In the north of
Giving a reading in Crosby, just outside Liverpool, sometime in the early 1990s I’d found myself in a time warp. In an upstairs pub room full of seeping conversation and the beepboop of guitars from somewhere below I unfurled my folder to read to an audience of new-agers, street walkers, locals, men in duffels and reefer jackets. Women with piled yellow hair and giant hoop earrings, wearing black tights below white short dresses, smoking, drinking dark beers, and with docs and working boots doubling as town shoes below the cast iron tables. I began. It’s great, I said, looking out through the window the rain-specked dark and buses passing and the street lights following the line of the Mersey estuary, to be here at last, Liverpool, capital of North Wales. Celtic silence. I could have said capital of Montenegro for all the connection I made. Nothing. Not a flicker.
Later, in those damp streets, I walked through some place that wasn’t England either. Walked back to my digs at a converted seminary where nuns from Ireland helped the Catholic Church by putting up strangers for money. You’re from Wales, the sister told me when I’d checked in. In case I didn’t know. She’d showed me to my cell with its giant crucifix on the wall above the bed. Wales as it might have been if it hadn’t been for Henry and the bedrock of the Celtic Church. That word again.
Would you like a cup of tea and a slice of cake? I nod. The sister goes away and returns ten minutes later, tray in hand. She sits, to wait. She’s clearly here until I finish. I’ll be turning the lights out at eleven, she says. You’ll need to be very quiet. The sisters all rise early to pray. I have a single sheet and the damp cold seeps in through my cell’s single window.
Liverpool has much more than a passing Welsh connection. It’s a city giant, by our standards, sitting there right on the northern border. It turns on its radio in the morning and blasts Liverpool at the whole of the north Wales coastal belt. Today it is the place you visit for big stores, for the M&S that Flint does not possess, for Gap and Next and Waterstones. For the buzz and the culture and then the clubs and bars and the dope and the drinking. The Welsh connection has been there as long as Liverpool has. Lliferpwll. Lerpwl. Still really ours.
An earlier version of this post appeared as The Insider in the Western Mail. #182