Birkenhead, England

By Kenn Taylor

With all the will in the world/Diving for dear life/When we could be diving for pearls
Elvis Costello ‘Shipbuilding’

Even the tiniest sound bounces right round thee hall as me feet kick through the bits of rust and crap that lie dotted around the concrete. The floor’s damp in places were the leaking roof has allowed puddles to form, mingling with the left-over grease te form shiny patterns. Bits of pipe and rod lie in piles, one of the old side cranes sways and a piece of the plastic sheeting that covers the holes in the walls billows out. Lookin up and down the vast expanse, I try an remember what it had been like when this place mattered, when it was filled with dozens of machines an hundreds of people thundering away, making ships hulls rise out of base metal. When I stared at Laird’s in ‘63 as an apprentice there were twenty thousand people working here ye know. 20,000. Say that number again and try to imagine the sight of twenty-thousand people leaving work at once. To arrive aged 15 was overwhelmin.

I still remember going to work for the first time. I was apprenticed to a guy who had been in the War. My foreman introduced me to him after getting me papers from the office. He was a decent guy, good teacher. You had to get the job done like, it was all piecework then and he wasn’t happy if your slack lost him money. It was hard bastard work too, and nowhere to wash, going home in shitty, greasy clothes, doused in red lead. He told me about the old toilets they’d just got rid of, just a bloody trough with a bar across it, all these fellahs inside sitting in a row like budgies discussing Tranmere Rovers and asking each other for lights. The noise in the yard was horrendous too, sitting in a tank with three or four riveters going at it, that why so many of them are deaf now. But it was still better than Dock labourin or sitting on a production line. You put up with it to learn a trade. The money wasn’t bad n’all. Three years in I was a fully fledged tradesman and as long as you got the job done, you could have a chat and a fag and a brew. Watch the sun go down over the river. Talk about the lasses and the football and then go down to the Royal Castle for a pissup. It was all startin to end even then though.

I met Martha at a dance on the ferry. Looked top in my togs I did, no Docker could afford a suit like I had. We danced an, as it started to go dark, I pointed to the hulls on our side of the river and said tha I was building those ships. “All by yourself eh?” she said and laughed. I told her to come along to the launch and she did. To see thee whole town and a big chunk of Liverpool out on launch day was a dam good reward.  Me and Martha went to the cinema afterwards. And after that we were rarely apart.

We got one of the new Council houses out on the Ford estate in ‘69 and our Paul was born a year later. You’d didn’t hang about in them days. It was a good house, three bedrooms and a small garden front and back. The kind that me mam would have dreamed of, and we hadn’t been too badly off living in Tranmere. The estate was allright too. There was a pub, that was all I needed, and loadsa grass for the kids to play on. There was even a swimming pool over on the Woodchurch. We saved up and got a Ford Escort an rented a caravan in Rhyl. Tracey was born in ‘71 and we called it a day after that. The money was getting a worry too by then. The nuclear sub contracts had ended and Lairds were laying off left, right and centre. I ended up taking redundancy that year because I’d heard they were taking on at Vauxhalls in Ellsemere Port to make the new Viva. I always swore I’d stay away from factory work, but they pay was better and it was more secure. I had a family to keep together now.

I hated it though, the endless, dull rhythm of the line. Supposed to be a modern factory and yet here we were stuck in this massive, dark building with machinery towering above us at all angles. It was less noisy than the yard but the work was so constrictin. Me neighbour used to ask why, with the employee discount, I didn’t buy a Vauxhall. I told him, “I build the damn things; I’ve got more sense than to buy one.” The hopes of more money were largely dashed too, if I could get to work without stoppages then maybe. I’ve always been a union man, paid my dues to the GMB since I was an apprentice and I remained so at Vauxhalls. We’d walk out first sign of any bullshit from the bosses but these guys looked for reasons to kick off, all these hot-headed young lads going onto me about the dialectical materialism and the revolution. “After the match and me tea I’ll think about it,” I used to tell them. I got spat at by one of the little shits once. Then there was the infighting and the grab for membership between AEU, GMB and T&G. Workers of the world unite they say. Ha, maybe if we could stop fighting each other for five fucking minutes. I think, deep down, most of them were trying to do some good you know, but they probably ended up making things worse. The layoffs were starting to bite here too. The Yanks at General Motors who owned it threatened to shut the whole of Vauxhalls down at one point. When we did all go out, I refused to cross the lines of course. I may not have agreed, but I knew better than to show the bosses our divisions. Agitation or not, the moment you break ranks they’ve won. That’s the classic way, divide and conquer. I may not know much about dialectical materialism but I know that. But thing were starting to hurt at home now. The kids needed school uniforms. We had to let the caravan go.

