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Thursday, 23 April 2015

Pride and Predjudice, the Scouse Version

My ride stagnated due to an attempt to ride my classic triumph TRW 500 side valve throughout Europe. After the bike broke down on the first day out which resulted in a major modification, I changed to another old bike to get the ride started, but after a couple of weeks, it became clear that neither bike was appropriate to ride on my £20 a day budget.

A decision was made to downsize and I decided to sacrifice the Triumph which sold at break even after all the expenditure of parts and cosmetic work. My ferry was booked and I had decided to do a 'walk on' rather than lose the money and visit the motoalmuerzo with Cistérniga Roadsters near Valladolid North of Madrid until I got a call from the 30 James Street Hotel in Liverpool, to tell me that I had won a night for two plus champagne gala dinner at their hotel.

The hotel occupies the old White Star Line of the ill fated Titanic and is the site of my first job at the young age of 15 years in 1963 , but at that time the building was occupied by the Pacific Steam Navigation Company, which had the Reina Del Mar cruise ship in it's fleet. I was just a ships messenger on £2.75 a week with 75 pence luncheon vouchers.

 There were other perks though. As my job was to take mail to the dock office in Canada Dock and onto the ships, I was frequently offered a beer or a whiskey by the crews on board and frequently tipped. On one occasio I even sailed on the Reina del Mar when it shifted berths while I was delivering mail on board and had the best Xmas party in all my working life on board that cruise ship while it berthed there that Christmas.

It was exciting days in Liverpool at that time with the emergence of the Beatles and the Mersey Beat, coupled with LFC's promotion to the old English first division. The city was also going through a big upheaval, with slum clearances and an inner city modernisation. There was a sense of revolution in the air. Labour had ousted Lord Holme and there was great expectancy of a fairer and just society. I mention that life was tough in the days I started work, especially for the dock workers. I used to remember boarding the bus and going upstairs for a cigarette. It would be packed with dockers smoking and coughing and wheezing. The air was so thick with the smoke of untipped Woodbines, there was no need to light up to get your own nicotine fix of the morning. The healthier of them, would ride their 'sit up and beg' Raleigh bicycles, with their raincoats tied over the handlebars with a piece of string, the five miles or more to the docks. Working conditions were also poor with a 'pen' system, in which you would stand in a pen hoping to be given a days work on low pay, the early zero hours contract. If you failed, there might be an opportunity to get a half days work, by joining the pens at lunch time, so there was no option except to hang around outside the dock gates until then.

1962 docker queuing for work 

There has always been a militant edge to the people of Liverpool, but here was planted the seeds for the great dock strike that won so many rights for the dock workers including the end of the pens system. The strength of that worker uprising in Liverpool was the spur for contra battle of the Thatcher government in the eighties, in which the cabinet discussed how to obliterate the city of Liverpool.

And more

Things haven't changed much politically except with the rise of globalisation the workers are no longer fighting against national employers, or any individual government of the day, but are being beaten down by corporate manufactured recession and the resultant austerity measures used to undermine the workers rights and administered by governments on behalf of the corporate financial power houses.

So this is the backdrop to my social and political philosophies which has brought me back to the same building I began work in 52 years ago, an imitation Old Scotland Yard at Liverpools famous Pier Head. A building that now as a hotel, from the pictures I have seen on the website, seems to have recreated the opulence and grandeur that emanated from the old British Empire. And an opulence that I could not afford even now and had I not had this connection with the building in its past life I doubt very much whether I would have even popped in to use the toilets.

Yes me, who can only make my journeys on a moped, by sleeping rough or being helped by good friends and even good strangers, who have given me a bed or a meal, now finds himself about to enter the 'other world' for a night of luxurious living and fine food, sitting politely at the dinner table in my charity shop white shirt and dickie bow. Napkin tucked firmly in my uncomfortable collar, that will feel too tight regardless of it's size, slouched to one side in my chair under the weight of the chip on my shoulder. Will I need to doff my cap I wonder to myself, maybe, but not to the waiters I would have thought. Maybe to some of the paying guests, but how will I know which ones?

I have to admit that, there is a certain curiosity to see its interior, in my desire to enter this place again and I will overcome my prejudices as usual. I will try to treat it, as a stay in an art show and see how the designers have incorporated the buildings former usage. I am also interested to see what the Titanic theme of the night reveals. The most wonderful part of it is, that I won't have to leave to find a doorway to stop in.

I stopped writing at this point as I was nearing my meeting with my daughter, who was accompanying me to dinner that night and I had a quick read through my outpouring of conciousness of the last five hours.

I was shocked when I read back my feelings and realised that, far from a chip on my shoulder, I was actually suffering from a massive inferiority complex. A complex I knew existed, but what shocked me after reading, was the sheer size of it.

I was a very bright child at primary school and was being pushed to apply for a scholarship at Merchant Taylors in Crosby in Liverpool. My parents rejected the notion, on the grounds that it was a snobbish school and I would feel out of place there, so instead I passed my 11 plus and went to Waterloo Grammar. The school intake was mostly from the middle class areas of Crosby and Formby and a minority from what I would bdescribe as the wrong side of the canal area of Litherland. My father held a pretty decent position in United Molasses, a subsidiary of Tate and Lyle and his income should not have been an issue in paying for the uniforms and all else needed to conform and not stand out as poor, but due to the death of his first wife, he paid most of his salary to her relatives, for the upbringing of my half brother and two half sisters. My first years at that school, I was victimised and bullied for daring to attend school in the cheapest of blazers, with badge sewn on and even once had to attend school in plastic sandals as my mother couldn't buy me a proper pair of school shoes. The bullying I received was as per usual, but heightened slightly. The headmaster had identified me as a problem, due to an issue he had with my brother. and I managed to receive the record detention of 27 hours for carving my initials in my desktop, amidst the thousands of others that existed on that ancient of surfaces. Although I excelled in Maths and was top of the whole year in exam results, I was pegged back in the lowest of the streams due to missing a whole term due to an ear operation and over protective mother.

