To kick off what I hope will be regular slot on the site Derek King, originally from Darn Sarff, gives us his perspective on Liverpool life. Over to you Derek………
The thoughts of an adopted Liverpudlian
Born of cockney parents in East London and raised in one of the genteel boroughs of South West London, I arrived in Liverpool in 1989 in my late 20’s, having married into a Liverpool family. My first name, Derek, was slightly out of the ordinary when I was a boy and I was long used to being nicknamed Del, Del-boy, Dez, Dezzer, Desmond and other variants, but it wasn’t until I settled in Liverpool that I was ever known as “Degsy”! (Often “our Degsy” among the extended family)
I don’t think Degsy exists as a nickname anywhere else in the world and I have, over the last 24 or so years, learned that Scousers use several exclusive nicknames: people whose name is Frank are often called “Yankee” and men named Peter are sometimes known as “Wacker” (which of course all makes perfect sense!). Also, only in Liverpool is an ice lolly called a “lolly ice” (which according to my Scouse friends is actually correct – every other English speaker gets it wrong!)
There are of course a huge number of linguistic peculiarities among Liverpool folk, but I think the “accent exceedingly rare” as the song would have it, is far more than an interesting way that Liverpool people have of saying things. A local dialect or accent is a manifestation of what makes human beings feel they belong somewhere. As our planet shrinks and many people feel they probably don’t belong where they live, many regional accents are on the wane – but I see no sign of that happening in Liverpool. I think it is part of what makes the city such a dynamic and unique place.
Now I’m not about to say that the culture of any other city or region is inferior, after all the Manchester scene is legendary, Newcastle is a unique city; Cardiff, Glasgow, Belfast and Birmingham all have their respective merits too. London has a multitude of exciting and diverse scenes going on if you can keep up with it. But what I will say is this: Liverpool feels special to me and has adopted me, it has a unique and self styled identity which I can’t help but love, and I cannot imagine myself ever living anywhere else now. My two children have grown up with Scouse accents and Scouse values, though I’m pleased to say they retain a healthy regard for their heritage.
As a boy I was a member of the generation whose parents had been into the Beatles. They were always on the “wireless” but I was too young to appreciate popular music then. I clearly remember my mum singing along to “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” (which I opined was a rude song because the man didn’t say “please” when he wanted to hold the lady’s hand!). I also believed for years that the song “Penny Lane” was about a girl named Penny Lane! Why am I rabbiting on about the Beatles? Well, I am something of a musician in my spare time, and when I got into playing the guitar at about the age of 14, although I played along to Slade, Mud and Status Quo records, I understood that the Beatles were the ultimate and they could never be outdone. My best friend and I would spend entire days trying to mimic Liverpool accents hoping we sounded like John and Paul! Incidentally, I have performed as a musician in a wine bar in Penny Lane and at the Cavern Pub – how many musicians can claim anything as auspicious as that!?!
Without dwelling on the social and economic problems of the time, let’s say that in 1989 Liverpool, although very vibrant and vital in so many ways, was a very different place to what it is today. My then wife’s family lived in the north end of the city, and I was surprised to find that although there were local bank branches and post offices, you had to take a bus ride to find a cash machine if you needed cash outside banking hours. It seems unthinkable now, but I guess that in those days not many people qualified for the plastic cards that the banks give away these days so that they can justify closing local branches. I was also surprised to find that not only did all the shops have their windows covered by metal shutters every night, but they also kept all their wares secure behind clear plastic sheeting during normal opening hours. I had never before been in an off-licence where you had to point at what you wanted and shout through a small opening in quarter inch thick grimy Perspex.
In the local pub, blokes in shell suits would swagger in with hold-alls filled with meat (“’Ere y’are girls, come get yer Sunday joint”) or cigarettes to sell. But the local pubs were (and still are) largely very warm and friendly places. In those days, my southern accent was something of a curiosity, it is scarcely ever commented upon these days such is the cosmopolitan nature of the city, but back then people would often ask if I was a “foreigner” and I’d have to go through sometimes quite long conversations about which bit of London I was from and whether I knew the particular part of London where this person had once lived or visited. Sometimes it was almost like being a celebrity. Once I was in a pub in Norris Green and a chap I happened to be talking to (moaning to actually, because at the time I was flat broke and struggling to make ends meet with a young baby at home), slipped a tenner into my hand while nobody was looking so that I could have a pint without worrying. This was 1989 remember, back when 10 quid was worth an awful lot more than two pints of Peroni! I guess the guy was about 50-ish, my age now, and I can honestly say I’d never seen him before and have never seen him since. I hope life has been kind to him.
As a student I lived in Newcastle upon Tyne for three years in the mid 80s, and it was common when venturing into city pubs that someone would hear my accent and proudly proclaim that they hated cockneys, especially cockneys who were students. Once engaged in conversation such people would generally agree that, although as a rule they hated students and cockneys, I was kind of ok! I was never duffed up for being a Londoner or student, so it was all nonsense really, just provincial muscle flexing and chest thumping. But that sort of thing has never happened in Liverpool – not once – never ever! Not even when I’ve been in a pub watching Spurs v Liverpool/Everton and we’ve won (though to be fair that doesn’t happen often!).
Without being too party-political I would say that I think the Blair government in the late nineties and early noughties tried to put right a lot of the wrongs and indignities that had been heaped on Liverpool in the preceding decades. In 1997 all of a sudden there was actually building work taking place in the city and the city skyline was transformed. People seemed to be earning money and there was a new confidence taking shape – when I took my children to school I heard the other parents talking about holidays to Florida (which seemed to be the epitome of Scouse feel-good culture at that time) and getting work done on their houses. The city centre became even more busy and vibrant, though it still managed to retain most of its individuality and uniqueness in spite of the influx of Wetherspoons, McDonalds and Starbucks. The student population of the city, many of whom I have the privilege of teaching, has increased exponentially in recent years, and love them or loathe them, students from all over the country and indeed the world, bring prosperity and a breadth of culture with them. Sure, some of them treat the city like an extension of boarding school and buzz off home before the ink on their degree dries, but an awful lot of them don’t. At the very least they come to accept and even love the place, and many get jobs in the locality and stay here. What’s not to like about that?
There is an awful lot more I could tell you about my impressions and experiences in this fine city, and one day in the not too distant future I most certainly shall do that. But that’s all for now.
More About Derek
Derek King is a Lecturer in Building Services Engineering at Liverpool John Moores University, though he has previously also taught at Liverpool Community College and Wirral Metropolitan College. In his spare time Derek is a singer-songwriter and performs regularly in various bars around Liverpool. He also hosts “K’s Choice” a regular acoustic music evening in the city centre.