We did say, I say we but I mean I, that we weren’t going to publish anything from the new book between then and now but this has done quite well in a recent competition and can be considered a bit of a must for any Wirral resident.
Apologies to Kevin Maher for stealing the name of his old band.
The Hooton Three Car
Bache Station, Chester. 2012
Ricky helped his grandfather up the stairs and they took a seat for him to get his breath back. He didn’t mind giving up his Saturday to take his grandpa to the funeral of his best pal, Walter. No-one else seemed keen to make the effort, and he was clearly too distraught to make the journey on his own. Ricky had never seen him affected by anything before. In real terms this may have been because Ricky still had not had time too. Eighty years separated them, his grandad, recently ninety, had always been impeccably dressed in a shirt and tie at the very least and never seemed flustered by the tussles of everyday life. Today he looked different, and Ricky hoped to be there for him.
“Train’s coming, Grandad. Shall I help you up?” Ricky asked.
“You’re a good lad, Ricky, but I didn’t need help getting out the trenches, so I’ll get on the train myself.” He replied, ruffling Ricky’s hair as reward.
The direct train to Liverpool Central would take them to the church where Walter’s funeral would be held with a brief change at Hamilton Square to take them to Birkenhead Park.
“Just one change. Some things in modern life are getting better. Not so long ago, the electric line only went as far as Hooton. Then it was a diesel bone-shaker to Chester. Always roasting, lovely in winter, insufferable in the summer. Grandma would always say, “Hooton 3-car”. The old man said with a gleam of nostalgia in his eye.
The announcer’s voice came through the intercom system. “Welcome to this 1052 service to Liverpool Central, calling at Capenhurst…”
“You’re meant to run with the bayonet up, you bloody fool.” Walter told his best pal Archie. Both were completing their hurried basic training before joining the Cheshire Regiment. They had enjoyed the spirit of the camp and were genuinely pleased to get the three square meals and a roof over their heads into the bargain. Some of the company was suspect, but in general, the first year of WWII had not been so bad.
Archie missed Beryl, and Walter missed Audrey, but everyone missed someone. As the summer ended, the regiment formed and set off for the final training in Aldershot, before heading off to France. It seemed like quite an adventure at the time, it did for everybody, but that would not last.
ANNOUNCER: calling at Capenhurst, Hooton…
Beryl opened the letter with the trepidation that she always felt before one of Archie’s correspondence. Nearly four years at war was changing his prose, and though she knew the things he wrote about barely scratched the surface. She wondered if this war would ever end, if Archie would come back, and would she recognise him. She read:
“how can a place of this beauty be the theatre of so much hatred. I no longer know who is the enemy, we believe we are right, but so do they. Life has taken on a cheaper meaning than ever, before they took prisoners, now they kill as they have nowhere to take us. We walk among ghosts. I begin to fear my love for you alone will not be enough to see me through this….”
ANNOUNCER: calling at Capenhurst, Hooton, Eastham Rake…
“It’ll have to do. We can’t afford anything else. You should be grateful to my parents for letting us have this.” Beryl bellowed at Archie.
He knew she was right. Nearly a year he had been back, but the nightmares still raged, and the unemployment queues got longer. He knew her parents did not want them there, but until he could find a job… They nervously made love in the evenings, dreaming of making up for lost time but more often fearful of the image of the Virgin Mary that guarded over the bed, and the saintly mother-in-law in the next room.
The next day there was a letter for Archie. He had finally been taken on in the refinery.
ANNOUNCER: calling at Capenhurst, Hooton, Bromborough…
They were never going to send an ambulance. Walter brought his car round and they huddled Beryl in. This was heading towards her fourth miscarriage and the doctors warned her that future conceptions could be harmful to her health.
She had almost gone full term this time. Eight months and a day, but when she felt the pain she had felt three times before, she knew the ending would be the same. This time, the child was born alive. She held his skin against hers and watched him fight for breath. But there was little fight, and little hope. An hour later, they were cleaning Beryl so that she could exit the room.