Things weren’t any better at Lairds though. They finally got the new, massive construction hall built, about twenty years after every other yard on the Continent. But the ships got less and less, and the workers got less and less.

I was laid off by Vauxhalls in 1980, one of three thousand. You don’t here of such big layoffs anymore. Not because they don’t happen but because companies have got wise to how damaging that can be. They wind factories down slowly now, demoralising everyone till you’re glad to be given you P45 and go without a fight. We were just one of many getting laid off round here by then though. Dunlop, Lucas, Standard-Triumph, Meccano, Tate and Lyle, GEC, you could go on forever, the numbers were astronomical. Lairds continued to shed too. Mike, the lad next door, was the only son of the neighbours and he was still in the yard, clinging on. Must have been on one of the last proper apprentice intakes. There was talk of converting to build oil rigs for the North Sea boom. “Some hope at least then,” I said. “Some hope, yeah,” he said.

By then I was just one of many unemployed. Martha still worked in the Sayers on Hoole Road and cos of that we weren’t entitled to full benefits either. I had to take the car off the road. It was all coming down and I had no idea how to fight it. I began to wonder if those lads talking about a revolution might have been right. I mean this fucking country voted that iron-knickered cow back in even after what she’d done to us.

Everythin round here got worse and worse. The drug problem really started to kick in, especially around the towers. Kids on Heroin, I mean Heroin, Opium. It’s all so accepted now, but that was something out of the films when I was young. Our lovely new house began to show its true colours too, with the damp and the bad rendering. My dad, who’d been a Brickie, came round and tutted at the half-arsed construction. That was not long before he’d died. He’d been a long-standing union man too, couldn’t believe all that we’d fought for so long was being taken back, and that we were lettin them do it.

I went to the Labour Exchange in town of course, but there was never anything doing. We were all chasing the same disappearing jobs. So I spent more and more time in the pub, The One O’clock Gun. We’d all sit in there, the ex-Lairds men, and drink. I’d always been a drinker, me only real vice, but there was nothing now to stop us. Martha was at Sayers all day, the kids in school. They were doing okay, Paul was good at metalwork and woodwork, or CDT as they’d started calling it. Tracey was good with her numbers and that. So I was on me own. I wasn’t going to sit at home, so it was either the bookies or the pub and I figured it at least at the pub I was guaranteed to get somethin for me money.

I jus needed somethin to keep me occupied, to get us through the day. And being with the lads in the pub it was like the old days in the yard. Cept of course we were spending money not earnin it. I realise now my wife and kids should have been me priority, but I’d become selfish. I’d worked so hard for them for so long and they still needed me and I couldn’t provide for them. I could have been there for them at least, that’s what out Trace told us later all she wanted. But I wanted to be away from them. They’d got me stuck so I couldn’t get out. It wasn’t really their fault a course, but that’s the way I saw it anyway, and I couldn’t deal with it.

It got so I was drinking at home too, arguing with Martha. I slept in till I went the pub. I pissed meself once and she woke up in it. Screamed at me and literally threw me down the stairs, where I stayed ina heap till morning. I woke to find our Paul in his school uniform lookin at me with concern. “You better get going, you’ll be late for school,” I offered. He looked at me, with his face trembling, and then ran off.

Paul and I stopped talking. When I was workin we used to go to all the Rovers home games, but I couldn’t afford that now. I probably wouldn’t have been arsed tho even if I did have the money at that point, truth be told. The pub was closer and better. He’d struck up a friendship with Mike next door, even though he was a few years older. Mike had got his cards from Lairds that year, and so spent all his time fishing at Arrowe Brook and started taking Paul with him. I stayed in the pub and watched the miners go at it. “This is it”, said Ernie, Guinness in one hand, lead for his mangy dog in the other. “If the miners can’t win were all buggered.” Ernie lived in the sheltered housing block. He’d been in Birkenhead for the General Strike in ‘29. I knew then that he was right. I think we all did.  The lads at Lairds had occupied one of the oil rigs they were buildin in protest at job cuts. They’d been arrested and sent to Walton prison, on the same block as murderers and rapists.

The final straw had been over Paul. He’d been missing school to go fishing. Martha was giving him a bollocking when I came home pissed. She started having a go at me then and I had a sore head and I’d just been jostled by a bunch of fucking kids and the Yorkshire miners had turncoated and there was no need to shout so I lashed at her just to stop the noise. None of it is an excuse I know. I never said it was, but that was what happened. She just quietly picked herself up. Tracey started wailing, Paul started punching me in the arm. Martha got them all I walked straight out. I lay on my side and fell asleep.

