Liverpool – Scouse City
Previously, I wrote about New Orleans. Liverpool has similarities with the Big Easy. A slow erosion of New Orleans’s prosperity began in the 1830s, when the Erie Canal began to divert the commerce of the upper Midwest to the East and New York and away from the port. After great prosperity in the 19th century, Liverpool as a port is now facing the wrong way, towards America rather than Europe.
Both cities depended on the slave trade. Both cities produced great music. Both cities had a spicy ethnic and cultural mix. I compared New Orleans to a gumbo. Natives of Liverpool are called “scousers”. Scouse comes from lobscouse, a stew commonly eaten by sailors throughout Northern Europe. The first known use of the term is dated 1706, according to Webster’s dictionary. Some suggest that the dish is “almost certainly” of Baltic origin.
Like New Orleans, Liverpool gets its distinct character from its diverse ethnic mix. Liverpool is home to Britain’s oldest Black community, dating to the 1730s, and some Black Liverpudlians are able to trace their ancestors in the city back ten generations.
ETHNIC MIX OR SEGREGATION?
My own impression, possibly false, is that, as in New Orleans, a kind of unofficial segregation is in place. On one of our visits to Liverpool, my colleagues and I got into conversation with a Black Liverpudlian who claimed that you do not see Black people much in the town centre because they keep to their own areas. He told us that, under the smart new Albert Dock development, there was a tunnel through which his slave ancestors had been transported in shackles.
Early Black settlers in the city included seamen, the children of traders sent to be educated, and freed slaves. As of June 2009, an estimated 91 per cent of Liverpool’s population was White British, 3 per cent Asian or Asian British, 1.9 per cent Black or Black British, 2 per cent mixed-race and 2.1 per cent Chinese and other.
The city is home to the oldest Chinese community in Europe. Many Chinese immigrants first arrived in Liverpool in the late 1850s as seamen working for the Blue Funnel Shipping Line. From the 1890s onwards, small numbers of Chinese began to set up businesses catering to Chinese sailors. Some of these men married British women.
Some call Liverpool “the capital of North Wales”. In 1813, ten per cent of Liverpool’s population was Welsh. Following the start of the Great Irish Famine, two million Irish people migrated to Liverpool in the space of one decade. By 1851, more than 20 per cent of the population was Irish. At the 2001 Census, 1.17 per cent of the population were Welsh-born and 0.75 per cent was born in the Republic of Ireland, while 0.54 per cent was born in Northern Ireland, but many more Liverpudlians are of Welsh or Irish ancestry.
In living memory, Irish tribal rivalries have been played out in the city. Even as recently as June 2013, the tricolour flag of the Irish Republic was publicly burnt outside the HQ of the Orange Order in Everton. Liverpool is the main centre of the Orange Order in England, while groups like Cairde na Eireann, with strong republican views, also have a presence, and organised this year’s St Patrick’s Day parade in Vauxhall. Liverpool is the only English city ever to have elected an Irish Nationalist MP, Thomas P O’Connor. The Athlone man represented Scotland Road from 1885 to 1929. On the other hand, the Liverpool Protestant Party long had a presence in local politics, winning its last seat in 1973. Beatles John, Paul and George were all products of Catholic/Protestant marriages.
Speaking with a Scouse accent is a recent trend. Up until the mid 19th century, Liverpudlians spoke like their Lancastrian neighbours. The Scouse accent like much else in the city owes its roots to Liverpool’s position as a port. The major influence on the Scouse voice comes from the influx of Irish and Welsh into the city. One wit said a major influence was the cold wind coming through the Mersey Tunnel giving a permanent nasal blockage. The mixing of different accents and dialects, joining with words and sayings picked up from global maritime arrivals, all fused together to create the unique Scouse sound.
By the middle of the 16th century, the population of Liverpool was still only around 500. The original seven streets were laid out in an H shape. Seven Streets is the name of a lively and informative current blog site about the city. By the early 19th century, 40% of the world’s trade passed through Liverpool’s docks. Despite the port’s connection with the slave trade, several prominent local men, including William Rathbone, William Roscoe and Edward Rushton, were at the forefront of the abolitionist movement.