ANNOUNCER: calling at Capenhurst, Hooton, Bromborough, Bromborough Rake…
Bromborough Rake 1958
“If it will get us a family, it’s money well spent.” Archie told Beryl as they waited to see the private specialist. She was practically dead inside. She had been told his directly by NHS staff, and nicely by the private doctor. The result was the same. She would never have children and could most likely die in the birthing process if she got there again. They walked back to their modest terraced house, Archie taking her hand as she looked longingly at every pram they passed.
ANNOUNCER: calling at Capenhurst, Hooton, Bromborough, Bromborough Rake, Spital…
One too many glasses of cider at the Three Stags, and a walk through Brotherton Park and the pair were like a couple of besotted teenagers. Life had not been overly unkind. Archie had had a good career at the refinery and moved to a larger one with a position of more responsibility. They soon forgot about the possibility of being seen as they made love upright against a tree, Archie lost in the throes of passion. Once they accepted that the act would be for pleasure rather than business, pleasure was duly taken from it. They finished up and dusted themselves down, rather foolishly checking the coast was clear after the event, and made their way back to the road.
ANNOUNCER: calling at Capenhurst, Hooton, Bromborough, Bromborough Rake, Spital, Port Sunlight…
Port Sunlight 1971
It would have been a cruel joke. At this stage. That day in the park did bear fruit. And Beryl, despite being forty-seven enjoyed a relatively incident-free pregnancy. Archie was given another promotion that saw him take on one of the delightful houses in Port Sunlight village that they had always dreamed of.
One night, Beryl felt a twinge and the puddle on the floor informed them it was time to go to the hospital. There was no fear as she pushed, so much did she desire this moment that the pain was almost part of the hamper. And push she did, and out came a boy. Yet there was more pushing to be done. And a girl appeared. They laughed and took two healthy children home two days later.
ANNOUNCER: calling at Capenhurst, Hooton, Bromborough, Bromborough Rake, Spital, Port Sunlight, Bebington…
Of course, there were times when the screaming, shouting and hating took centre stage, this was family life. But the day the twins finished their “A” Levels and got places at the universities they wanted was a moment that both would treasure for the rest of their lives.
The daughter, Susan, wasted no time in celebrating with her friends. A quick livener in The Wellington, before taking the train to Liverpool. As she exited the pub, full of joy and wonderment at the life before her, she never had a moment to see the drunk-driver careering down Bebington Road onto the pavement.
ANNOUNCER: calling at Capenhurst, Hooton, Bromborough, Bromborough Rake, Spital, Port Sunlight, Bebington, Rock Ferry…
Rock Ferry 1992
Susan’s loss would eventually consume Beryl. Of course, there was still Mike, but their relationship was the same. Until. Until Ricky appeared and made her a grandmother. That first year caring for the baby restored Beryl’s frail health, gave her a purpose and verve for the last months of her life. With Ricky in her arms, in her favourite armchair, she kissed the infant’s forehead and said “pass that on to Grandad for me.” and left.
ANNOUNCER: calling at Capenhurst, Hooton, Bromborough, Bromborough Rake, Spital, Port Sunlight, Bebington, Rock Ferry, Green Lane…
Green Lane 2012
“I’ll tell you one thing, Walter. I never let my bayonet down.” Archie joked.
Walter tried to force a smile, as once again the hospice staff told him not to exert himself. “They brought me here to die and then tell me to take it easy. What’s the worst that can happen?” Walter said. Both laughed and cried at the same time as they hurriedly recapped a friendship lasting eight decades.
ANNOUNCER: calling at Capenhurst, Hooton, Bromborough, Bromborough Rake, Spital, Port Sunlight, Bebington, Rock Ferry, Green Lane, Birkenhead Central…
“It’s our stop next, Grandad.” Ricky said, gently awakening his travelling companion. “Looks like quite a dream you were having there! Hamilton Square next, then we change. Let me put your tie straight.”
“You’re a good lad, Ricky. Grandad’s proud of you.” Archie smiled at the boy who immediately looked away bashfully.
With that the train entered the tunnel and Archie decided that for however long he was to remain here, he would not fear the darkness.
“Goodnight Susan. Goodnight Beryl. Goodnight Archie.”