I stayed there till morning then went straight to Threshers for a bottle of Grouse. When I came back her sister was there with that spare-prick of a husband of hers. They lived in Greasby and thought themselves a cut above. Ha. So they owned a house rather than rented one. Big deal, just as crap as ours, they couldn’t really afford the mortgage n’all I knew. The way they paraded around you’d think he was a fucking lawyer or somethin when he was actually just some sort of manager for Kwik Save and she worked in a flower shop. They were getting Martha and the kids’ stuff. Martha wasn’t there. Her sister scowled at me and spat at my feet. I didn’t flinch. The husband said “You ought to be ashamed.” Not taking that off that tosser. And I swung at him, drawing back at the last-minute. Just enough to make him lurch backwards and his lip quiver. Cunt.

After that things were simpler. I drank. Eat. Shat. Slept. Made no real effort to see the kids other than the odd drunken phone call to Martha when me emotions got the better of me. I was an old drunk and that’s what the kids in the street called me. Martha and the kids stayed at her sisters till they got re-housed on the Woodchurch. I drank and watched Colombo and the football at home. It was getting harder to go the pub now. It had become taken over by little gobshites who wore sports tops an training shoes like they were track stars, so-called hard men that used to make us move if they wanted a seat.

But at least we were famous once more our little town. Ye see Birkenhead was now famous for having the highest rate of heroin addiction in the UK, not for building ocean liners.

I saw our Paul walking down the road one day. I was pissed and I shouted to him. He didn’t recognise me at first. When he did his eyes narrowed and his face when into a snarl and he shouted “Fuck off you wife-beating bastard” and turned to go up Mike’s path. “Paul, it was just the once. I was wrong but I’m sorry son.”

“Fuck off you alchy cunt.” He looked a lot older than when I’d last seen im.

“But I’m your dad.”

“FUCK OFF”. He started jabbing furiously, repeatedly at Mike’s doorbell. Mike opened the door and Paul dashed inside. It was time for another drink.

I went to see Mike later. He was still unemployed too. His dad had died now so it was just him and his frail ‘ol mam. Paul was still coming round. They went fishing, they talked, even went the match now and again. I realised then that he’d been there for him more than I had been for my own flesh and blood. Mike told me that Paul was slipping away from even him though.

It was then I started the struggle. If I was to mean anything to me kids then I had to stop the drinking. It was just me now anyway; the lads didn’t go the pub anymore. There was too much grief from the little scallies. I joined the Alcoholics Anonymous at the Community Centre on Beech Street. There were a few ex-Lairds men there, all ages. But lots of others too, even a Doctor. It can happen to anyone. I began the cure. I found God. I stopped drinking.

There were lapses though, specially when I got home one night and saw an ambulance outside Mike’s. Not his mother, she’d passed away peacefully a few months previous. He’d hanged himself. Left a note saying he had nothing to go on for now so he might as well pack it in. He was always the solitary sort but I never figured him to do that. I had to have a drink after that.

I found out later though somethin even worse. He’d done himself about two weeks before they found him. No one went around you see. Till Paul did. He hadn’t seen him in a year. He was in trouble and went round to ask for some advice. He saw it was all dark and, what no one else had noticed, the pile of mail, so he went over the back gate and saw him hanging through the rear window. Smashed the back door in and had to face two weeks of decay. I nearly lapsed again when I heard that off Tracey.

She started to come around ye see. She had a husband now too, going out since 14, married at 18. She worked for the Council as an accounting technician; she’d done a course at Borough Road Tech. They had a house in Moreton now. Her husband was a nice fellah too. He worked for the GPO but was talking about becoming a driving instructor. They were planning kids and she wanted to reconcile with me. What about Martha. Got another man, younger brother of that spare prick her sister married. A tax officer no less. Christ, some families eh? I felt a lot of regret, but also a pang of happiness for her. Me new faith helped me cope with that and if Trace was willing to forgive then I felt blessed. But what about Paul? It was then she told me about Paul finding Mike.

Paul had dropped out of school not long after he’d moved to Martha’s sisters. He was 16 and went on an YTS at some window firm in Bromborough. They treated him like shit so he packed in, don’t blame him, and he ended up on the dole, gettin to be a family tradition. When they all moved to Woodchurch after the divorce went through he got in with the wrong sort. He needed to belong somewhere, Tracey said. He got into all kinds of trouble shoplifting, taking drugs, vandalism. He got caught graffiting the rail bridge on the old steelworks line by the transport cops. He got away, but his mate got caught. If his mate dobbed in him he knew he’d go down as he’d already been collared for that before. That’s when he went to see Mike for help and found him dead. Trace said he just went into the drugs full on then. Trace only got to find all this out when he went around to hers looking for money. He looked different she said, older and colder. She said we had to be strong together to try an help him. It was all so, so much, the easy relief of the drink called me again, but I knew then that would be the end of everything. This was my last chance. I never drank again after that.