For periods during the 19th century, the wealth of Liverpool exceeded that of London. Liverpool’s Custom House was the single largest contributor to the British Exchequer. As early as 1851 the city was described as “the New York of Europe” and the epic scale of its 19th century buildings demonstrate the city’s confidence. The first US consul anywhere in the world, James Maury, arrived in Liverpool in 1790. He remained in office for 39 years. Among those who served the US as consul in Liverpool was the writer Nathaniel Hawthorne. His friend, that other great American writer Herman Melville visited Hawthorne In 1856. Melville was twenty years old in 1839 when he first visited Liverpool. What he saw there, on the thronging docksides and filthy streets, was memorable enough for him to write a novel, Redburn.
The resident population of Liverpool on Census night (27thMarch 2011) was 466,415.The same census showed that Liverpool’s population is a young one, reflecting the popularity of the city among students and young professionals. Over a quarter of people living in the city (26.8%,125,200 people) are young adults (15-29) compared with 19.9% nationally, while almost half (45.4%) are aged 16-44. One in 7 (14.0%) Liverpool residents are pensioners. This is lower than the England and Wales average (16.4%)
From the 60s, I spent time in different areas of the city and its environs with exotic names: Aigburth, Aintree, Toxteth, Croxteth, Dingle, Huyton, Fazakerley, Knotty Ash, New Brighton, Birkenhead, and Wallasey. In the early 90s, Netherley and Thornton seemed like ghost towns with boarded up shops and houses. In the city centre, liquor stores had armoured grills to prevent customers actually setting foot on the premises.
A great deal of rejuvenation has taken place since the unemployment of the Thatcher years. In recent years, Liverpool’s economy has recovered , with growth rates higher than the national average since the mid-nineties. The sturdy redbrick buildings of the Albert Dock area now house a complex of small shops, bars and restaurants as well as several museums in the old warehouse buildings.
The city is home to the UK’s oldest-established orchestra, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. Sir Edward Elgar dedicated his famous Pomp and Circumstance No.1 to the Liverpool Orchestral Society, and the piece had its first performance in the city in 1901.
Even in the early 90s, walking around Liverpool at night with friends, I could hear music everywhere – the sound of hopeful bands rehearsing in warehouses. These were bands hopeful of becoming the next Beatles- or maybe just enjoying themselves. Even before Merseybeat, Liverpool had successful acts such as Frankie Vaughan, Lita Roza and Billy Fury. Music historians have praised The Beatles for being the first British pop stars to write their own songs. Billy Fury (Ronald Wycherley) was there before them. There is a statue of him at Albert Dock.
What is it about pop music and Liverpool? How did the Beatles put Liverpool on the music map? How did Liverpool create the Beatles? Beatles expert Mark Lewisohn says Liverpool was the only English city in the late 50s that had a rock band scene. The Irish influence meant that all families had musical events in pubs where everyone had to take their turn. The Beatles were in the right place at the right time. This is not to say that it all depended on luck. They worked hard for their success and they had a unique talent. The zeitgeist was right for them. As Charlie Gillett put it: “The Beatles provided in meat and bone and a sharp glance across the room the spirit that several authors and playwrights had been trying to depict in fictional characters and the film industry subsequently tried to represent with actors”.
There is a received myth that Liverpudlian youths had relatives who went to sea and came back with records from America. John Lennon’s father was a merchant seaman. Ringo got a taste for country and western from records brought in from America. George also had cowboy records brought from America. However, most young people relied on record shops such as the NEMS shop run by Brian Epstein, who became the manager of the Beatles. The Beatles started as a skiffle group called the Quarrymen and later became the Silver Beetles. Sri Lanka resident Royston Ellis claims that he suggested to his friend John Lennon that they put the “a” into Beatles. They incorporated many styles into their music after listening in record store booths, hunting out obscure tracks. They listened attentively to the records that sold well in the US. Their first album drew on New York. The second drew on Detroit. The Beatles were the first band to perform a Tamla Motown song on BBC radio. Even on their 1969 album Abbey Road, they were drawing on diverse sources. In his 1996 book, Swamp Pop: Cajun and Creole Rhythm and Blues, Shane K Bernard quotes swamp pop producer Floyd Soileau on the McCartney song “Oh Darling”: “People from round here swore someone from south Louisiana did it. It was so typical of the sound, the rhythm patterns, the arrangements that you find in a lot of this area’s music”. John Fred (real name John Fred Gourrier), who with his Playboy Band had a hit with “Judy in Disguise with Glasses” (a parody of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”) met Lennon and McCartney and was impressed with their knowledge of obscure Swamp Rockers like Guitar Gable.
