“Tell me a story, Mummy,” said Daisy. “Tell me the story of a city.”
Well, we live in a city, rather conveniently, and over the years I have gathered a fair bit of knowledge about its history, so that’s what I did. It took 45 minutes, but I’m sure I missed some bits.
The thing with history as a story, is you’re making it up as you go along. I mean, obviously not – the actual events have some historical basis, to the best of my understanding, but what goes in, in what depth, and with which sympathies, pretty much emerges as the tale unfolds. I was not, for example, expecting to go into so much detail about the 1981 riots and Michael Heseltine. But I seem to have done a reasonably balanced job of it – Daisy interrupted me to say, “I don’t know whose side to be on, now! I was on the side of the black people who were being bullied by the police, but now they’ve started rioting, and there’s no excuse for that!” If she can’t choose a side, I must have presented the story balanced on a knife edge!
So, in case you were wondering, the History of Liverpool started with King John, shooting at deer in Toxteth Park, and issuing a Royal Charter in 1207; there was trade, and commerce, and growth, and a castle; there was the English civil war, and a city that changed hands three times over the period; there was more trade, more growth; there was colonisation and slavery; there was the Industrial Revolution, and growth on an unprecedented scale; there was overcrowding and squalor, and infant mortality, and pollution; there was a Georgian city that stretched barely a mile from the centre, and an Edwardian one that came the four miles all the way out to our house; there were inter-war semis and slum clearances; there was the Blitz and the Atlantic Convoy, and Western Approaches; there was a city of a million people that stretched all the way out to Speke;
but there was damage and loss, and big, empty spaces where buildings used to be; and then there was decline – there was joblessness and poverty, there was a shrinking city which lost half of its population in forty years; there was racism; there was dereliction, there was police brutality and abuse of power; then there was rioting, and even more empty spaces where buildings used to be; then there was the Cabinet meeting in Downing Street, where some parties were arguing for a “managed decline” of the city – to essentially let Liverpool die (we pointed out that the minutes of that meeting only emerged last year, and people were very angry when they found out); then there was Heseltine, a man who got the worst job in government, essentially because he was being punished for something, but a man who was determined to do any job he was given to the best of his ability; and there was an International Garden Festival, and a fund to restore the Albert Dock from 40 years of bomb-damaged dereliction, and a plan to get Liverpool onto the tourist map; and there was Granada Television Studios, and This Morning, and a man in a jumper leaping from Stranraer to Belfast on a scale model of the country, floating in the newly dredged waters of the dock; there was what we see today, when we look around – fancy new shops, and Japanese tourists, and a city that still has plenty of problems, but which isn’t in decline any more. A city brought back from the grave.
So there you have it. Education by story-telling, a whistle-stop tour of how we became what we are. From King John to Fred’s weather map in 45 minutes.