We tried so hard to find Paul. Went to all his old haunts, tried his mates, spent weeks with no luck. Everyone kept stum. We didn’t give up though, me, Trace and her hubby. It was 1992 by now. The announcement came on the radio that unless a buyer was found, the owners would close Lairds next year. ‘Post Cold-War lack of demand for military vessels,’ was the reason the suit gave on the news. Maybe, but much more to do with Thatcher’s government getting £140 million in European Union aid in 1985 on condition of closing nine British shipyards I think you’ll find matey. Our death warrant signed eight years before the sentence was carried out.

Even then it seemed incomprehensible that they wouldn’t be ANY shipbuilding. That tosser Wilson called it “The death of a town” on Granada Reports. “Only putting it out of its misery” I murmured at the box. I mean what else was there here. Heroin. Heroin and my son.

We heard not long after that he’d held up a Spar in Pensby at knife point for the till money. The police were after him as well as us now, but they didn’t have much luck either.

Eventually they did find him, dead on the floor of a bedsit in Oxton. Not an overdose or the AIDS though. Apparently some guy he’d tried to rob had turned around and stabbed him and he’d staggered back to his digs and died. The papers called it poetic justice. I cried till I was hollow.

We buried him in Landican Cemetery. The wife and her lot laid off having a go at me for Trace’s sake. We exchanged no words though. Only glances. All lost in our own private grief. I looked for a long time at the two Liverpool cathedrals ye can see across the river from the Landican, high up on the ridge above the town. I was lookin for some sort of guidance I think, but none came.

I kinda lost me faith then. I thought of killing meself, but there had been enough death already. And it’s a young man’s game that. I didn’t have long to go, that would just be impatience. And I’ve got Tracey and her little one, Hannah. They come around to the house sometimes, but mostly I go to hers. It’s got worse around her. The drugs aren’t as bad since the tower blocks got knocked down, but there seems to be more trouble. There’s even jobs now, they opened a big ASDA on the Woodchurch on top of the old CO-OP factory. But I think you can earn more money selling the drugs and I don’t blame them sometimes. At least then you don’t have to have to put up with some spare prick like that fucking ex brother-in-law of mine telling them what to do. I worked hard but we were free, we had responsibility, we had our own skills which they needed, we were building something, we got paid decent wages.

Even me, the old ex-alchy, managed to rejoin the world of work eventually, fulfilling that cunt Blair’s idea of having us all working away till we collapse. Gives me somethin to do I suppose. So I sit here in the remains of Lairds, in the Portakabin with me flask and the TV and Alan and Nathan and Pete sharin the shifts, keeping an eye on all 150 empty acres. Twenty-thousand people down to four in twenty years, not a bad achievement for the Iron Lady and the Western world I think. And here we wait, until they decide what to do with it all. I go wandering aroun now and again, trying to remember when this big, old place was more than just a collection a decaying sheds full a rats and rusting metal.

They’ve already knocked part of it down. Watchin them blow up the cranes was a real wrench. There’s talk of making tha whole thing into a ‘mixed-used’ development; shops, flats, offices, a marina. And, in the old main building hall, would ye believe it, a snowdome!

New jobs they say. Get the kids to hand out skiing goggles. That’ll get them off the streets. Birkenhead, we used to build big ships, now we do skiing. Better than Heroin I suppose.

Apparently, there’ll even be a museum here as part of it about all the shipbuilding that used to go on. I do wonder if they’ll they’ll put me in it. Yeah, I can see me and my Paul and Mike and the rest of us in glass cases. Here be relics of people who tried to get one with their lives, but their lives ceased to be of any profit to anyone so it was taken away from them. Now, you best do as you’re told or you’ll end up like them. Go forth and Ski.

Yeah, I think that would be a fitting tribute.

This piece was published in Issue 13 of The Crazy Oik in April 2012.

The Bicycle Thieves

By Kenn Taylor

Hear no evil. See no evil. Speak no evil. All three sat in the front of the Transit, faces locked in grimace.

The van’s old heater could not mask the cold of winter. They wore their high-collared, all-weather coats up past their chins and their breath turned into long streams of white mist with every exhalation.

Aaron drove the van around at a steady pace, focused intensely on the road and his labours with the knackered gearbox.

Phil and Ethan sat adjacent on the dual passenger seat. Casting narrow eyes through the murky windscreen for targets and occasionally rubbing their hands for warmth.

Aaron and Phil were the old hands at this game, Ethan the apprentice. They had been working since first light. Out to catch anything good left overnight.

As time passed, dialogue was reduced to a few comments about the cold and remarks on the sight of any prospects. Coughs, squeaky farts and the crunching of the gears were the only other sounds that echoed around the metal box of the van.