Needless to say I left there as soon as I had an opportunity at 15 years old, as one could then and applied for a job at PSNC who were tenants of this building. I was no stranger to work and enterprise. I was a keen cyclist and had a top racing cycle from Harry Quinn of Walton, which I paid for out of a paper round, sometimes working two of them and opening the shop at 5 pm while the owner went to Lime Street to collect the papers off the London overnight train.

So although working full time only doubled my income as a paper boy, I was proud as punch to have an income that was greater than any pocket money of my wealthier peers still attending that school I was glad to leave. That should have been the start of confidence building that could have erased my early experiences at school, alas there were more experiences at work that I didn't expect to encounter. Without writing every experience, it's sufficient to say that there is so much dirt accumulated over a lifetime, in work, in social situations and also collectively as a member of a group or society that you are immediately prejudiced against for the actions of others or an action that occurred amongst others of your type.

The Original Headline Page the day afrter the disaster
But never an apology even after 26 years

One of those 'types' was being a scouser. A person from Liverpool, who was already defined to the outside world as a militant Bolshi and due to two terrible tragic football incidents was also labelled as a murderer, responsible not only for the deaths of 39 Juventus supporters but also 96 of our own supporters at Hillsborough.
Add that to the normal predjudices one
would normally encounter, it is not unreasonable that complexes will grow, as unnoticed as the ageing of the face you see in the mirror every day of your life

I always thought I was keeping my head above water and keeping it below the parapet, but like silt coming down the Mersey, it requires a lot of dredging to keep that passage clear. (Now theres a collection of analogies for you).
Prejudice is what it amounts to. From school to work, we act with prejudice against others as much as we are prejudiced against. Prejudice or to prejudge somebody by their colour, race, social standing, tastes, is common. We feel it and we do it. Not always conciously but it happens. We adjust who we are constantly when meeting different groups, people or situations, mostly to be accepted or liked and in doing so lose over time, the ability to know who we are. The unemployed actor who is driving taxis, or the bus driver who is really an author, are common methods of redefining ourselves to be more acceptable to people we deem as superior in a vain bid to be accepted as equal or worthy.

The prejudice I had already suffered from being on the poor side, mostly from another social group in life, was now being exacerbated and compounded upon, because of events I had no bearing on, except to have been at one incident and to be a person of the group that had been villified, by a press and government, that had decided, I was an inferior citizen to the rest of this country. Strangely I was now part of the group of people that I had suffered bullying by when I was at school. For those same people who chose to attack me for being poor were also being prejudiced against, for being from the same place as me, Liverpool. At least I now belonged.

So with all this dirt and all this baggage I arrived at 30 Castle Street, the place of my first days work, expecting to be seated next to business people and dignitaries and not knowing who to be on the night. What you expect and what you get are often different things. And so it proved on this night. From the first moment I walked through the doors of this wonderful building, a change in my persoanlity occurred. I never noticed it immediately but over the night I transformed from a guy with 60 years of developing this oversized inferiority complex, to a person who was fully confident within himself and an equal to any other person I would meet from there on in.
It began after entering the sumptious apartment room we had been allocated on the fourth floor overlooking the Albert Dock. The room had a kitchen area and a double jacuzzi, was spacious and with the highest ceilings I have ever slept under. It might not have been to everyones taste in decor and style but thats down to the individual. To me it was luxury and I liked it a lot. I have stayed in more expensive places and not felt comfortable, but here I felt at home and relaxed. I changed to my only suit, bought for funerals and was doubling up for the night as a Tux and then my bow tie. I looked in the mirror and was taken aback at who was looking back at me. I have to admit I never recognised myself and while clothes do not maketh the man, I was filled with a self confidence I hadn't felt for many years.

I went down for the Gala Dinner with my lovely daughter, still expecting to be sat amongst people I have prejudices against but instead found mysefl sat with people who had also won the prize to stay here for the night. The whole hotel was given over to prize winners for the night, people who had or relatives had, a connection with this historic building. We heard speeches from the owners and from the managing director and there was an informalikty that I wasn't expecting. There was humorous banter from my fellow guests and an expected scouse response from the Liverpool owners and director. This was Liverpool. Liverpool that I had been made to feel embarassed about over many years travelling. Above all, there was a warmth that, apart from visiting some areas of Spain and Ireland I hadn't felt for many years when coming home. It's as though a whole collective guilt is being lifted from the city with the Hillsborough Inquiry exposing the injustice of the past. There is a whole sense of new life and it took me back to my days in the sixties just before I embarked on my working life. By the end of the night it felt as though 50 years of grime had just been jet washed from my soul and I was back.

More importantly, I found that I now know who I am and I know what I'm worth.
There is still a defiance amongst us in the fact that we consider ourselves unique and use the expression We are Scouse, not English, but there does semm a pragmatism that we have to unite again if we are to fully recover, or are we only trying to fit in again ? I don't really know the answer to that as I am trying to adjust my new found self and I will leave you all with this song that can be used for many situations

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