Ever since I moved to Birkenhead in Merseyside I have been "moving out soon". However, after some seven years in the town, that statement has grown to become less and less convincing.
Five of those years have been spent living at the same address, this from a person who was once known for making a mess of people's address books as I moved around from place to place. Paradoxically it has been my northern friends who have moved away from the town, leaving me as probably Birkenhead's most unappreciative tenant.
I have made two failed attempts to leave Birkenhead. The first was back in 1995 when I tried to make a move to Cambridge in the South of England. However, that quickly fell through when my friend Mark announced that it had "gone too far, get out". I wasn't sure what had 'gone too far' but one thing was certain, I wasn't going anywhere apart from back to Merseyside.
Last year (98) I again tried to move, this time setting my sights to a much more achievable goal with a move locally to Oxton. However, after some rather questionable work practices of a local letting agency, I was once again left disappointed.
Now my 'seven-year stretch' in 'Birkenhell' is about to come to its end. The once inevitable and now almost unbelievable is about to happen... I am at last leaving Birkenhead!
This weekend I will be moving into a new flat in Bebington on the Wirral. It may not be so far from Birkenhead, but you have to know Birkenhead like I do to appreciate the fact that you don't have to go far from it to be a million miles away!
There are some though, who feel that my moving away from Birkenhead will mean a huge decline in my fountain of story-worth material. They think a move to a quieter neighborhood will have me climbing the walls in search of some sort of incident, drama, or excitement. Perhaps they're right, but I am not so sure. I tend to be able to find stories in the strangest places. However, Birkenhead has provided me with some great material for my often animated and sometimes plain unbelievable stories.
I came to live in Birkenhead quite by accident. An old friend, Dominic, had invited me up to stay with him in his place in the town. I had visited 'Domo' earlier that year so I thought I had a good idea of what I was in for. However what I had not understood was that Domo had moved from the address where I had visited him, to a new abode in Birkenhead.
I had visited him on a hot July afternoon at his old address in Meols, which is on the west side of the Wirral. He was playing tennis on a beachside tennis court sipping ice-cold coke taken from the refrigerator of the beachfront house where he was staying. My impression of where he lived was very good indeed, so when he invited me to come and stay with him I jumped at the chance.
The long journey from Essex was not a comfortable one, and it was made worse by the fact that the van I was in kept filling with exhaust fumes for some reason. By the time we reached Birkenhead, it was snowing and dark and we were tired.
As we pulled up to the large dark house on Devonshire Place that sat behind an imposing high wall, it reminded me of the old haunted house you might dare a friend to knock on the door of when you were a kid. The garden was wild and completely overgrown and the two driveways were full of broken old Alfa Romeo cars. The ground was both oily and muddy but in the dark, I made my way to the large front door. Domo then told me "We don't use the downstairs, there's no floor there." In the snow and sleet with my lungs full of exhaust fumes, the illusions of Meols and a life on the beach quickly faded away.
Once in the house, I decided to freshen up so I went to the bathroom. Putting aside the shock of what they had told me was a bathroom, I found that the hot tap seemed to be out of order so I sought the assistance of the owner and cohabitant of the house, Ed. I told him the hot water tap was broken and there was no hot water, to which all the lads fell around laughing. They then told me there was no hot water and if I wanted hot water then I had to boil some on the stove. If I was to use a word to describe my first impressions of this chapter of my life I would choose 'horror'.
Over the next few months, I was educated in the 'ways of the North'. Life here in Birkenhead was quite different to the London commuter belt land of Chelmsford in Essex. Without a doubt, this area was much poorer.
My first major hurdle was getting over the language barrier! People in Birkenhead and Liverpool, on the whole, spoke 'scouse', an accent variation of the English language. In the beginning, I simply couldn't understand a word most people said to me. Domo was quite often playing the role of interpreter between the locals and me.
I soon learned about 'scallies', a name given to a group of usually shaved-headed young men with no jobs, no brains, and no sense of reason. 'Scallies' appeared to hate almost everything and they had a strong will to fight whenever possible, especially anyone who spoke with a southern accent. Because of this I quickly adopted various foreign-sounding accents that could be easily adopted in times of trouble!
In a pub in the centre of Birkenhead when a scally asked me if I was from Australia. I said I was, he then slapped me on the back then said "Oh right, see I thought you might have been a southern woofty, I was gonna kick yer 'ed in" Welcome to Birkenhead!
An incident I would have loved to have caught on camera was once when I was in line to pay for my groceries at the local supermarket 'KwikSave'. Two grown-up scally men disagreed about whether one could hit his child as hard as he had just done. With the store security guard not far from the two men, they broke into a scuffle that sent them both crashing into and destroying a magazine rack. The scuffle didn't seem to alarm anyone, least of all the security guard, and it only ended when the scally wife of one of the men shouted to him that she had paid for their groceries and was leaving the shop. At this, he let go of the other man, straightened himself up, and left the store while arguing with his wife while the other man simply took his place in the line once more. The rest of the shop, including the guard, seemed oblivious to the scene that had just taken place.
Another memorable moment happened while Domo and I were sitting in his room chatting at some ridiculous hour of the morning. We could hear someone opening and closing drawers in the kitchen and assumed that Ed had gotten up for something. We decided to join him in the kitchen only to find a scally searching through the cupboards! Domo asked him what he was doing and he informed us that he was "Looking for John." Dom replied, "John doesn't live in our cupboards." With this, the scally hot-footed it past the both of us down the stairs and out into the night.
The Police did eventually turn up, but they said with nothing stolen and no damage done they were not going to look for the scally who was by now probably burglarizing someone else.
Another memorable and rather nasty police story was my little run-in with a PC Williams of Merseyside Police. One February night in 1996, having just bought a pint of milk and rented a movie, I was stopped and attacked on the roadside by a Police Officer, something I perhaps foolishly thought only ever happened to troublemakers.