The miserable day had reduced even the glow of a successful prize to minimum. It was now midday and they had two bikes in the back already: a fairly decent Scott and a good-but-old racer. More was needed though.

Coming back around the north end of town, they drove down between the Royal and the university and turned into Paddington.

Hoards of students filled the squares that formed the centre of the university. Aaron slowly moved the van over towards the large bike rack by the university branch of the bank.

“They’re jus goin in for their afternoon lectures,” said Aaron, “we’ll wait till it’s all quietend down a bit.”

“Aye yeah,” said Phil.

“Fuckin gormless studes eh?” said Ethan looking towards the others. They stared ahead unmoved.

They parked the van a little distance away from the racks. Even when most of the students had disappeared into the various university buildings, they continued to wait as the engine ticked over and a Radio City DJ chirped away low in the background.

Eventually, as the student body trickled down to a few stragglers, Aaron nodded and Phil got out of the van and walked casually over towards the bike rack.

Adjacent to the rack, there was a CCTV camera high on a pole. Phil pulled his high plastic coat collar a little further up his face. No one would be watching he reckoned, they never were. But, even if they were recording, on the shit grainy video he would now be just another shaven head in a big coat.

In the rack there were four bikes. Phil assessed the scene within a few seconds, glanced around to see if anyone was watching, and then walked back towards the van. He raised his eyebrows a little and smiled at the other two as he approached.

He climbed back in the van and, still looking forwards through the windscreen, said, “There’s a quality Specialized, but it’s got a decent D-Lock on it an, at this time a day, I jus don’t think it’s worth riskin it. We’ll have the saddle off it though; that’s jus bolted on. There’s also a half-decent Dawes racer and a class Kona. We’ll ave both a them. And a piece of shit Raleigh, but I can’t even be arsed carryin it.”

“Nice haul,” said Ethan.

“We aint got anything yet mate,” said Aaron, and he looked Ethan in the eye for the first time in ages. “You hold yer fuckin horses.”

“Let’s jus get it over and done with,” said Phil, and he pushed the van door open again. As it separated from its bent frame it made a popping sound.

Aaron also got out of his side and walked around to the back of the van. He and Phil pulled the back doors open and picked up a set of bolt cutters off the floor.

Leaving the back doors a little ajar, they walked quickly over to the bike rack.

Without speaking, Phil went over to the first bike and snipped its loose chain in an instant, then set to work on the next one. Aaron pulled the first bike free from its holder, lifted it up and rolled it rapidly towards the back of the van.

Ethan, meanwhile, having unscrewed the bolts on the expensive saddle, began to pull it out of the frame.

They all glanced around constantly, but worked in silence.

Ethan pulled the saddle free with a grunt and fell backwards a little with the force of the release. He walked around to place it in the back of the van.

Phil hacked through the last of the chain on the second bike, it had been harder than he had imagined. Grabbing at the crossbar, he prepared to yank it upwards when he heard an intense rushing at the side of his ears.

He was hit in the side of the head with so much force that his whole body swung violently sideways. He heard a cry and ‘Fuck, Phil.’ before his vision turned red then black.

His sight returned within a few seconds and he found himself rolling uncontrollably on the ground. Reflex and long experience made him jump up immediately, but before he could fully regain his feet he was hit in face again, this time he could identify by a foot, and slid sideways into a brick wall, tasting iron in his mouth.

A second kick to the chest knocked the wind out of him and he curled up to protect himself from further blows. But instead he heard a yelp of pain from above and then felt a dead weight slump onto of him.

As Phil struggled to cough out the blood and the chunks of teeth and gum that filled his mouth, he felt his arms get grabbed and his whole body being dragged violently forward. Still dazed, he figured more pain was about to come his way. He braced himself but, even though his arms were being strained in their sockets, he realised he was being lifted up.

As his vision recovered, he could see that it was Ethan that was pulling him forward, holding him by the shoulder and arm. Phil didn’t even have the time to set his legs straight and his feet dragged and kicked as he tried to find balance.

Ethan continued to pull him along aggressively. He stared straight ahead to the road where Phil could see Aaron rapidly turning the van around with the gears grinding loudly again.

Aaron pulled up with the open back doors facing the two of them. Ethan pushed Phil forward straight onto the greasy metal floor and leapt in behind him. Phil looked back and caught a glimpse of a crumpled body slumped by the bike rack as the van moved away. And the bolt cutters covered in dark blood held by Ethan as he pulled shut the doors.

This piece appeared in Issue 12 of The Crazy Oik in January 2012. 

The Workshop

By Kenn Taylor 

The workshop
was his place.

Now he is gone
the tools gather dust
cobwebs forming
dense spiralling sheets
and that moist residue
of cold, outside places
lies thick, undisturbed.

