- since 2011 -

Blog on the grog

Friday, 26 August 2011

Basically an excuse to use the word 'fo'c'sle' in this sentence

It's long lost, of course, thrown out probably with the Higsons beermats and Charlie Rich LPs, but my dad had a docker's hook. It belonged to his father and perhaps his father before him. Stevedores used it to load and unload cargo. My grandfather, who dropped dead of a heart attack on Park Road when I wasn't much more than a newborn, took his with him on the long trek from the Dingle to the docks, under the Overhead Railway if it was raining (hence), to queue for the chance of casual labour. Yeah, people haven't half got it tough these days.

The best-looking bird in Sailortown

The best-looking bird in Sailortown

Dockers were a different breed, the wellspring of the sort of Scouse humour that only survives in small pockets today. They had nicknames for each other like The Reluctant Plumber - because he never did a tap. When you were drunk you were 'k-legged'. I love this little passage from Heave A Bit, Driver by Tony Sanders and Lorraine Sanders (authorHOUSE 2009), which describes a terrifyingly close call when a steel loading cable or 'fall' suddenly snaps:

Men on the quay, and on the next ship, heard that spine tingling scream: 'BELOWWWWW!' They looked and saw the fall wriggling upwards, accompanied by a hissing noise. It flew out of the hatch…and lashed across the quay with deceptive speed to where three men were having a sly smoke by the shed door. They moved to the right in unison as if choreographed to put themselves just inside the shed door out of harm's way. The cable hit where they'd been standing. A split second later, it curled upwards and hit underneath the top of the open doorway and absolutely blasted a panel out of the roof, which fluttered down at the back of the shed.

There was a moment's silence when men took in what had just happened right out of the blue. The hatch boss where the cable had parted was first to regain his composure. He stood on the deck with both hands on his hips and called across to the three white faces that were now peering around the doorway, 'Go onnnnnn, ye f*****n' cowards!'

Dads and dockers are on my mind because, after 60 years in the (West Midlands) wilderness they're back - the old Liverpool Sailors Home gates that I blogged about a couple of months ago. Beautifully restored, with a gilded Liver Bird (strike one*) as the centrepiece, they now form a striking eastern gateway to the Liverpool ONE complex close to their original location at Canning Place.

The sun's come out for their official unveiling, and on the stroll past the Law Courts and through Chavasse Park the air is shrill and feverish with seagulls. The racket they're making, I half-expect to turn round and see Tippi Hedren belting past with a superficial head wound. Either that or they're emptying the bins at the Gourmet Burger Kitchen.

The earlier Town Hall event for Carl Bartels

The earlier Town Hall event for Carl Bartels

I don't get around much anymore, like the song says, but this is the second cordial invite I've had in a month after a ceremony at the Town Hall on the night that the new Museum of Liverpool opened. Entitled Admission of Carl Bernard Bartels to the Roll of Citizen of Honour of the City of Liverpool it commemorated the German master-carver who designed the copper birds (strike two*) atop the Royal Liver Building.

What they're all wearing down the Grafton

What they're all wearing down the Grafton

His descendants listened to speeches by Lord Mayor Frank Prendergast and city historian Steve Binns, followed by a surprisingly moving rendition of You Raise Me Up by a singer called Danielle Thomas. Hard though it is to accept the callous cordon sanitaire with which Bartels was forcibly repatriated and struck from the records during the First World War, part of me thinks: who are we to project our sententious values upon a totally different time and context when men walked six long miles in hope of a single day's work?

Unveiled at last and worth the wait

Unveiled at last and worth the wait

Back at the gates I get talking to an owlfella who tells me that one of the ship's funnels (the White Star one) sited between the Britannia Inn and Herculaneum Dock is technically the wrong colour (I didn't even know there were any funnels - one more reason to love Liverpool's legion of superannuated warrior-conservationists) before we're interrupted by a shanty on accordion and fiddle.

As I was a-rolling down Paradise Street
Way hey blow the man down
A pretty young packet I chanced for to meet
Way hey blow the man down

O blow the man down, bullies, blow the man down
Way hey blow the man down
Blow him right back into Liverpool Town
Give me some time to blow the man down

Costumed members of the Mersey Heritage Trust enact a scene in which a Yankee greenhorn is Mickey Finned by a Paradise Street floozy (Jumping Jenny) and parted from his hard-earned by her landshark-in-crime, leading to the establishment of the Sailors Home. Then comes a reading from Herman Melville's Redburn: 'Sailors love this Liverpool; and upon long voyages to distant parts of the globe will be continually dilating on its charms and attractions. For in Liverpool they find their Paradise - and one of them told me he would be content to lie in Princes Dock till he hove up anchor for the world to come…'

Jack Tars and Dicky Sams guard the gates

Jack Tars and Dicky Sams guard the gates

Local newsteams jostle for position as the ribbon is cut and the giant golden sheet falls away. Cameras click and people clap. Seriously decorated old seadogs murmur their approval and John Lewis staff stare out of a first-floor window with two mannequins in their drawers. It's a wrap or rather un-wrap, low on panjandrums and high in spirits, including a reverend's blessing followed by 'coffee, tot of grog and hardtack biscuits in Salthouse Tapas'. Thanks to the belief and tenacity of council officials and campaigners alike, the gates have finally come home.

* One more mention of Liver Birds and I automatically receive a three-match touchline ban.

"Dockers were a different breed, the wellspring of the sort of Scouse humour that only survives in small pockets today"


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Georgia on my mind

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Nurse Gosling's book of verse

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Love for sail

Bex maniacs

Mary, Mary, quite contrary

Wings of desire

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The pub on the beach

On Savannah and Charleston

Still chasing the birds

The Liverpolitan
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