I met him at Butlins, Pwhelli in 1970. All the Bootle boys were there for the season in those days. Not that I’d ever heard of Bootle, nor met boys like that before; and never knew what a ‘season’ was outside those, I’d read about in library books and which were held in long ago London society. Nothing so dashing as an untouchable redcoat of course: He drove an old blue "Ford Transit" van around inside the wire, but he was exciting and very old...probably at least nineteen.

Mind you, everything was exciting then. It was my first holiday without parents. I was supposed to go to Minehead but it was overbooked so they sent us to North Wales where everyone spoke in another language: Scouse.

We danced in the disco. He thought my accent was strange; I couldn’t understand his. Nothing much happened as far as he was concerned.

The lads from Bootle were there for the women and he got stuck with a seventeen year old virgin from deepest Wiltshire for the week. He tried hard, but I knew if I gave in I might get pregnant and never be allowed out of the county again. So, he persisted and I resisted, but I went to visit him in Bootle later in the year and got pregnant there instead. But, hey, I’ve rushed ahead and given the game away.

Bootle was an eye-opener for a girl from bungalow-land down in the Southern sticks. Rows and rows of little overcrowded terraced houses in roads where people passed the greater part of their days by shouting at each other in a pleasant and non-threatening sort of way.

Nobody had a job and no one had any money, because there weren’t any jobs. It wasn’t that they didn’t want a job: the city had died they said. Apart from chasing women, this was the reason why all the young men went off to Butlins every March.

I swanned into a tiny front room in my new C & A purple maxi coat and pink crocheted beret without a rumour of self-consciousness. Actually, it was the front and the back room as there was just the one. You could barely see to the other side through the smog. It was packed with hundreds of members of the extended family from new babies through children, siblings and aunties to the oldest of uncles and all of them were smoking, even those with prams. It was hard to keep up with the language of this hinterland: folk spoke too quickly and used words I’d never heard of like ‘frig’. Frigging seemed very popular as did cups of tea, which were mashed or brewed continuously to wash down the fags.

After the crowds had dispersed, I was left with him and his mum. There wasn’t a dad and hadn’t been for many years. Using the loo was an adventure as it was in the back yard and very dark. I can’t remember a bathroom, but, somehow, they had found me a bedroom, which he never attempted to enter so maybe he went somewhere else to sleep. Or maybe he was frightened of his mother, I was.

She seemed to be exceptionally old and wrinkled with straggly hair and nicotine stains up to the elbow. She coughed a lot and often disappeared to some unknown destination leaving us, some dinner on the stove. It was a specialty of Liverpool, confusingly also called Scouse: a sort of stew made with gristle. It was possibly the worst thing I’d ever tasted apart from tomatoes, which I hadn’t yet grown into.

There was a small television and a record player. We went into Liverpool and he said he felt like the only man on an island of female shoppers. Bootle boys didn’t do shopping. Well, they wouldn’t as they had no money.

The shops were huge in comparison with those at home. He showed me the Adelphi Hotel and was shocked that I’d never heard of it. He showed me the Liver Birds. I thought it was a comedy programme. He took me on the ferry across the Mersey and I knew what that was, although I hated Gerry and the Pacemakers. One day he borrowed a car and took me to Southport which I thought was grey. I bought a trendy suit and an LP of 'Five Bridges' by Nice to the accompaniment of which I allowed him to take my virginity as a reward.

Then I got on a coach and went home. Dad and mum were relieved. They were horrified when I announced I was going to Bootle, fearing I might get into all sorts of trouble. And they were right. Some time later, a friend and I decided to hitch-hike to Liverpool to look for him. Having learned nothing, we went to a seedy guest house near Lime Street station where an ancient crone with a heavily bandaged arm, who spent her time chewing on an old piece of meat, rented us a room.

In the evening, my friend and I went to a nearby pub but found it intimidating and lacking in cider which was the only drink we knew. In the morning, the cheerfully chewing crone apologised for the noise in the night which we’d slept through.
She said her husband had had a heart attack but that she’d given him a pill and he was better now.

We escaped and somehow found our way to Bootle, but the house seemed to have disappeared. We asked a man on the street, if he knew that boy and, unsurprisingly, found that he was related.

The house had been demolished, the mother was dead and the last he’d heard was that the lad from Bootle had gone to work on a holiday camp in Portugal.
My friend and I tried to look for Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields or somebody who knew John Lennon.

We were out of our depth in that mythical city. I never returned.

(from the Of Time and the City website community)

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This story was added on 17th September 2010

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