So much of who he was is here
the old Golden Virginia tins
Written on in Tipp-Ex:
Allen Keys
Screws (Head Tapping)
O-rings
Swarfega
all in
neat
sensible
order.

Tools I have no use for
tools I have no skill to use
tools like him.
Old
strong
hard
slow
dependable
cold
tools.

Things of use.
Things that lasted.
Things that mattered.
Making things.
Keeping things.
Just in case.

Taking time
to repair
and make do
Recycling
before it was fashionable.

He was wrong about many things
Now I am older though
I know, sometimes, he was right
but
alas
as the dust thickens
I cannot
tell him.

This piece appeared in Issue 3 of The Accent magazine in January 2012.

Canning zine

‘Canning’ is a new zine I have created with artist Natalie Hughes and designer Mike Carney. It features a varied collection of my writing from the last few years that has been inspired by the Canning area of Liverpool 8. You can read it on Issuu at the link below or download the PDF. A limited number of print copies will also be available for free in the usual outlets in Liverpool, Manchester and Sheffield in the next couple of weeks.

http://issuu.com/kenntaylor/docs/canning_zine

Canning zine PDF

Lime Street

By Kenn Taylor

Leslie opened the dustpan-on-a-pole with a click of his finger and swept another pile of sweet wrappers, crisps and grit past the scarred, sticky plastic edge. Snapping it back closed he raised it up to the cart, casting an eye briefly on the lanky kid sat in the chair next to where he was working.

The kid had long, dark hair and patchy black stubble poking through his pale white skin. As Leslie watched him, he lent further forward on his elbows, sliding a little further off the arse-chilling perforated metal chair. He was clearly hungover, weary and keen to be right back wherever he came from.

Leslie shook the pan to empty it and, as he let go of the button with his thumb, it gave a satisfying click as it snapped back shut. As Leslie moved to clean under the next bench, the hungover lad lifted his arm casually up to look at his watch. Staring at it, his eyes began to widen and, without warning, he sized his backpack, leapt out of his seat and dashed towards the platform entrance.

From the moment the kid had leapt up though, his dash for the train ceased to be of any interest to Leslie. He was, as ever, focused on the floor, more specifically the large Styrofoam cup that had been knocked over as the lad grabbed his bag.

The plastic top had come off and its contents were now slowly emptying out across the deeply-scuffed Terrazzo tiles. The cup had tipped in an instant, but the thick, fizzy liquid poured out slowly, its viscous blackness overwhelming the fragmented yellow pattern of the tiles.

Leslie leaned silently on his brush as it the cup poured out. As all around him the station carried on oblivious, he squeezed his large baggy hand around the grey plastic handle, his sagging, worn skin briefly tightening, firm once more in anger. The old swallow tattoo that sat between his thumb and index finger also recovered its shape momentarily, though not its colour.

His eyes strained through his thick glasses and, for a moment, the old rage seemed to be overwhelming him. This offence, though small, was just another kick to an already broken pride. His throat cleared and his muscles tensed. ‘How dare the little fucking cunt do that,’ he thought.

In the past, revenge would have been his immediate reaction, to feel the satisfaction of violence, power, and respect. He felt his blood heat up but, as quickly as it came, this energy faded. Deep down he knew the strength was no longer there, and his rage was replaced by a burning frustration that churned deep in his stomach. He was left with only a tense indignation, an impotence that scared him and cut deep into his guts.

He looked down at the spilt Coke again, put his brush and pan back on the trolley, and pulled out the mop. He grimaced once more and silently began to slosh it back and forward through the liquid. The form of the Coke spreading out further across the floor with the action of the mop before it began to be absorbed and turn its stringy, mulchy ends a darker shade of grey.

Around Leslie, the spin of the station concourse continued; people complained to exasperated attendants, dragged heavy bags with tired arms, munched enthusiastically on over-priced sandwiches, posed gurning for passport photos, slunk wearily off delayed trains, looked curiously at information panels and gazed in wonder at the Victorian marvel of the roof. Trains moved in to fill the platform gaps, and then moved out again across the country. A thousand, small, ordinary dramas occurred, and Leslie noticed not a second of it.

To Leslie, the station had no romance, no intrigue. Through all the people and the movement, he saw only litter and dirt and never-ending work. Looking always downward, seeing only legs and shoes and, even then, noticing only the stains and the wear in them.

He pushed all of his weight onto the mop and pushed it with rare forces against the tiles. As it began to absorb the moisture, this extra little humiliation forced him to contemplate his lot in life.

The strong personality that had been formed through harsh times was now only a shadow of what it had been. The spirit remained, but it was now only a ghost in a slowly decaying frame.