The fact that the Beatles became the first successful group from a provincial city and were such a phenomenon meant that record company executives went north looking for new groups and new groups tried to emulate the Beatles.
The Cavern Club on Mathew Street is one of many tourist attractions related to The Beatles, and the location of Europe’s largest annual free music festival. The childhood homes of Paul McCartney at 20 Forthlin Road and John Lennon at 251 Menlove Avenue still entice a large number of international and domestic tourists.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s a punk scene centred on another club, Eric’s, also on Mathew Street. My late friend Roger Eagle founded and ran this club. Previously, I accompanied him when he had enticed mega-stars to his promotions at the insalubrious boxing venue, the Liverpool Stadium. In the 1970s, I lived in Denton, Manchester. Another Denton resident, Mick Hucknall of Simply Red confirmed to me his relationship with Roger: “He and I were very close friends. He did in fact manage me and the Frantic Elevators for well over a year and I used to also DJ for him at Adam’s club in Liverpool which was after his Eric’s experience.”
Eric’s was legendary as a breeding ground for Indie and New Wave bands, but also played host to jazzmen Johnny Griffin and Stanley Clarke. Others who appeared there were: The Stranglers, Sex Pistols, The Clash, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Ramones + Talking Heads on the same night, Elvis Costello, The Police, Joy Division, The Pretenders, The Cure, Iggy Pop, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, Simple Minds, Madness.
There were protest marches when Eric’s closed. Recent plans to re-open the venue came under strong criticism from those who did not relish the prospect of a fond memory being museumised for current profit.
Various venues around Concert Square, Mathew Street, Hardman Street and Hope Street present current music. Current venues include the Echo Arena Liverpool, Masque, Kazimier, Zanzibar, O2 Academy, The Magnet, and The View Two Gallery. The excellent blog Seven Streets gives news of upcoming gigs.
The former creation Records boss Alan McGee launched a new monthly club night to publicise his new 359 record label. The club is held at District on Jordan Street. McGee said “The reason I am doing it in Liverpool is simple – there is more talent in Huyton than there is in Hoxton. London is musically dead and Liverpool is still alive. The 359 club will be based in the pool of life…”
The Liverpool Biennial festival of arts runs from mid-September to late November and comprises three main sections; the International, The Independents and New Contemporaries and fringe events are timed to coincide.
Liverpool has more galleries and national museums than any other city in the UK apart from London. The Tate Liverpool gallery houses the modern art collection of the Tate in the North of England. National Museums Liverpool is the only English national collection based wholly outside London. The Walker Art Gallery houses an extensive collection of Pre-Raphaelites. The Ceri Hand Gallery opened in 2008, exhibiting primarily contemporary art, and Liverpool University’s Victoria Building was re-opened as a public art gallery and museum to display the University’s artwork and historical collections that include the second-largest display of art by Audubon outside the US.
Liverpool was the site of the UK’s first provincial airport, operating from 1930, and was the first UK airport to be renamed after an individual – John Lennon. Formerly known as Speke Airport, RAF Speke, it is seven and a half miles south of the city centre. It has some domestic services as well as scheduled flights to locations across Europe. Between 1997 and 2007 it was one of Europe’s fastest growing airports, increasing annual passenger numbers from 689,468 in 1997 to 5.47 million in 2007. Around 4.5 million passengers passed through the airport in 2012, making it the tenth busiest airport in the UK.
Liverpool’s position on the River Mersey, close to the mouth into the Irish Sea, has contributed to its rise as a major port within the UK. In addition to the Port of Liverpool’s role as a major cargo terminal, the port also provides a base for ferry and cruise services.
