‘Liverpool: a city where everybody seemed to know everybody else, where nobody seemed to have any money, but everyone seemed to be happy.’ (2)
Kenneth Hayter was born in Liverpool in 1940. Kenneth gives no exact date or year, but we can assume that he was born then as he remarks he was ‘five years old at the end of the war’ (23). His name is ‘translated by the poetry of Scouse, from Hayter to Potater to Potato to Spud’ (6) and thus he endearingly refers to himself throughout the memoir as Spud. Born in Toxteth, or Liverpool 8 as it is known by its residents, on ‘No. 43 Tagus Street’ (24), Spud’s memoir recalls anecdotal memories of his childhood and what it was like growing up within Liverpool during the last years of the Second World War. Spud describes Liverpool 8 as a ‘paradise for children’ (4); what with the ‘swimming baths on Lodgy’ and the ‘bombed sites’ (4) Toxteth was the perfect playground for these turbulent young boys. Filled with entertaining sagas, Toxteth Tales recollects the mischief Spud and his ‘inseparable best friends’ (15) Billy, Terry, Georgie and Tommy got up to.
Toxteth Tales is self-published by Hayter with the help of Palatine Books. Complete with a contents page, his memoir is split into several chapters all hosting different recollections of anecdotes from Spud’s younger years. Despite being written later in his life, Hayter still manages to maintain a sense of childlike lucidity in his writing. It often feels like we are there with the inseparable gang playing within the bricks and mortar of the bombsites or running around the glen in the Savvy (Sefton Park). Spud kindly includes a Scouse thesaurus at the beginning of his memoir to aid the readers that are less versed in the famous Scouse expressions. Although seemingly aimed at an audience of Liverpudlians, Hayter proves that the Scouse language can be easily accessible to anyone willing to try within this thesaurus. He says, ‘This Thesaurus is intended for our visitors, in the hope that it will make their visit more enjoyable’ (7).
Spud talks fondly of his mother within his memoir- ‘Mam, whose name was Martha, or sometimes May, was a little lady of five foot nothing, slim of build, with dark auburn hair and piercing brown eyes. She shouted a lot and threatened more, but did nothing except to nurture and to love my brother Charlie and me’ (16). His father, however, is an ominous figure within the memoir and his memory. He writes, ‘there was an occasional reference to someone called a father, but he was always away somewhere, serving in the armed forces, so I wasn’t quite sure what he had to do with us.’ (17). Hayter’s memory is largely focused on himself, his brother Charlie, his Mam, and, his best friends.
It seems that Spud lived a joyous life blissfully unaware of the atrocities of the War on Liverpool itself, or, on the adults within his life. He was completely preoccupied with playing out with his friends and living his childhood innocence to its fullest. Unaware of his social status within society he remarks, ‘We were probably poor, but we never knew it: we just seemed to be just like everyone else. Some might say we were deprived; but deprived of what? If we were, nobody told the children and so in our ignorance we just had to be happy and contented in our dusty streets.’ (4). Childhood ignorance is bliss it seems as ‘for a child, life was an endless round of playing out.’ (2).
At first read Spud’s memoir is wonderfully humorous filled with heart-warming tales of childhood bliss and specific details that resonate with me personally, having family from around similar areas within Liverpool. However, the memoir also demonstrates some of the more devastating commonplace occurrences that happened within the lower-class settings of Liverpool within the 1940s. On one occasion, it tells us of the Diphtheria pandemic that plagued the families of Liverpool during this time. Although masked by a sense of childlike innocence, Hayter is still able to recall the devastating effects of this infection on the life of his neighbour and close friend Arthur.
Toxteth Tales provides an array of anecdotes and memories about life within Liverpool 8 during the 1940s. Spud gives us a wealth of descriptions on the multiple areas of Liverpool he and his friends would playfully peruse and get up to no good within. It seems Hayter was attempting to live vicariously through the memories of his carefree childhood as he says his writing is ‘an attempt to ignore life’s little problems by hiding behind memories’ (199). Hayter ‘sought solace’ (199) by losing himself within his memoir of nostalgia suggesting he focuses solely on his childhood as an attempt to recapture his ‘wonderful’ (199) memories.
Overall, I believe Hayter’s memoir is an important insight into the working-class society of 1940s Liverpool. It demonstrates that, although poverty-stricken, the families within Liverpool 8 were happy and unshaken, as Spud describes, the children were blissfully unaware of the happenings of the war and the hardships faced by the working-class during this time. His memoir gives us an interesting look into the mind of a child during this period and, as such, we are gifted multiple humorous and heart-warming memories. To me, this memoir demonstrates perfectly the famous positive attitude of Scousers and their forward-looking outlook on life. Spud perfectly encapsulates this saying, ‘Despite the bombs, the city survived and so did the dogged humour of its Scousers!’ (26).
Hayter, Kenneth. Toxteth Tales. Lancaster: Palatine Books. 2017