He had been a big man, a man with a reputation. He may not have been a face as such, but he was someone who generated enough fear and respect to live as he wanted to live with relative ease. He was aided by the strong union power of the time, which enabled him to work the way he wanted. And of course, he was clever enough to let no woman tie him down.

Sharp in a suit, he was well-known and liked in the pubs around Kensington and the clubs in town. Still living with his family then, he had money enough for his smart clothes, his motorbike and, later, a car.

The world changed on Leslie though. And, more fundamentally, he didn’t realise that age always gets you in end, however quick or strong or smart you may be. First the speed goes, then the strength, then the wit, and then finally, the power. He ignored the first decline, but he began to come off worse in a few fights, the fear crept in, and slowly, he got used to the fact he was no longer the man he had once been.

In the new city, it was harder to pick and choose jobs, especially for an unskilled old man. Between spells on the social, he began to take worse employment and more shit from younger bosses. He walked out of a few jobs, and decked one employer. But he needed money for the bookies and the pub. So, he began to suppress the rage, till it died away.

While gambling debts curbed his free ways, a beer belly, sagging skin and thick glasses made him, even in a fluorescent vest, a ghost to all the attractive women who passed through the station everyday. No longer did they see the brooding power of a dangerous man. Instead they felt the slight indifference and suspicion of an old husk of something rotten.

He knew he was powerless now, and felt deeply the emptiness that created inside of him. Respect was now something to hope for not fight for.

Still, he knew he had lived in his own way, which was more than most men achieve. And, though bitter that a 28-year-old gobshite with a HND in Business Studies told him what to do every morning, in is head remained the desire in the eyes of all those women he had seduced, and the fear in the eyes of all those men he had threatened.

And, if it came to it, he knew he would still fight them to the finish. He had promised himself one thing as a young man; that he would keep his face up for as long as he could, even if it meant the end of him. It was the only way to live, without fear; snarling and scratching till your last breath.

Now though, it came to him. He sensed a blackness in the near distance. Even this indignity he could cope with, but soon, before the end, he would be totally dependent, frail, finally a victim to age rather than a stronger opponent. But, he thought, don’t dwell, and grimaced as he noticed a blonde girl drop a yellow polystyrene carton on the floor by the Burger King.

This appeared in the Autumn 2011 issue of The Crazy Oik.

Lark Lane

The thoroughfare that spans the city
Doused in greenery
Yet inches from poverty
The trees and the neat little boutiques
The tacky bars and the scaby kebabs
The uneasy alliance between the
Liverpudlians and the Liverpolitans
Mutual need and disdain
as they rub shoulders
Trying to move
down and up

Between the shop-bought quirkiness
and the exotic cheese
in the deli
Is the queue
for the dole
And the flowers
laid out
for the dead
Smackhead

This appeared in Slacker zine February 2011

Winterpool

November continues to draw in, darkness now at five. Trapped, breathing steam onto the windows of the too full, too expensive, too slow, too unreliable busses and the kidz that throw stones at them. The city is adopts its winter persona and so do we.

Tis the season of the fat coat, no longer time to be marauding around the streets in a T-shirt. Instead buried beneath ever more layers, sweating at the centre but still frozen at the extremities, while dragging around gifts for distant relatives in bags that seem to cut harder up hills that seem longer.

Liverpool is good in the summer, it might make everyone go a bit madder, but it’s all easier to cope with. In the winter the cold and wet sloshes all the horror from out the cracks and everything that’s bad just seems to bite that bit worse. All the rain doesn’t wash the scum from the streets though; it just collects in deep, still pools that lie in wait to soak through your trendy trainers to your toes.

Cheap Christmas lights strung up add to the usual PIZZAS KEBABS BURGERS illuminated ambience. All lights are welcome at this time of year though. Even every grotty shop looks inviting when faced with the harsh realities outside, despite all being filled with people being worse to each other at a more concentrated rate than at any other time of year. This AND constantly blaring out a never-ending medley of BandAidWhamSlade. Only SEAN AND KIRSTY saves.

Festive crap bought, time to push on back to hibernate in the security of hearth and home. Except your house that seemed breezy and dreamy in summer, now struggles with the bitter chill of winter. The heating warms up at the speed that glaciers shift and then leaks straight out of the crappy windows as you sit back and watch the damp rise and the gas meter spin.

Still, even under a dozen layers you can always spot a friend in mutual distress and propose instead the other option. Go instead to a bar where everyone knows your name. And how much money you owe them. Here are people. Here is warmth. And here is beer. And the more beer is more warmth and more warmth with people and warmth to them and you can take your coat off and lower defences.