I remember this event very clearly indeed. A police car screamed up onto the sidewalk right in front of me. PC Williams then jumped out of the car, grabbed me by my collar and aggressively said "Where the fuck are you going?" "Home," I replied.
As it happened this was evidently not the answer PC Williams was looking for, so he hit me over the head with his metal flashlight. He then continued to beat me to the floor with his fists and the flashlight. When a potential witness came around the corner PC Williams began speaking loudly, so the witness could hear, saying that I was under arrest for assaulting him!
I was then bundled into his car where he quite unbelievably took me to Birkenhead Park and stopped the car to continue hitting me while shouting and swearing at me. I can quite honestly say that at this point I thought he was going to kill me. Oddly enough though, I was not scared, I was just concerned about how my body would be found and what my parents would be told. I remember thinking that he would probably plant drugs on me and it would be put down as another 'drug-related killing'.
I was never actually charged with the assault of the crooked PC Williams, and a subsequent complaint against him failed through a lack of evidence. I stood in the place of the attack at the approximate time the attack took place in the hope I would once again meet the man who I had seen walking his dog the night I was attacked. He was the only witness. I never found him. And as far as I know, PC Dennis Williams is still a member of the Merseyside Police force.
For the last five years almost, I have lived at the same address on Park Road South. I have shared the house in that time with many people however Pauline and Peter have also been around throughout that time. Peter is a great character. Known as 'Rab' to his friends, he has a huge gang of mates who vary in their perpetual drunkenness from lightly done to completely shitfaced!
My first run-in with 'the boys' was when Peter, his very large cousin Steve, and some other lads all came crashing down the stairs late one Friday night shouting at each other. They then stood out in the front garden and started fist-fighting with each other. The argument was over whether former conservative Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, had ever had any good policies! It wasn't clear to me who won the dispute.
Another night I heard a lot of noise outside and decided to investigate. By the front door, Peter was standing 'talking' to 'Bod' (now in jail for breaking one of his friend's jaws) while Damien was sitting down with blood pouring from his head.
It turned out that Peter had taken to dropping his large bunch of keys out of his top-floor window so he didn't have to walk down the stairs to open the front door to his visitors. His system was to look out of his window above the front door and if he recognized the visitor he would simply drop the keys down to them. Damien however was unaware of the 'new system' and was shocked when a heavy bunch of keys hit him on the head while he waited for Peter to answer the door!
In the summer of 1996, the boys formed a band which they inventively named 'The Boys'! Being short of funds meant that band practice took place in Peters's top-floor flat. Chris sat in the Kitchen playing the drums while Adam, Peter, and Steve played their guitars and 'sang' in the living room. They would leave the kitchen window open and passers-by could hear them all the way to the park behind the house! The band was eventually to break up over 'artistic differences, in other words, arguments over who paid the most beer money.
Adam from the band moved into the flat above me in 97. The first night he was here he attacked a man outside the house with a golf club! The victim was "looking at his berd." Adam was arrested while his near-hysterical girlfriend begged the police not to arrest him. A lot of fuss in my opinion, given the fact that Adams "berd" wasn't, as my granddad might have said, an oil painting.
They later became known in the house as 'Punch and Judy' because of their regular Saturday night punch-ups. The landlord eventually evicted Adam after all the neighbors complained.
There have been other memorable tenants like Bob, the mad drunk who loved to steal other people's mail and then hide the letters under the carpet in front of his fireplace. He was also evicted after incidents involving the police and ambulance service having to be repeatedly called out to attend Bob's drunken antics.
Gerry from downstairs who is also known as 'the fire starter' after he nearly burned down the house one night when he fell asleep with a lit cigarette in his mouth. The cigarette fell onto his couch and caught fire. It was only by luck and a horrible smell that Gerry and the rest of us were able to get away with the house in one piece!
Gary was another memorable character. At first, he seemed like a normal fellow, well-presented, and friendly. However one night Gary was to become so enraged at the noise of thumping music coming from Mick the neighbor's makeshift recording studio next door, that he grabbed a kitchen knife and stormed around to the front door of the adjacent house.
Logically he decided that the ground floor flat (the one immediately attached to his) would be bell one. Armed with his kitchen knife and a rhythmically imposed rage, he rang that bell. Moments later the door was answered. Some shouting took place, then a scuffle in which the occupant of flat 1 was slashed with the knife.
The wound was not a serious one thankfully. Especially given the fact that next door, bell one is the bell for the basement flat. The correct bell for the flat adjacent to Gary's would have been bell 2. Mick, the occupant of that flat was unaware of the assault and still plays loud beating music to this day.
Twice the Police have knocked on the door showing me wanted posters featuring former tenants of the house, and they have become regular visitors to the house with a whole compendium of reasons ranging from the knife-crazed man who was going to "come through the door if I didn't open it" one night, to the suspected suicide of Paul from the upstairs flat when he failed to arrive at work after his girlfriend had dumped him. In that incident, after some time knocking at the door with Paul's family, concern had mounted to such a level that the police smashed their way into his flat only to find him sitting up in bed having just woken up from the loud noise of the door crashing through and a look of "what the hell!?" on his face.
In retrospect, I have to admit that I have enjoyed living here on Park Road South, and in some ways, I do quite like Birkenhead, if for no other reason than it is great for stories. But this move has been a long time coming and I am very much ready to have a little less of a hectic household. Yes, it will be quiet and I will miss the boys all piling into my flat talking over one another loudly and smelling of a day on the ale.
Bebington may not be quite as fevered as Birkenhead, but I am sure if there is drama to be had I'll have it wherever I am. Ask anyone who knows me, I don't need much to tell a good story.