Edge Hill Exploits
I alluded in a previous scribbling to the Dickensian decay of various parts of my old neighbourhood. Indeed it would seem that my wife has a mental image of me barefoot, hoop in hand, scampering behind a Hansom cab crying "spare us a farving Guv?" to the top-hatted occupants. While we are of the same vintage, our childhood environments differed. Her grandparents migrated from surrounding parishes and settled into the village of Speke in 1905, their first child being born in that year, the last (my late ma-in-law) in 1931 (yes......I know). When the new estate was completed post-war, it was a clean, fresh and pleasant place to live, the residents (for the most part) seeking a new start and an opportunity to improve their lives.
The reservation where I grew up, though separated by a fairly short distance, was in some respects a world apart. Pre 1960s life to a great extent remained unchanged from previous generations. My old man came home from Burma late 1945 and within months he had rented the house we were to occupy until 1966. He was a master-craftsman, who was called up on completing his apprenticeship and commenced as a journeyman painter and decorator when demobbed. The gas lighting in our house was replaced by electric at this time, but oddly no improvements were made to the sanitary arrangements. The house was built circa 1870, and was a well built larger terrace fronting Tunnel Road. The usual domestic services at that time being either a back boiler delivering hot water to a copper storage cylinder, or in this case a cast iron range in the back kitchen, providing limited hot water at source. Several houses retaining them locally,but our house had lost the range with no provision for hot water being made. The domestic arrangements at home comprised of a Belfast sink in the scullery, home to a single cold tap. This supply then continued underground beneath the yard to service the 'Fortress of Solitude' located there.
A Digression - This ablutionary outpost became the scene of a dramatic episode, when during the mid 60s a frog (or toad) triumphantly borne home from Sefton Park, came to an ignominius end at the hands of my mother, who delcared a reluctance to give house space to the creature and despatched it via the lavvy to a fate unknown. Who knows, if this abducted animal survived the attempted amphibiacide, there may well exist hoardes of foul-smelling frogs in subterranean Edge Hill.
To resume, my mother cooked and did light housework (and we kids ran errands) for an old lady along the road. She was a widow, her late husband served during WW1 and in peacetime worked as a steward for one of the shipping lines. Her house was something of a time capsule, but not entirely out of the ordinary at that time. The place was electric free and one of our jobs was to ignite the gas lamps/ceiling lights without destroying the mantles. Cozy and athmospheric as this may have been, they never completely displelled the gloom of a wintry afternoon (remember smog?). There was a vintage gas cooker in the scullery, but certainly the back kitchen retained the range intact, though only used for heating purposes, and no, I didn't have to 'black the bars' although the yard shed was full of the neccessary requisites to perform this and other outmoded domestic functions.
Another Digression - The old dame was ill for a while and took to a single brass bed set up in the parlour, where the rather grand marble fireplace (which a lot of the houses retained, including ours, however in times of need, our grate saw various alternatives to coal - broken-up furniture,old linoneum etc.) produced comforting warmth. It may have been the effects of the gas and coal fumes in a poorly ventilated room or far more likely the opiate loaded cough syrup, but one gloomy afternoon while I sat reading to her surrounded by potted plants and the pendulum clock, she began to hallucinate and chat to "the old man with the little dog" sat on the end of her bed. Now, I was a sensitive soul who dwelt in a household with a permanant imbalance of the ratio of lightbulbs to darkened rooms and various family members made determined and regular attempts to produce in me, by whatever humourous means, a state of abject terror. This apparition though apparently benign, prompted me ,after studied reflection, to "go and get me mam"
To return, the old lady eventually moved to live with her relatives and we had a partial house clearance to perform. The place was full of bric-a-brac and small items of furniture, including a 1920s reclining deck chair which I recall lying on in our back yard, reading endlessly while recouperating after a multicoloured shingles infection. Other salvaged items included a stereoscope and glass slides, one of the brass xmas boxes presented to the boys in the trenches by Queen Mary, a wooden shop till with paper receipt roles and strange glass phials similar to a small hourglass/egg timer, filled with spirits which required snapping open to access surgical twine/catgut. Best of all was a wind up gramophone and a selection of old shellac 78rpm records. I took this and parked myself outside the corner pub and proceeded to busk. I saw little or no distinction between this and scrounging on the behalf of the late Mr Faulkes. Indeed, as I was offering a professional musical service, this was a logical, honest progression. Besides, it was the summer holdiays and there was nobody around interested enough to prevent me. My recitals received favourable critical response, more upbeat numbers such as George Formby singing "He Played His Ukelele As The Ship Went Down" fareing slightly better than "Come Into The Garden Maud" for example. My broadcasting career concluded when I was denounced before earning enough for more than a few DC comics, the whistle blew and the curtain closed on my capitalistic capers due to the intervention of Mr McNally, mine host at the New Pavillion.
Some, reading this, may raise an eyebrow at the lack of supervision that enabled these proceedings, as well they might, however it is not my intention that this discourse descend in a catalogue of the crap that some of us grew up in, rather this being nothing other than a case of 'absente parentis', common in that place at that time. Dear readers, I ask not that my underaged entrepreneurial endeavours to be regarded in anyway meritorious, commendable or worthy of endorsement, I merely chronicle events; make of them what you will.
---In the next enthralling episode, our hero seeks counselling with hilarious consequences.---