Penny Lane and All That
Y Lolfa £9.99
Church Times Bookshop £9
IT IS a truth universally acknowledged that people from Liverpool are passionate about their city and regard themselves as exiles when they leave it. Ann Carlton, who grew up there in the 1940s and 1950s, describes it as a place that tugs at the heartstrings, where “belonging to Liverpool means belonging with other people.”
The city’s range of financial circumstances, and traditions is so wide, she suggests, that, to live in harmony, its people tend to concentrate on their common humanity rather than their differences. Even as a child, she perceived that the bitter antipathy between Roman Catholics and Protestants was out of place in an otherwise friendly and multicultural city with a deep sense of Christian commitment. Healing began in the mid-1970s with the mutual friendship and example of the Anglican Bishop, David Sheppard, and the RC Archbishop, Derek Worlock.
Families were rehoused from Liverpool’s appalling slums, often with drastic outcomes. Compassion for fellow human beings growing up and dying in squalor had prompted this uprooting, Carlton concluded when she went on to write an undergraduate study of the city’s housing department. So much poverty and disadvantage in one place was “hard to take without feeling the need to act”.
Carlton was the daughter of one of Liverpool’s great public servants — her father, town clerk of Liverpool and later chief executive of Merseyside County Council (see photo overleaf), was described by the local paper on his death as “Mr Liverpool”. Hers was a middle-class childhood in the suburban district of Penny Lane, where the family moved because her father “felt it morally wrong to continue living in a council house when you could afford to buy a house”.
The book is rich in detail and consequently a wonderful portrait of childhood. So much is deliciously familiar to those of us who also grew up at this time: the Bronco toilet paper we used to trace maps at school; the permanent red marks on our legs from the garters of our woollen socks; the battered and blackened chip pan, half full of used lard, that stood permanently on the top of the cooker. We, too, trawled the phone boxes to see if someone had failed to press Button B so that we could recoup the money.
Books like this one help to make sense of and put into context our own childhood experiences, and that’s a very valuable thing.