WHERE TO STAY
Back in the Orange Juice days, Edwyn Collins was a regular in Liverpool. Playing Eric’s and frequenting the arts scene, he found a favourite hotel. I often stayed at that same hotel in later years. Edwyn said: “There was a shower in the middle of the room I used to stay in – not in the modern sense where you get that as a design feature. It was just there because that was the easiest place for it.” I stayed in that very room. The hotel was the New Manx Hotel on Catherine Street. Edwyn shares my memories of the proprietor, Jim Gilmore, who used to receive letters from children addressed to Santa Claus. Jim had pictures on the walls of all the pop stars and actors who had stayed at the hotel. When talking to me he went very-dewy eyed talking about how lovely actress Gabrielle Drake was. Today, she is probably more famous for being the sister of doomed folkie Nick Drake. It is possible that I slept in the same bed as Nick Drake’s sister, though not at the same time. Edwyn recalls: “We were the first group to stay there. After us, lots of bands stayed there, he had photos all over the walls. Ian McCulloch from Echo and the Bunnymen lived in Liverpool, but once he found out you could get a breakfast whatever time you woke up and it was only a fiver a night he started staying there too.”
Someone described Catherine Street today as “the cool Georgian Quarter”. The Blackburne Arms has been praised by Liverpool residents for its “authentic atmosphere … created by the eclectic mix of visitors and great music (often live!).” Another visitor said: “I can highly recommend the pâté, ham hock terrine and the venison…followed by cheese board with chocolate wine.”
In the past five years, Liverpool’s bed count has skyrocketed, and there are stylish boutique city hotels aplenty. Some guides recommend a self-catering apartment as more convenient than a hotel. Posh Pads at the Casartelli on Hanover Street has generously proportioned suites. The Casartelli building is a replica of an 18th-century Liverpool landmark – a bow-fronted building that once housed a business manufacturing scientific instruments and later became a wine warehouse before falling into disrepair.
The Hope Street Hotel is a boutique hotel with large, light rooms, wood floors, friendly staff and excellent restaurant. It is directly opposite the famous Liverpool Philharmonic Hall and just a short walk from the cathedrals, shops and central tourist attractions. The spectacular restaurant, decorated with massive shards of glass, has a classy air and serves excellent and imaginative food. Bedrooms have a minimalist feel but the beds are enormous and extremely comfortable. However, some guests complained about the price, the service and the poor heating.
Hard Day’s Night is perhaps not a good choice of name for a hotel but this one is cashing in on Beatlemania. The hotel is close to both Mathew Street (where the Cavern Club is) and the heart of the shopping in the City, a ten-minute walk to both Lime Street station and the Docks. One guest had a disappointing stay, which again involved lack of heating and hot water. Most reviews are favourable. “Our room was so big and beautiful, with a large bathroom and as we were in the inner bit very quiet. Liverpool can be a noisy late night city, but we didn’t hear a thing.”
Someone with a vague knowledge of Liverpool and some money to spend might decide that the Adelphi Hotel would be a safe option. It is right in the city centre; it is famous; it is long-established (the first hotel on the site opened in 1826 and the Adelphi served as the most popular hotel in the city for wealthy passengers before they embarked on their journey to North America); it is designated by English Heritage as Grade II listed building. Distinguished guests have included Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Laurel and Hardy, Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra. Roy Rogers stayed there with his horse, Trigger. However, it does not get a good press from recent customers: “NO NO NO!!! Don’t do it, part of the awful Britannia chain”. “Unfortunately, not many people have a good word to say about the place (which is putting it mildly!)”. Some reviews have been better but play down the hotel’s luxury past. Now the positive remarks are about it being cheap but faded. “Breakfast ok – evening meal poor everything frozen or out of a packet BUT it was a cheap deal so in reality I got what I paid for. However, if they turned the heating down to stop the hotel being like a sauna they could afford to have better food.” Not the usual complaints about the cold!
One can sample many cuisines in Liverpool:
- Brazilian at the Fazenda Rodizio (100% of tips divided between all staff);
- Chinese at the Lady Jade;
- Spanish at Neon Jaman;
- Thai at ChuBa ChaBa;
- Turkish at Shiraz; Japanese at Etsu;
- Greek at Othello’s; Italian at Amalia;
- Persian at Zagros; Lebanese at Bakchich;
- Cuban at Alma de Cuba;
- Middle Eastern at Arabesque Bazaar;
- North African at Kasbah Bazaar;
- Mexican street-food joint Lucha Libre (96 Wood St serves spicy slow-cooked pork marinated in orange juice, Mexican fishcakes with a spike of red chilli, and generously stuffed burritos
The Trip Advisor website lists 917 Liverpool restaurants. The top-ranking one is an Indian restaurant called Yukti. At number five is Spire on Church Road, which serves excellent Modern British and European food at sensible prices. My stomach is rumbling as I look at the menu. I think I will have roasted monkfish tail, sweetcorn puree, broccoli, Parisian potatoes, and crispy Parma ham.