Everyone drinks harder and faster in winter. A beer jacket is another layer, a better layer. Around the round table in the corner, intoxicated by booze and by the very thought of intoxication, of hiding from the world in the company and the moment till WARM INSIDE, the best kind of warmth.

Stiff shots, the time of year is a great excuse. Stay on. Stay on. JUST ONE MORE. Outside offers only isolation and cold. Stay on. Stay on and have another one. And on. Till the bell goes and you’re booted out and there’s no where left to go. Except home, once a fear, is now so inviting, all its faults forgotten.

If you drink just enough the Christmas lights and the city get that sheen, reflections distorted in the moisture of the pavements, flashes of light and magick and the place might just be beautiful if you can catch the orange glow of a cab before the cold radiation eats through. Get home and sit down, huddle in that manky armchair and switch on the Christmas tree just for a bit to remind you of how boss it is with all the different light settings and there’s the Merry Christmas’ light up thing in the wet, wet condensation window and

They don’t work.

Fucking Home Bargains crap.

Merry fuckin Christmas.

By Kenn Taylor

This piece appeared in the Dec/Jan issue of Bido Lito! magazine.

A street off Smithdown

And so we continued. Outside is a slightly tatty street off Smithdown, but by now the yellowing curtains that covered the bay window were enough to isolate us from that day-to-day scene of Londis and Vauxhall Novas and purple bins. Those curtains obscured a view that could, for all we cared, looked out onto war-torn Iraq or the steamy streets of central New York or shimmering fucking glaciers because we are in our own world. The warm brown light from the old table lamp lights one corner of the room while a knackered, green lava job burns in the other and day or night we do not adjust these settings, rarely leaving the haven we had created for ourselves. There we fucked, mostly on the duvet and cushions in the corner which had accidentally become our bed, sometimes on the sagging grey couch or the debris-filled back kitchen from which the only outside light emerged. But that only consumed half of our energies.

In between we sit across from each other at the table in the middle of the room with the laptop and the old PC and the printer and type. And type. And type. Sometimes looking up from the screen and the darkened keys to glance and smile at each other in-between bouts. Quote something we were proud of, only to have it cheekily shot down as shit by the other. And every time I was turned sick by those deep fucking gems of eyes that offered much but revealed little. Stopping to skin up sometimes, passing bottles and spliffs across as we got lost in and what we’re consuming and the worlds we are creating, writing to the rhythms of Pendulum and Nick Cave and The Libertines and the wall-thumping of the neighbours. Every so often the passion for something other than Scotch and Microsoft Word consumes us and a glance of eyes leads to one of us taking a big swig and stalk over to the other and we put aside the words for a while to fulfil our other desire, other need, lost in the intoxicating path of creation.

The PC stopped working, broken when we were having a drunken rave. We think. So we now work shifts on the laptop while the other scribbles away in notebooks. She was more in her element there with her beautiful, flowing hand. With my spider scrawl, especially when pissed and trying to get it all out as fast as I could, I struggled to read back what I wrote. Getting the notebooks had required a rare trip to the shops and the suspension of the illusion. To queue in the harsh, fake light of Londis in clothes I don’t know how long since washed and receive under-the-breath “Smackhead” comments. But it was worth it, for now we pasted our work on the walls ever more, without telling each other what we had done, to be read at leisure for more amusement and delight and thigh-slapping shouts of “Yes!” prompting us into further bouts of passion.

The lights have gone out now. I penned a stern letter to the Merseyside and North Wales Electricity Board that I never managed to send before the battery went on the laptop. We barley noticed the turning of days and nights now, but continued to write and love and drink and merge and we sometimes got up to venture out but never quite managed it and things spun more and more and further and faster we could barley see each other anymore as we reached ever closer to something unimaginable as we began put our works together, but they became harder to find. Fragments got lost in the dark. We got lost in the dark.

I woke up and looked across to the table where I expected to see her writing but she wasn’t there. Was she here at all? I couldn’t tell. I called out but she didn’t answer. I called and called for her to find me and bring some light. There was some light coming through the crack in yellowing curtains but it wasn’t enough. I called until the bile and rawness choked my throat. I tried to get up, but my weakness dragged me back to the ground.

The next thing I recall was when they came. They opened the curtains and shattered the illusion. Stern faces carried me up and out.  I could see only a mess now. Smell only the detritus our creation had produced. I tried to call out to her again but nothing came.

I’m awake now. She is gone. I returned. They allowed me after I while. I wanted to get together all that we had created, make it what it as meant to be, but most of it had already gone. I sifted around but they had left only fragments. Fragments which on there own were but shadows of what we had formed. She had been devoured by what we had done, by longing and desire and darkness. And I had failed her by letting them separate us as we were about to merge. I’m awake now, but I am cold and alone, standing in a tatty street off Smithdown Road.

By Kenn Taylor