'…if only I could crack it…'
Born on 7 February 1946 at 100 Wavertree Vale into a family with quite a name in the local criminal fraternity, Brian Patten was an only child, withdrawn, dark-haired, with dark eyes that cautiously appraised the world right from the start.
I never knew my father. My mother married him but they were separated
before I remember. I was brought up in this really tiny house with this
crippled grandmother — and she and my grandfather never spoke. It
was a very small, frightening, claustrophobic space. And there was an
auntie who sat in a chair — lived sitting in a chair in the kitchen — and my
mother was a woman called Stella. And I felt very much that if I opened
my mouth or said anything it would rock the boat. And I didn't want to
rock a boat.
He never did know his father, and to this day is not interested.
Wavertree Vale ran into the unfashionable city end of Picton Road on the fringes of Liverpool 8. Flanked by two dark Victorian and uncompromisingly 'working-man's' pubs, the Ashgrove and the Belle Vue, it sat approximately two miles from the short-spired Picton Clock whose square face gazes benignly at the greener pastures of Mossley Hill and Childwall. Patten remembers cousins in and out of prison. Tommy (known as 'the brace and bit man') was the 'mouthiest', so much so one night that Sergeant Frank Jones vividly recalls throwing him against a prison-cell wall in Lawrence Road Police Station with such force that he thought he had killed him.
Unlike Henri and McGough, both of whom can name favourite early childhood authors, Patten grew up in a house with only one book. It had a green cover, smelt of mothballs because it had lain on top of a shelf for a long time, and was an 'innocuous book about a fox'. He was six when he found it, and it filled him with a disproportionate sense of mystery because it seemed so out of place.