“Liverpool has always made me brave, choice-wise. It was never a city that criticised anyone for taking a chance.” (David Morrissey)

This week I’m spending a few days in the beautiful city of Liverpool, a place whose frankly bonkers mix of ridiculously over the top neo-classicist buildings at every turn, alongside strictly utilitarian constructions harking back to their industrial past, fair warms the cockles of my heart. So for this post I thought I’d look at a couple of writers who are proud Scousers.

Firstly, the writer who immediately sprung to mind when I thought of Liverpool, the wonderful Beryl Bainbridge.  The Bottle Factory Outing (1974) is one of the five of Dame Beryl’s novels nominated for the Booker, which she never won because the patriarchy who dominated critics and committees consistently underestimated her writing and subject matter, why is a mystery.

I love Beryl’s face so much I couldn’t limit myself to one picture 🙂

The titular outing is undertaken by a group of workers from a wine-bottling factory. Freda has organised it because she has designs on the heir to the business, Vittorio. Brenda, her flatmate and frenemy, does not want to go, and never wanted to work there in the first place.

“Patiently Freda explained that it wasn’t a bottle factory, it was a wine factory – that they would be working alongside simple peasants who had culture and tradition behind them. Brenda hinted she didn’t like foreigners – she found them difficult to get on with. Freda said it proved how puny a person she was, in mind and body.

‘You’re bigoted,’ she cried. ‘And you don’t eat enough.’

To which Brenda did not reply.”

Freda and Brenda are very different. Freda is a one-woman hurricane, sweeping aside anything in her path. Brenda is being molested by one of the managers and doesn’t know how to stop it:

“As a child she had been taught it was rude to say no, unless she didn’t mean it. If she was offered another piece of cake and she wanted it she was obliged to refuse out of politeness. And if she didn’t want it, she had to say yes, even if it choked her.”

Needless to say, all of this will come to a head during the day of the works outing…

If you like Beryl Bainbridge, you’ll like this, as in many ways it is typical of her. A short novel, the story told in simple language which belies its deeply disturbing subject matter. And that subject matter is human beings.  Bainbridge turns her unsentimental eye on relationships between people and finds them unpredictable and unsettling. At every turn, horror is narrowly avoided.

“Brenda wanted to say that she looked like a long-distance lorry driver in the sheepskin coat, that she was a big fat cow, that she had wobbled like a jelly on the back of the funeral horse. She wanted to hurt her, watch her smooth round face crumple. But when it came to it, all she could murmur was, ‘Sometimes you’re very difficult to live with.’”

Until it isn’t. When the horror strikes, it feels both inevitable and deeply shocking. Bainbridge is breathtakingly brilliant, I’d forgotten how much so. She sees everything as slightly warped and off-kilter, and for the duration of her short, punchy novels, you are right there with her. She’s never a comfortable read, but she’s always a compelling one.

A little curiosity for you. Before she turned to writing Beryl was an actor.  Here she is in soap opera/national institution Coronation Street:

Secondly, a poet who writes for both kids and adults, and as such his witty verse has followed me throughout my life (including to my Dad’s wedding where I read Vow). Roger McGough, alongside Brian Patten and Adrian Henri, is one of of the Liverpool poets. He also performed as part of Scaffold, with John Gorman and brother-of-Paul, Mike McCartney. Impressive sideburn alert:

I’ve chosen a quick poem, by no means his best, but I saw Mike McCartney read this live once when I was about 12 or so; it was probably the first of McGough’s adult poetry I heard, and its stuck with me ever since.  Also, a play I saw at the Everyman while I was here – a theatre McGough helped make part of the Liverpool scene  – included a song & dance about the death of Maggie Thatcher, so his leftist politics are at the forefront of my mind.

Conservative Government Unemployment Figures by Roger McGough

Conservative Government?

Unemployment?

Figures.

A tweetable poem written years before the advent of twitter. With a UK general election looming, I’ll leave you to decide if it’s still relevant or not…

To end, the man himself, replete with lyrical Scouse accent, reading his poem with the irresistible title of Mafia Cats:

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22 thoughts on ““Liverpool has always made me brave, choice-wise. It was never a city that criticised anyone for taking a chance.” (David Morrissey)

  1. Enjoyed this post hugely – my partner is from Liverpool so we spend time there frequently and that description of the architecture probably applies to the range of fashion every Saturday night! I love the city and love Beryl Bainbridge but didn’t know she was from Liverpool till I read your post! I read Bottle Factory for a Beryl Bainbridge Reading Week a few years back and loved it’s spikeiness ( if there’s such a word!). As for Roger McGough he was a favourite to read aloud when I was a Primary teacher – his novel The Great Smile Robbery was my favourite book and two of its chapter titles ‘Fate Lends A Hand!’ and ‘Fate Wants Its Hand Back’ were so oft- quoted in our house they’ve become our family vocabulary for good and bad luck!

