(If you are new to the blog: I am walking to John O’Groats for the street children charity Romilly. The journey starts with the post on the right, ‘Where shall we park the car?’)
It was the greatest good fortune to have met John Earle. He took my tent and most of the contents of my rucksack in his car. Even so the walk from the Harp to Birkenhead was hard. Most of it was on tarmac and my right leg was painful. I wondered if this was tendonitis. According to my plan the next day would be a rest day and I hoped that that would sort it out.
But for it’s pink sandstone Birkenhead’s Hamilton Square could have stepped out of Edinburgh, which in a sense it did. The Scots played a leading role in developing both Birkenhead and Liverpool. In the centre of Birkenhead John met me and took me back to his flat where he had very kindly offered me his sofa for the night. When I examined my swollen leg John said, ‘You need to get that looked at mate. I tell you what: I’ll take you into A and E. They’re very good there’.
The next morning John went out to get the ingredients for breakfast, an invention of his own which John called ‘Chicken Cheese Foo Wong’. He came back and prepared this with great care. ‘This’ll set you up. It’s my favourite. You’ll love it’ and I did. Very good. Thank you John.
John drove me to the hospital where they thought that I might have Deep Vain Thrombosis, but after bloods, X Ray and Ultrasound it was explained that I had cellulitis (Yes, gentle reader, cellulitis not cellulite) and that I should stop walking until it had cleared up. Cellulitis can turn to septicemia so should be taken seriously. This was a blow. How long would I have to rest? It could be a few days. If only a few days I could catch up as I had done in Wales though it would mean doing at least 25 miles a day and cutting out the diversion west into the Lake District to walk up Helvellyon. No doubt further short cuts could be found. But it could be longer. In the meantime I should keep my right leg up, rest and take the antibiotics.
John picked me up from A and E and took me to Marigolds (after the washing up gloves), the best fish and chip shop on the Wirral where we had lunch. After that he dropped me off at the ferry pier where I had finished my walk the day before. He had been very kind and hospitable to me. Thank you John.
Interior of sunken U boat, U 534: sunk at the end of the war by British planes, in Danish waters. Since all the crew escaped it was not a war grave and was gifted to Liverpool by the Danish Government. © James Forshall
I had chosen to walk up through the Wirral so that I could cross the Mersey on the ferry, which had been a treat for us, when as children Johnny and I came up to stay with my Aunt. I don’t remember it that well, a stiff breeze, quite cold, the grey river, grey sky, the lights of Birkenhead shining mistily in the autumn afternoon, people lining the railing in coats and macs and hats and caps of grey, brown and black and a sense that Birkenhead was smaller and drabber than Liverpool, which for us then held an impossible air of romance. This was before the Beatles and the tunnel, and the ferry was how you crossed the river.
Steve, one of John’s friends said, ‘I loved the ferry. We went across with mi Dad to football matches, all wrapped up. It was crowded with other supporters. You’d get tea and sandwiches downstairs but now…’ But now it’s a run as a tourist attraction. What is it about tourism that kills meaning? Hear one thing. See another: the tinny music playing a bar or two of the famous song, then a metallic voice recounting the past glories of Liverpool, and outside the brown river, a port empty of ships, and a river front with an oddly Soviet look.
The centre of Liverpool has been wrecked. In other parts of the city whole communities, streets of terraced houses, each street with its own pub were uprooted, the houses knocked down, and grassed over. It is as if they never existed. The people who lived in them were moved into high rise blocks in outlying dormitory towns: not of course on the same scale as Stalin’s policies to the Nationalities, but the same mechanism, and all in the name of progress.
The odd thing is that although we use the word community more than ever we are less good at it than when it was almost never used. Since 1960’s huge areas of urban Britain have been destroyed in the name of one fad or another, economic or political, or some town planning fashion, and with them the fragile ecology of local societies, which had taken over a century to establish themselves. It is as if we feel that by using the word community often enough we will recreate those bonds of family, friendship, neighbourliness, mutual interdependence, mutual care, shared obligation which we destroyed.
Liverpool may have been beaten up by German bombers and mad planners but it’s people are great. There are still many wonderful buildings and a sense of gaiety and pride. I loved the egg shaped central library, and the people who were so kind and helpful. You only have to look at a Liverpudlian and he’ll start talking to you, even in a library. I was drinking coffee, they have a coffee bar in the main part of the library, when a man asked me if I was looking at him. I said that I wasn’t. He asked me if he could sit at my table.
He was immensely proud of Liverpool. He told me about the Hillsborough disaster, still hurting after all these years. He and his 7 year old daughter had been instrumental in raising the money for a memorial to its victims. He offered me a bed for the night. He showed me around the library and took me to the memorial. He was still angry at the way the police had handled the crowd on that day and the enquiry afterwards. He was a trade union official and we walked past his offices. He was an old school un-reconstructed socialist, a republican and a pacifist and had had a red T shirt made parodying the one with the crown on it and the slogan, ‘Keep calm and carry on’. On his the the crown was upside down and the slogan was, ‘Get Angry. Take Action’. I think I’d like to buy one.
All photos on the Romilly’s One Island Walk posts © James Forshall
I’m walking a long way for street children. If you would like to help Romilly to give them a chance in life, please donate at http://www.virginmoneygiving.com//team/romillysoneislandwalk