Thursday, July 07, 2011

Google maps memories No. 1

I started looking for places where I've lived or worked on Google Maps the other day, to see how they'd changed. I couldn't find some. I'd either lost the addresses or they'd changed so much I didn't recognise them. Some buildings have had a change of use. Some have deteriorated, others have been done up. Hardly any were as I remembered them.

This is where I was born, in Waterloo, Liverpool. In 1944, before the establishment of the NHS, it was a Catholic maternity home. My family wasn't Catholic, but it was local and my mum didn't want a home birth. In fact, she'd have preferred not to be at the birth at all, just like she'd rather not have been at the conception, so my dad had to find the money (over £100, which was a lot in those days) to pay for private care. It's called Park House, and it's still run by nuns, though now it's a bed and breakfast. Nathan and I stayed there when we went up for a family funeral a few years ago. It was very clean and the breakfast was good, but Jesus and Mary were everywhere, and there were crucifixes over our beds. I told the nun who brought our breakfast that I'd been born there and she said we were in what had been the nursery.

This is Fernhill Avenue, Bootle, where my paternal grandmother lived in the first house on the left with her youngest son, my Uncle Colin, who didn't marry until I was in my teens. My mum and I stayed here when I was a toddler, while Dad was still away at the end of the war - he served in Norway. Mum and her mother-in-law didn't get on especially well, from what I can gather. Nana wasn't a generous woman. She continued to use war rations in her cookery long after rationing ended. We always celebrated Christmas here on Boxing Day with my dad's family, when I'd have to share a bed with Nana. It was hot and uncomfortable, as she had a feather mattress with a big dip in the middle, so you slid together however hard you tried not to. Her hair was long enough to sit on (it wasn't cut until she got old, to make it easier to care for her), and seldom washed, so there was an overpowering smell of unwashed hair in bed. It was always a relief to go home, and back to my own bed.

We moved a couple of times after my birth in 1944 and my sister's in 1949, until my maternal grandmother died in 1953, the same year as the king, as Mum pointed out. This nana wasn't especially old - she couldn't have been more than her early sixties - and my mum was devastated. Nana had raised five kids virtually single-handed, as my granddad was a merchant seaman, so away a lot. When he was home, he wasn't much use about the house. When Nana died we moved into their rented home so that Mum could care for her dad, who was a miserable old man. I didn't like taking friends home while he was still alive, because of his antisocial habits. Mum had a lot to cope with; caring for her dad, fostering a baby nephew when her sister had a breakdown, and two stroppy daughters. The house has changed a lot. New rendering on the walls, new windows, and the shared access to the rear of the houses, where a crazy neighbour once tried to set fire to Dad's car, divided up and fenced off. I left here as soon as I could, when I was about seventeen or eighteen, to work on a farm in North Wales, but had to come back for about a year when I went to Art College in Liverpool. That was on condition that I worked at weekends and paid all my own expenses. Mum used to complain that I embarrassed her because I came home on the bus covered in paint or plaster dust.

This is where I had my first job when I left school at sixteen, as a clerk with the Midland Bank. It's not a bank any more. It was near the docks but not so far from home that I couldn't cycle to work. It was before equal pay, and I got about £21 a month and gave half to Mum for my keep. On the weekends that I didn't have to work (we did alternate Saturdays), I sometimes took my rucksack to work on Fridays so that I could meet my best friend, Ann, who worked in another branch of the bank nearby, and we'd go and catch the ferry to Birkenhead, then a bus to North Wales, where we went youth hostelling.
This is a view across to Liverpool from Birkenhead. The ferry was always packed with commuters on Friday evenings, and we delighted in walking around the deck with our rucksacks on, in the opposite direction to everyone else.

After a couple of years working on dairy farms in North Wales for £4 a week plus my keep, I got a place at art college and Ann went to university. I worked here at Lewis's department store on Saturdays, moved from one department to another to cover for absentees. When I was working in the cafeteria on the top floor, the manager asked to see some of my drawings, took the nudes from my life drawing class into his office for half an hour and appeared rather flushed when he emerged, saying "Very nice", before rushing off to do something he'd forgotten to do. Some of our regular customers were prostitutes who worked on Lime Street, including one whose face was covered in pock marks. She was always very friendly. I worked with a woman called Joan, who wouldn't wear the regulation nylon overall but brought her own semi-transparent one with a pleated skirt. You always knew when she was coming because she had so much cheap jewellery on that she jingled like Santa's sleigh, and she used to whoop with laughter at the slightest thing. She was great fun to be with and had a fund of funny stories to tell, including the one about how her friend had sat on a man's knee in a pub loo during the war, because it was the blackout and she'd been in so much of a hurry to pull her knickers down that she hadn't checked that she was in the ladies. The man got the surprise of his life.

After my Pre-Diploma course at Liverpool College of art, which I did in a year instead of the usual two because I was classed as a "mature student", I spent a summer working with Ann on a market garden in Poledijk, Holland, before leaving home for the last time to study in Devon. Every time I went home, things had changed, so that eventually I hardly recognised lots of the places I'd known. I haven't been back for years.

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