I am impressed with William Lyons, who answers comments from customers about The Monro on Duke Street. This gastropub has won plaudits for its finely presented, locally sourced modern European (mostly English) dishes, which may include Goosenargh duck breasts or leek and asparagus crêpes. The Monro serves a classic Sunday lunch. When a customer complained that his roast meat seemed to have been pre-cooked and was less than fresh, William went straight to the kitchen and sorted it out. “We now have two crews who now cater for half of each day and as the first crew leaves, new roasting joints are ready for the second part of the afternoon. This now solves the issue you experienced.” When a customer complained about his fish being expensive: “The answer was to go straight to the kitchen and say to the Head Chef – “people want to eat for cheaper in the week, can we do it AND still be ethically sourced?”,”leave it with me!” our can-do Head Chef says.”
SITES TO SEE
Liverpool has a rich architectural heritage and is home to many buildings regarded as amongst the greatest examples of their respective styles in the world. In 2004, UNESCO granted World Heritage Site status to several areas of the city centre. I would like to see UNESCO recognise the utter magnificence of the toilets in The Phil.
“The Phil” is the local name for The Philharmonic Dining Rooms, a public house at the corner of Hope Street and Hardman Street, diagonally opposite the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall. It is a Grade II listed building. The interior has decorations executed on repoussé copper panels with plasterwork mosaics, and items in mahogany and glass on musical themes. Two of the smaller rooms are entitled Brahms and Liszt. Of particular interest is the high quality of the gentlemen’s urinals, constructed in a particularly attractive roseate marble.
Sir Giles Gilbert Scott designed Liverpool’s Anglican cathedral, Britain’s biggest church, which rises from a sandstone bluff overlooking the Mersey. Just north of it is the Liverpool Oratory: take the road that goes downhill through dim tunnels and over faded tombstones, to St James Gardens – Liverpool’s Père Lachaise. The park is a deconsecrated cemetery that predates the cathedral. There is a secret spring bubbling up alongside the Huskisson Memorial.
Sir Edwin Lutyens (architect of New Delhi) planned for the Roman Catholic Metropolitan Cathedral, on Mount Pleasant, to be even larger than the Anglican cathedral. Sir Frederick Gibberd eventually provided a simpler design. Locals call it “Paddy’s Wigwam”. Poet Roger McGough called it “God’s new Liverpool address”.
Liverpool contains several synagogues, of which the Grade I listed Moorish Revival Princes Road Synagogue is architecturally the most notable. The city had the earliest mosque in England, and possibly the UK, founded in 1887 by William Abdullah Quilliam, a lawyer who had converted to Islam.
The city of Liverpool has a greater number of public sculptures than any other location in the UK, apart from Westminster. A statue depicting Ken Dodd with his feather duster was unveiled in Lime Street Station on 11 June 2009. Sculptor Tom Murphy called it “Chance Meeting” because Doddy seems to be walking to greet the redoubtable Labour MP Bessie Braddock.
Murphy also created the Billy Fury statue at Albert Dock, John Lennon at the airport, former Prime Minister Harold Wilson in Huyton, footballer Dixie Dean outside the Everton ground. Legendary Liverpool FC manager, Bill Shankly (football isn’t a matter of life or death. It’s much more important than that”) stands outside the Anfield ground.
There is a statue of Henry the Navigator in Sefton Park, keeping good company with Mercator, Captain Cook and Columbus. Sefton Park is also home to statues of Darwin and Linnaeus. Jung is in Mathew Street not far from The Cavern. There is a Titanic Memorial at the Pier Head.
The Liverpool One development catapulted the city back into the top five retail destinations when it opened in 2008. Made Here, in the Metquarter mall, is an emporium of made-in-Liverpool gifts, art, textiles and trinkets. You can buy flatpack make-your-own models of Liverpool’s cathedrals and earrings made from Liverpool’s legendary Meccano brand. Made Here celebrates the best of the city’s current crop of talented makers and designers. Metquarter has fashion and beauty outlets such as Jo Malone, Molton Brown and MAC. Gieves & Hawkes and Tommy Hilfiger cater for males. Cavern Walks is home to Vivienne Westwood and Cricket, which sells expensive handbags and designer clothes. Lark Lane has bohemian boutiques and street markets.
