Unbelievably, 50 years ago last month I migrated from Manchester to Liverpool in order to begin a Joint Honours BA degree in History & Politics. It wasn’t on a par with Mao’s Long March: Dad drove me down the old East Lancs road to Anfield, where I’d found some digs in Rockfield Road – about 200 yards from the Kop End of Liverpool FC. It was a trek of some thirty miles.
My landlady Peg was a gem, but also a staunch Protestant. My Dad – a Catholic – was a tad taken aback by the enormous wall-sash in the parlour that proclaimed, “Long Live King Billy”, but affected to ignore it while helping me in with the suitcases. After a few pleasantries, he got back into his red Ford Corsair GT, shook my hand and drove off after warning me “not to do anything stupid”.
Was he kidding? The entire reason for me being there was to be as stupid, outrageous and sexually prolific as circumstances might permit. I was just eighteen and a virgin – a condition I regarded at the time as a grave disability fully worthy of social welfare: I went everywhere with this sense of having been born with a dayglo birthmark on my forehead that flashed “Virgin!” on and off 24/7.
Peg was a cook who worked on the White Flag principle of cuisine. She produced pies, potatoes, Scouse and toffee puddings for the evening meal until you waved a white flag at her. Every breakfast every morning was eggs, bacon, fried bread and prime sausage with infinite toast. Her meals – and navvying during the summer vacs – turned me from a 9 stone teenage weakling into the adonis you see before you today.
Her husband Al was a milkman. To say Al liked a drink is like remarking that Hitler was a little vague on the principle of national borders. Every day at 11.30 am, his milk round ended, Al would park the float by the large pub on the corner of Rockfield Road and sink a few pints. He’d wobble out around 1 pm, and drive the short distance to his house, attempting to park the float in his back yard without demolishing the gate pillars. He didn’t always succeed.
I caught the 19 bus into Uni every day, always going upstairs where smoking was allowed. The first time I did this, the following conversation took place in the seat in front of me:
Bloke 1: Yer know woh, ah can’t get Betty oura bed of a mornen…ah dunno worra do…
Bloke 2: I ‘ad tha’ wi’ Kate an all.
B1: Whaddadya do like?
B2: Gorra bucket o’ water an’ chucked id over ‘er.
B1: Yer ferkin’ woh? Jeez, dat was a risk…
B2: Yer well…it feckin’ wairked…alarm goes off now, she’s ourra bed like a feckin’ jack rabbit…
One is always in danger of sounding condescending about Liverpudlians. All I can say in my defence is that the freedom and laughter that fell upon me in Liverpool was like Groundhog Day for a libertarian standup. My three years there remain by a country mile the happiest of my life.
Men were fellas and women were Judies. The Philharmonic was an auditorium but also a huge pub – “De Phil” – on the edge of the University campus. The gents’ lavatories there are, I’m told, these days a Grade I listed example of the finest in Victorian vitreous china. Every pub crawl began at the Phil, proceeding via O’Connor’s Tavern and Yates’s Wine Lodge to oblivion.
The Pope’s Wigwam was the new Catholic cathedral. Fred was a naked statue above the entrance to Owen Owen, and a favoured meeting point for young lovers: “See yer under Fred at seven – bring yer purse an’ ah don’t mean yer brother Perce”. Upper Parliament Street was the Liverpool 8 red light area, where only fools ventured after 11 pm. A Panda car full of cops picked me up there one morning at 1 am, walking back to Anfield from my girlfriend’s home in Mossley Hill.
“Are yooz feckin mad or woh?” asked the sergeant. I looked blank.
“Dey build feckin railings round graveyards cozza people like you,” he added, “Yer all dyin’ ter gerrin”. Upper Parly Street was a bit rough. He had a point. But the last 47 bus had gone, and I was a penniless stewdent, like.
It was at times like living in a Beatles album. There were blue suburban skies, and there was indeed a fire station near Penny Lane. Strawberry Fields was an approved school, and my girlfriend lived ten doors up from John Lennon’s Aunt Mimi. My landlady Peg only ever referred to Cilla Black as “Missus White’s lirrel gairl Priscilla”. You could go to various pub gigs and see The Scaffold, featuring Paul McCartney’s brother Mike.
But on the campus itself, life was even more unreal. During 1967 everyone was a weekend hippie, and during 1968 everyone was a Maoist or a Trot. Having seen East Germany at first hand two years earlier, I remained a supporter of Jo Grimond’s Liberal Party…a stance that of course pigeon-holed me as a revisionist lackey of the Wilson police State. My third year flatmate was an uncompromising Communist who went on to be a currency negotiator at the Bank of England. His party piece was coming home after a skinful in the Sphinx Bar, and vomiting over the balcony.
The Politics prof was Fred Ridley of the infamous political family, and my tutor was Robert Kilroy-Silk – then the firebrand prospective Labour MP for Ormskirk, and much later a TV Presenter-cum-chat show host with profoundly right wing views. Every female student had a crush on him, and every male wished him under a bus. He was a very, very good looking bloke. When I told him I was going into advertising, Bob snorted and said “Advertising is the South Africa of commerce”.
When Liverpool FC were playing at home, the noise was so deafening in Rockfield Road it made more sense to go and watch the game. Being football daft, I needed no further excuse. I saw Emlyn Hughes’s debut…a wild affair that earned him the nickname ever after as Crazy Horse. I also saw Gordon Banks there in goal for Leicester City. There has never been a keeper in soccer history so completely in charge of his penalty area as Banks. That day, Liverpool should’ve won 15-0: only Banks kept them out to produce a goalless draw. At the final whistle, the Kop end sang, “Yer the best goalkeeper in the Wairld”.
But truth be told, I preferred to watch Everton. In those days you could pay 4s 6d to go and see Alan Ball, Brian Labone, and the last days of legendary “Golden Vision” Alex Young. Young is tragically forgotten today beyond Merseyside, but as a stroker of the ball, maker of goals and seemingly effortless striker, he was the business.
Half a century. Where the bloody hell did it go?