance Nelson and his mariner son, Martin, my great-grandfather were born. Martin married a Liverpool lass from Toxteth. As it is for now I think I’ll just have to make do with gazing in wonder at the beautiful Queens of the Sea, Elizabeth, Mary 2 and Victoria.
Saturday 2 May 2015
When I was a little girl the above words were often spouted because few of us in our neighbourhood had watches. In fact a lot of us had very little of this world’s goods and so it made sense to believe it was perfectly safe to leave your doors unlocked and sometimes open. But just as there were policemen on the beat in those days there were also thieves about. I remember our gas meter getting broken into and all the pennies in the wooden moneybox Dad had made me were stolen.
I doubt the crime was reported to the police but Dad set about creating his own deterrent that would chop their fingers off if they tried to get in our house again and rob our meter or my pennies.
Growing up in the forties and fifties I developed what some called a healthy fear and respect for the police and other people’s property. Even walking along someone else’s wall and seeing a policeman approach would have me scrambling to the ground like lightening. When I found a ten shilling note amongst the autumn leaves on the way to the flicks I didn’t keep it but handed it in to the nearest man in uniform who just happened to be the retired soldier who was the doorman at the cinema.
My cynicism these days suggests that no doubt he pocketed it and bought himself a couple of pints when he knocked off work. My husband was also brought up honest. When he found a suitcase full of the old white five pound notes he took it home and showed his dad, who instantly ordered him to take it to the police station in Tuebrook and hand it in. This he did and that was the last he heard of it.
The closest I ever got to a policeman was when one visited our primary school to give us a puppet show and teach us our kerb drill. Occasionally at home there would be mention of someone called Icky the fire bobby who would come and lock us up if we didn’t behave. But he never did make an appearance. Our neighbourhood was working class but reasonably respectable. Although I remember hearing of a punch up outside the chippy around the corner and a lad getting his eye gorged out. My eldest brother’s brush with the police would seem ludicrous today in that he was taken to court and fined for playing football in the street.
Why am I chunnering on about the police, etc.?
Early yesterday my husband and I were doing our early morning walk. Normally we only meet dog walkers, cyclists and the odd jogger. We certainly didn’t expect to come across a very youthful looking policeman standing on the path. In the background we could see that tape one sees on telly in such programmes as Lewis, Midsummer Murders and George Gently which generally signals a crime scene.
Jokingly I said, ‘I’m waiting for you to say “You shall not Pass” just like Gandalf does in the Fellowship of the Rings.’
‘Sorry, you can’t pass,’ he said apologetically.
So we had to retrace our steps and make our way home by a different route. It was not the first time we’ve encountered a policeman on our walk. A few years ago there was a naked body in the canal which fortunately had already been reported to the police by a couple of fishermen. The police arrived a few minutes after we did and we were quickly escorted away from the spot. Not a pleasant experience as it reminded me that one of my aunts had drowned in the Leeds-Liverpool just a few miles away beneath a bridge in Kirkdale. It was during WW2 and I was only a toddler at the time so was unaware of the tragedy.
So where do the police figure in my writing?
My son, Tim, who has a degree in Screenwriting from John Moores University, had an idea to write a series about a police family. It never got to the screen because it was a period piece and he knew that it would be expensive to put on. He suggested I had a go at writing about a police family. I had already written a saga about the Liverpool’s police strike of 1919 a few years earlier called SOMEONE TO TRUST and enjoyed doing the historical research.
So bearing Tim’s idea in mind and I decided to do more research. In the library I was recommended a book called From Cutlasses to Computers - The Police Force in Liverpool 1836-1989. I found it fascinating and it gave me a respect and admiration for those earlier pioneers trying to bring law and order to Liverpool’s city streets and for those today, including policewomen who also helped with my research.
My police family can be found in MEMORIES ARE MADE OF THIS and IT’S NOW OR NEVER published by Severn House. Ask at your nearest library.
P.S. In today's Liverpool Echo it was reported that a man had allegedly been sexually assaulted in Rimrose Valley Country Park on Thursday night. The police were called to the crime scene.