With one thing and another, I hadn’t visited my hometown of Liverpool for some time. But recently I’d been thinking about it a lot, especially my family and friends there. And added to this was the article I wrote last month for The Independent, about anti-fascists coming to the city.
On Sunday however, I found myself at the end of the M62 motorway after a short stop in Manchester and Warrington. As I got on to Queen’s Drive I passed my former high school en-route to my first engagement in the city, which was at the Liverpool Anglican Cathedral. Although I was raised a Catholic and spent a lot of time at the Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral at the other end of ‘Hope’ Street, I’d spent a lot of time at this church too. This time however, it was for a very special occasion.
In 1989 I left primary school in Toxteth and headed off to secondary in Childwall from my new home in Wavertree and just over a year ago I was invited back to my former high school, to give the graduation speech to those leaving. I hadn’t been back there for 20 years, so it was a humbling experience. But, this visit to the Liverpool Cathedral was to meet two of my teachers from my Toxteth primary school after we had arranged it via email. Our correspondence was funny, with one of them telling me her grandchildren had ‘set her up’ on the internet! I hadn’t seen my primary headteacher for over 20 years and nursery teacher for 26 years, so you can imagine my excitement when I saw their faces after mass.
I have written a lot about race over the years and advocate for a better understanding between people of the human race and here was me a 6-foot stocky guy with short hair, brown skin and a somewhat now-weird accent hugging two older white ladies in the cathedral with no one around us having a care in the world, about what colour we were. It was a joyous moment and an emotional one for me, as these two women had reminded me of my innocence as a child. I’d always enjoyed school, both primary and secondary, and was sad when I left them. I’ve often told people, they were the best years of my life. And despite the passage of time of two decades, both my primary school teachers who are now retired looked just how I remembered them in the 1980s. My nursery teacher’s husband was the Dean of Liverpool before the current Archbishop of Canterbury, so he like her was an inspiring figure in the city.
After I left the cathedral, I took myself for a brief walk through the city centre streets and found myself reminiscing as I walked along Bold Street in the same footsteps I took as a boy. This was a surreal experience, and one which made me feel happy. Then, it was on to see my siblings and my mum’s grave which is always a sombre experience. But, I take some comfort that she is now at peace. I did however feel guilty that I’d not been to see my family for over a year and shame had a lot to do with this, which I’ve been battling for a long time. My public dispute with the police over the years had knocked my confidence and I’ve often felt too battered and bruised to visit home, and remember the good times.
However, I soon had forgotten about my own troubles after meeting two new nephews and a niece who had been born since my last visit home. Seeing another three children added to the family, reminded me of my beloved late mother’s legacy. Even though cancer had taken our family matriarch away, I felt proud and lucky. I was once again a great-uncle, and learned that soon I will be a ‘great-great’ one. If I manage to make it another 20 years of life, I no doubt will be a great-great-great uncle. How mad is that?
Under difficult circumstances, my mother did an amazing job raising one short of a dozen mixed-raced children in inner-city Liverpool single-handily. If I could meet her again, I would tell her just how proud I am of her and that only now as an adult myself have I truly understood her strength and wiseness in the face of such adversity. She was a force to be reckoned with, and remains my inspiration. I did however take comfort from my primary school headteacher, who said my mother would be proud of me.
My visit to Liverpool could only be a short one, and one which I had time to see those family members with young children. But considering I’d not been there for a long time, I felt somewhat uneasy to be leaving — like, the city was my comfort blanket. A place, I’ve not actually lived in for seventeen years. People say your hometown never leaves you, and it is so true. I was born a Scouser, and most definitely will die one. I’ve lived in Manchester and London, but my heart has always been in Liverpool. As I sat on the train back to the capital writing this, I left a piece of me behind.
Only now, have I realised why so many of those I schooled with who moved out of the city and started families are now returning home. For the time being with my new creative endeavours I have to be in London, but I hope one day to return to Liverpool like others have — one, all the way from Australia via New Zealand and another from Scotland. Liverpool, is in your blood.
The banks of the River Mersey is the place I begun my life; its adventure and roller coaster, and the place I have no doubt I will end it. But before this whilst there’s some life left in the old dog, I hope now through my writing and other work I am able to leave a positive contribution to the city and a legacy that it can be proud of. I will always be a son of Liverpool, no matter where I am.
Take care, Max.