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    • I’m so glad you liked it! Yes, I’ve learnt weekend socialising is a serious business in this city 😉Yesterday I saw a hen party in full regalia making a start at 1.30pm. And the women in their huge curlers doing their shopping – as someone who starts getting ready a maximum of 20 minutes before it’s time to go I was very impressed!

      I also associate Beryl with that big crammed house in Camden, but London was her adopted city. Spikiness is definitely a word, and perfect for The Bottle Factory, it’s very spiky.

      Primary school is where I first discovered McGough, he’s great for that age group. I may also start using ‘Fate wants Its Hand Back’ for bad luck – it will cheer me up in times of adversity 😀

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  2. I loved Beryl’s An Awfully Big Adventure when I read it last year and would love to try more from her. Bottle Factory is the one I’ve had my eye on so it’s great to see you recommending it too. I like the sound of the slightly skewed/off-kilter perspective – it makes things more interesting.

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  3. I haven’t read any Bainbridge but have Harriet Said… in my TBR stack – is this a good place to start? (not sure why I have that one in particular).
    Those sideburns sure made my Saturday night (that I’m spending in but even if I had gone out, not sure anything could top those sideburns).

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve not read Harriet Said, but I’ve a feeling Lady Fancifull reviewed it a while ago and enjoyed it. She’s a reliable source of good reads! Although I may have totally imagined that review, I should really check…

      Those sideburns are something else aren’t they?! I believe they parted ways with the rest of Scaffold over creative differences and went on to form their own spin-off group 😉

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  4. Wonderful post! Mafia Cats made me bark with laughter! I’m glad you rate Beryl Bainbridge so highly since I’ve just bought myself Harriet Said which will be my introduction to her writing. Not sure how I’ve managed to avoid her all my life because every review I read of her makes me feel we’re destined to be friends…

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    • Mafia Cats is just brilliant isn’t it 😀 I think you’ll like Beryl, FF. At least, I hope you do! She writes very economically (and I know we agree on this being a virtue) but never at the expense of the story. I’ll look forward to hearing what you make of her!

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  5. You are right Madame Bibi, I did review Harriet Said. I adore Beryl. And her amazing, magnificent face. I have some very fond memories of a couple of months, working in Liverpool, many years ago. I love the fierce energy and spike, which of course Bainbridge ‘s writing has. And I agree with your crossed out, ironic conclusions ‘re Beryl and prizes!

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    • My memory is awful, but clearly your excellent blogging lodges in there somewhere! I must read Harriet Said. Fierce energy and spike is absolutely right, for both Beryl and the city 🙂 It’s a disgrace she never won the Booker!

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  6. Best post EVER! I loved The bottle factory outing so it was wonderful to be reminded with your inductive review, and I had no idea that Beryl was in Corrie! I’m also a huge fan of Roger Mcgough so the clips of the Scaffold and mafia cats were a real treat. I feel it only right to celebrate such riches by taking my white flared trouser suit out from the mothballs and giving it an airing. Now where did I put my platforms?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Sarah! I’m really keen to read more Beryl now, I’ve let her slip for too long. It’s so random her being in Corrie isn’t it?

      I so enjoyed choosing Roger McGough clips for this post, he is such a joy 😀

      I’m really hoping you locate those items in your wardrobe and change your profile picture accordingly!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I love Beryl (and indeed her face, so much character!) and also had no idea she was in Corrie!! People like Roger McGough remind me of all I’ve forgotten, those people who we’ll ask each other if we remember when we’re in the nursing home, people whom the next generation have likely no idea about. I’ve taken to suggesting a Pam Ayres poem about motherhood to people when arranging funerals as it’s warm and not miserable, and I feel I’m doing my bit for those whose heydays were the 70s and 80s. 🙂

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    • The Corrie thing just seems so unlikely! Roger/Pam & their ilk are from another time, aren’t they? That kind of affectionate, witty verse seems to be out of fashion, which is such a shame. I’m trying to push his kids verse onto my young nieces, so our efforts hopefully mean they won’t be forgotten! I’ll google the Pam Ayres poem, thanks for letting me know 🙂

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