GETTING AROUND AND GETTING AWAY
On my stays in Liverpool, I often visited Crosby. Antony Gormley’s art installation Another Place is on Crosby Beach. Some compare Crosby’s sea views to the Bay of Naples. There are several miles of beach, a marina, parks and a large area of woodland known as Ince Woods. Distinctive buildings in Crosby Village include the art nouveau Crown Buildings and three pubs, The Crow’s Nest, the George, and The Village.
Hightown Dunes and Meadows at Blundellsands is designated as a Site of Local Biological Interest. Blundellsands takes its name from the Blundell family, Catholic recusants during the Reformation, who owned the land where building began in the 1870s. The area is generally considered very affluent with many local celebrities, footballers, politicians and businessmen living there and putting up the prices.
I often based myself in Southport when on business in Liverpool. As a seaside town, Southport has a long history of leisure and recreation and is still heavily dependent on tourism. The town went into decline when cheap air travel arrived in the 1960s and people chose to holiday abroad due to competitive prices and more reliable weather. It has recovered. In 2011, Southport was the 14th most popular coastal resort in the country, benefiting from a 23% rise in money spent in the resort in that year. The town is fourth in the country for the most notable investments over the past decade, with £9.7 million invested. Lord Street is an elegant parade of Victorian arcades with a whole host of smart shops and boutiques.
Chester is a picturesque and historic city, founded in 79AD with the name Deva Victrix by the Roman Legio II Adiutrix during the reign of the Emperor Vespasian. In 2007 Chester Council announced a ten-year plan to see Chester become a “must-see European destination”. At a cost of £1.3 billion it has been nicknamed Chester Renaissance. The city is a hub for major roads, including the M53 motorway towards the Wirral Peninsula and Liverpool and the M56 motorway towards Manchester. The A55 road runs along the North Wales coast to Holyhead and the A483 links the city to nearby Wrexham and Swansea to the far south. The more unusual landmarks in the city are the city walls, the Rows and the black-and-white architecture. The walls encircle the bounds of the medieval city and constitute the most complete city walls in Britain, the full circuit measuring nearly 2 miles (3 km). The Rows are unique in Britain. They consist of buildings with shops or dwellings on the lowest two storeys. The shops or dwellings on the ground floor are often lower than the street and are entered by steps, which sometimes lead to a crypt-like vault. Those on the first floor are entered behind a continuous walkway, often with a sloping shelf between the walkway and the railings overlooking the street. Much of the architecture of central Chester looks medieval and some of it is but by far the greatest part of it, including most of the black-and-white buildings, is Victorian. Roman remains can still be found in the city, particularly in the basements of some of the buildings and in the lower parts of the northern section of the city walls.
North Wales is easily accessible from Liverpool. The region is steeped in history. The mountainous stronghold of Snowdonia formed the nucleus of the realm of Gwynedd and would become the last redoubt of independent Wales which was only overcome in 1283. It remains a stronghold of the Welsh language and a centre for Welsh national and cultural identity. In 2000, The Wales Tourist Board tourist identified the top 10 most visited attractions in the region that included Harlech Castle, Llangollen, Portmeirion, and Caernarfon Castle.
Liverpool has significant road and rail networks and an underground railway network that serves the city and immediate locality. Merseyrail is Liverpool’s local urban rail network. It has three lines: the Northern Line, which runs to Southport, Ormskirk, and Kirkby to the north of the city and Hunts Cross to the south. The Wirral Line, which runs through the Mersey Railway Tunnel, has branches to New Brighton, West Kirby, Chester and Ellesmere Port. The City Line, which begins at Lime Street, provides links to St Helens, Wigan, Preston, Warrington and Manchester. Within the city centre, the majority of the network is underground, with four city centre stations and over 6.5 miles of tunnels.
