SkemNews are pleased to announce that we will be publishing a selection of articles written by the Skelmersdale Writers’ Group. All rights remain with the Skelmersdale Writers’ Group.
Leaving Liverpool, 1976
A short story by Carol Fenlon
When they got to Skem they couldn’t find the house.
“Blow this,” Tom said, “we’re going back to Liverpool.” But they couldn’t do that because they’d already let Tom’s sister move into their old home in Croxteth. She’d come down from Newcastle that morning.
“It’s by a blue bridge,” Sally said as they trailed through endless roundabouts. Six blue bridges later they spotted someone waiting for a bus and got directions. Charmaine kept crying. Sally could feel the damp from Charm’s nappy soaking into her jeans.
Tom was still in a grump when they finally arrived. The Geordie removal men were surly. “We were only supposed to do one trip, Newcastle to Liverpool, and we only done that as a foreigner.”
“Right. We didn’t bargain for coming to this godforsaken place as well. We need to be away, mon, we shan’t see home before midnight.” Tom gave them an extra tenner. They looked at it with contempt. Darkness was falling. They threw the furniture in any old how.
The kids ran up and down the stairs, in and out of the garden. Sally changed Charm’s nappy on the kitchen worktop. The view from the window was of someone’s garden wall. She looked round at the miracle of fitted cupboards. There was even a double drainer sink. It was good to be on the ground after years of living in a top floor maisonette.
It was Sunday. The workmen would not come till Monday morning to connect the gas but the electricity was working. Tom prised the boards off the windows, connected the cooker and thumped the kids for screaming. The removal men left without saying goodbye.
“Right,” Tom said, “I’m off to Greaty for a pint.” He didn’t come back from Liverpool till after eleven. Sally didn’t mind, it meant she could get on with getting the house into some semblance of order. She made Richie and Paula help.
The next morning Sally got up to find a removal van outside. The people on her left were leaving. The house on her right was already empty.
“Going back to Walton,” the woman told her. “Nothing for us here now, there’s no work.”
“No work?” Sally echoed.
“Not since Thorn’s and Courtauld’s left. Everyone’s in the same boat.”
“My husband works for himself,” Sally said, hefting Charm on her hip. It sounded good. Self- employed, that’s what they’d told the Development Corporation in order to get the house.
“Good luck to you girl, we’re off. Ta-ra now.” She waved as she got into the waiting car.
A woman came from the next street; she was employed by the Corporation to welcome new people on the estate. She showed Sally how to work the central heating and told her where the shops were. Sally took the kids to the school on the estate. The headmaster said she’d done the right thing, bringing them out of Croxteth to the new town. Richie at ten was just that age when boys could start going wrong. It wasn’t like that in Skelmersdale, the kids would have a better chance, he said.
Sally walked to Digmoor Parade with Charm in her pushchair. She saw a removal van on the way. She saw another on the way back. Lots of houses were empty.
Tom didn’t come back from work. He came in drunk just before midnight. Sally was still unpacking. “Wasn’t worth coming all the way back here and then going back to Greaty,” he slurred.
“There’s a nice pub round the corner – The Highwayman,” Sally said.
“But me mates aren’t there, are they?” His voice turned nasty. Sally got his supper.
Richie and Paula loved the new house, the school, the town. They could play out safely in the pedestrianised squares. There were plenty of other kids to play with.
Sally took Charm to the mother and toddler group in the church. She got to know some of the other mums. She told them all her husband was an antiques dealer. Bella invited her to a Tupperware party. Most of the other women round her square were about her age, had kids the same age as hers. They went to the Highway on Saturday nights with their husbands.
“Couldn’t we try it?” Sally tried to sweet talk Tom but he wasn’t having any.
Nobody in either of their families would come up to Skem to babysit. It was like they’d moved to another country, not just a few miles out of Liverpool. Tom wanted Sally to come down to his local on Great Homer Street on Saturday nights, or to Yates’s wine lodge in town where his parents drank, but it meant dragging the kids down to her mum’s and bringing them back in the middle of the night or even the next morning if they got invited back to someone’s house after the pubs shut.
A pattern developed. Tom would leave early in the mornings and come home drunk, late every night. Sally spent her days cleaning and decorating the new house. She was still in love with the comfort and efficiency of it: the cupboard space, the multiple plug sockets, the central heating. They had four bedrooms, the kids had a room each. She planted daffodil and tulip bulbs in the garden ready for the spring.
The rest of her time she spent walking with Charm in the pushchair, down to the park behind the Concourse and the wooded valley where the Tawd River ran through, although it was only a stream. The terrible heatwave that had lasted all summer was over and it was heaven to walk through the cool greenery and watch it gradually change to autumn colours as the weeks went by.
Sometimes she went up through Tanhouse, past an old farm, up as far as Ashurst Beacon, where you could see for miles, see all of Skem spread out below. In Croxteth, she’d walked to Walton Hall Park or to Croxteth Hall, even down the East Lancs Road to find open fields but it hadn’t been real country, not like this.
Everywhere in Skem there were grass and trees. The day Sally had come up on the bus to look at the house, all that green, towering up to the sky in a constant motion of waving leaves, had just blown her mind despite the deadening summer heat. Now the whole town was a glory of gold and orange, jewelled here and there with scarlet berries.
But when she walked through the estates more and more of the houses were boarded up like bad teeth in an ailing mouth. Every day she watched trucks and lorries loading up people’s possessions, taking families back to Liverpool. Once, taking a different route home from the Concourse she came across a whole estate of half built houses, left abandoned. Unfitted baths and toilets idled in the unfinished streets. Blocks of bricks and wood stacks languished in a landscape bereft of human activity as if the workmen had been vaporized on the job.
Richie and Paula whined as new found friends disappeared one by one. The squares grew quieter, the silence of empty houses hanging over the rooftops like smog. It was as if the town had a disease, was slowly dying from the inside out from some invisible cause.
One night Tom didn’t come home till 3a.m. He’d run the car into a ditch on the moss road over from Rainford and he’d had to walk back in the rain.
“I’ve had enough of this,” he growled. “Let’s move back home. I know someone who’ll do an exchange with us for a flat on Everton Brow.”
“Everton Brow? They’re those big high rise things, aren’t they?”
“Well, at least we’ll be back home,” Tom said, “and it’s handy for the scrapyard.”
‘And the pub’ Sally thought. “I’m not going back,” she said. “I like it here and it’s good for the kids.”
It was true, the kids were thriving. The new town was safer. There were no joyriders, hardly any one had a car to be stolen; less burglaries and definitely no IRA bomb scares. And there was a camaraderie developing amongst the people who remained. They were streetwise and tough. No one had any money. The women drank coffee in each other’s kitchens, minded each other’s kids.
“Must be nice, your husband being in antiques,” Bella said, inspecting a broken down old chair Tom had brought in.
“Actually, he’s a rag and bone man,” Sally said. They both laughed then fell to planning a street party for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee the following summer.
Sally knew Tom would go before long. He couldn’t adapt to the new town. She would stay. She had glimpsed a different way of life for herself and her family. She would manage on her own. Bella was a single parent, so was her other friend Abby. They were all on their uppers now, like the town, but once Charm went to school she would find some kind of work, get an education. The town would grow, it had to. More people would come.
First published in Tales From A New Town an anthology by Skelmersdale Writers’ Group.