Waving the Flag for Middle-Class Liverpool; There Isn't a Tradition of Deference or Servant Mentality. If You're from Liverpool You Can Speak to Anyone of Any Class

Daily Post (Liverpool, England), June 6, 2002 | Go to article overview

Waving the Flag for Middle-Class Liverpool; There Isn't a Tradition of Deference or Servant Mentality. If You're from Liverpool You Can Speak to Anyone of Any Class


Byline: Peter Elson

A WARD-winning writer Linda Grant is waving the flag for a cause so unfashionable that it's been forgotten: middle-class Liverpool. What's more, she believes her mission, far from being lost, is already gaining ground.

Elegantly dressed in a black linen trouser suit, with an attractive jade necklace, she is delighted at the city's economic resurgence.

But she says: ``What I feel strongly about is how, in the 1980s, Derek Hatton and the Militants re-engineered the Liverpool identity and turned it into this city of industrial, tradeunion militancy which, except for a short postwar time, isn't part of the deeper history of the city.

``What he did was to state that `the real scouser' represents this proletariat opposition to Margaret Thatcher. That cut out huge sectors of the Liverpool identity.

``How did the Chinese, or the Jewish, Irish or Welsh communities fit into this industrial militancy?

``There was a closure from the mid 1980s onwards when people started to talk about Liverpool in ways I found unrecognisable: it became the city of scallies, skivers, the Brookside figures, guys with perms who were `on the rob' and `on the take'. The iconic figure there is Yosser Hughes, from the series Boys From the Blackstuff, who became `Mr Liverpool', the city's representative.

``I felt very shut out and asked where do I fit in? The place where I grew up has been taken away from me. I feel now it's being restored because of the new spirit of redevelopment. I was a teenager in the 1960s when it was an incredibly exciting place to be. The Beatles were a oncein-a lifetime phenomenon and luckily it was in mine.''

Back in Liverpool to attend the University of Liverpool's English Department Reader's Day, aimed at widening perception, Linda Grant's latest novel Still There (Little Brown) fits neatly into the event's theme of Men Women War.

It tells of a man whose battle experiences in the Yom Kippur war were a forbidden subject of discussion. He deliberately married someone unwilling to handle his reminiscences, so he didn't have to express them.SHE says: ``I was intrigued about how one day he's in jeans and tee-shirt and next day he's in uniform transformed into someone capable of killing. Most people would react with horror at such orders, yet many of our fathers and grandfathers faced that experience.''

The theme of belonging reoccurs constantly in her writing, including Still There and her previous book When I Lived In Modern Times. Perhaps she feels the alienation from her past because her grandparents were refugees from Poland and Russia. They arrived in Liverpool by accident, having bought tickets for New York and disembarked here thinking it was America.

Although they prospered and created a comfortable family base in Allerton, the family had suffered such intense dislocation that they rarely spoke about the past, changing their surname from Ginsberg to Grant.

``Not belonging to that national identity doubly intensified once I left Liverpool which is very strange. I didn't feel English, because I was Jewish and I didn't feel northern. I'm just a Jew from Liverpool. It's as simple as that.

``The common thread in Liverpool is that everybody has a connection to the sea - that was a much more powerful influence when I was growing up. My grandfather was a baker on Brownlow Hill and supplied Cooper's with Jewish bread. In 1923 he just put my dad, when he was 17, on a Cunard liner, Laconia, to work onboard in the kosher galley. I've got his New York-Ellis Island disembarkation records and it's got the ship's manifest with his occupation as Jew Cook. Jew Cook!''

She laughs throatily at the description's blunt honesty. She adds: ``My father made several voyages and I knew he'd grown up in a baker's family, it didn't occur to me that as he wasn't manning the ropes he was still a merchant seaman. …

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