THE PSYCHOLOGY OF SCOUSELAND
From the 1960s, I made many visits to various parts of Liverpool. I often got a distinct impression of defensive clannishness, as if Liverpool were a separate island whose inhabitants thought the rest of the world did not understand them. A blogger called Christopher England writes about how he feels as a Londoner living in Liverpool. “The overwhelming majority of people in Liverpool are multiple generation White folk with no experience of anything but their own culture, other than when they pop into a takeaway or newsagents… It leads to a lack of new knowledge or diversity entering the average workplace, and leaves them full of the prejudices that left London after the 1970s. Not just in the workplace, but in the social place. Pub conversations are like it’s still the 1970s.”
He continues: “They are blissfully ignorant of other cultures, and where once they were divided only by religion (Catholics -v- Protestants), they are now joined together in fear of the invisible enemy. Currently the enemy are the Polish because, in their eyes, they take their jobs, and ‘Muslims‘ because, in their eyes, they want to change things and the way of life.”
Scousers may be known for their wit and many great comedians came from the city – Arthur Askey, Robb Wilton, Tommy Handley, Ken Dodd, Ted Ray – even the American king of the one-liner Henny Youngman was born in Liverpool (“My wife said to me, ‘For our anniversary I want to go somewhere I’ve never been before.’ I said, ‘Try the kitchen!'”).
However, Liverpudlians have also been the butt of scathing wit. There were some astute psychologists among football hooligans. They knew where to stick the knife and picked on the victimhood of Liverpudlians. One chant, sung to the tune of “In My Liverpool home”, went: “Your mum’s on the game and your dad’s in the nick/ You can’t get a job ‘cos you’re too f***** thick, in your Liverpool slums. . . “’.
Liverpool felt particularly victimised by Margaret Thatcher. Ken Dodd was a Thatcher supporter and campaigned for the Conservatives during the 1979 general election campaign, which brought her to power. In the last rally, at Wembley Arena, he introduced her on to the stage.
The Scousers was a sketch from the Harry Enfield’s Television Programme comedy show of the early 1990s. It featured a set of stereotyped Scousers, “Ga'”, “Ba'” and “Te'” (Gary, Barry and Terry). The Scousers had Kevin Keegan bubble perm hairstyles and bushy moustaches. Whenever a dispute arose, this would result in The Scousers repeating to each other:“Eh! Eh! All right! All right! Calm down! Calm down!”
Scousers have taken against celebrity chef Jamie Oliver because he has a column in the newspaper The Sun, which behaved badly towards Liverpudlians after the Hillsborough tragedy.
There is a perception in the south of a victim mentality of Liverpool. Detractors say Liverpudlians are renowned for having a chip on their shoulder, blaming everyone else for their misdeeds, and acting like the world is against them and owes them a living.
On Friday 22nd of August 1997, an episode of Room 101 was broadcast in which Alan Davies said that “all people from Liverpool think they’re funny”, he went on to Scouse comedians, from Tom O’Connor to Jimmy Tarbuck, who were not to his taste. Some Scousers threatened to kill him if he ever set foot in Liverpool again.
CUSTOMER SERVICE MENTALITY
I was eating in a Liverpool Mexican restaurant. The waitress was friendly and casual. I was enjoying my burrito until I discovered a solid block of ice at its centre. I mentioned this to the waitress in a non-threatening kind of way. She said: “You won’t want any ice-cream, then?”
All of the online the reviews of the Adelphi Hotel complain about the attitude of the staff. A dissatisfied customer said this about the service at a very expensive restaurant. “Little things like no-one asks if they can take your coat and it stays on the back of your chair the whole meal; bread just plonked in a basket on your table; one of our party had to ask for a missing drink four times; waiter called me ‘mate’ all the time.” Someone who asked at a Greek restaurant if it was still open was treated to a lengthy “comedy” routine in which the waiter pretended that it was a laundry not a restaurant.
During the period of the burrito incident, I was spending a lot of time in Liverpool and also visited Dublin often. Irish waiting staff was unfailingly charming but also efficient and solicitous. One got the impression that they enjoyed providing good service and did not find their role demeaning. Service did not equate with servility. In Liverpool, I got the impression that the staff would rather be in a rock band or doing a stand-up comedy act. Or just rather be anywhere else. It was refreshing to read William Lyons’s responses to disgruntled customers at The Monro. This somewhat dispelled my suspicion that Liverpudlians are lacking the customer service gene. Critics of Sri Lankan hotels have warned that they too cannot hope to get by on amiability without efficiency and awareness.