‘Until the war ended, there were just the three of us: Mam, Charlie and me. There was the occasional reference to someone called a father, but he was away somewhere, serving in the armed forces, so I wasn’t quite sure what he had to do with us.’ (17)
Following from my previous post concerning Ken Hayter’s home within Liverpool 8 I will now be discussing his memories surrounding his family and how they were shaped by the war-torn time he was living within.
Hayter only has loving memories of his mother within his memoir Toxteth Tales referring to her tenderly as ‘Mam’. She is said to have ‘shouted a lot and threatened more, but did nothing except to nurture and to love’ (16) Ken and his brother Charlie. Hayter even remarks in his nostalgia that that was ‘no mean task in those days of little money’ (16). Hayter’s Mam loved her two boys endlessly to the ‘point where [they] could do no wrong, despite the constant flow of evidence to the contrary’ (17). Hayter idolises his ‘Mam’ within the memoir describing her as a well-read and very ‘intelligent’ (16) woman.
Hayter’s father, however, is not as well admired with his descriptions being less than positive and mostly quite deprecating. He is first mentioned as a person ‘who arrived on a permanent basis after the war had ended’ (17). Hayter comments that they ‘hardly ever saw him’ (19) as he adopted ‘an aloof approach to his parental duties by leaving everything remotely connected to his offspring’s welfare to Mam’ (19). This does not seem too far from the norm in Britain at the time as ‘the British state has always adopted a hands-off stance toward the organization of work between men and women in the family’ (Jane Lewis, 126.) and, as such, many young boys had distant relationships with their fathers in the post-war period.
Perhaps we could argue it was the war that led to the obvious distance between Hayter and his Father. He comments that he ‘resented Hitler for packing up so soon’ (19) and forcing his father to come home permanently. But we can also question if it was the underlying poor relationship between Hayter’s mother and father that caused the strained relationship between the father and son. Although his memories are fogged by childhood haze, Hayter seems to consistently comment on his parents strained relationship saying they ‘always cheered up when it was time for him to go back to fighting for his country’ (19).
Childhood innocence could be clouding a sense of what was happening between the parents throughout Hayter’s upbringing. One moment in particular that stands out is Hayter remembering his mother saying, ‘That Mr Jones […] It’s like a palace his house is’ (34) after she had remarked he would have fixed her broken shelves, unlike Hayter’s father. To which the father replies, ‘How do you know what ‘is ‘ouse is like anyway?’ (34).
Although Hayter seems to gloss over this memory with a sense of vagueness, and nor does he even seem to reply to his mother and father’s bickering, it is peculiar that he seems to remember this conversation so clearly. Hayter could be unconsciously taking his mother’s side demonstrated by his complete love and idolisation of her throughout the memoir and his distaste with his father. Perhaps this only worked to contribute to the strained relationship between father and son as Hayter seems to be defensive of his mother.
During the 1940s gender played a huge role in the jobs that you were tasked to do within your household. It seems that Hayter’s family proved no different as his Mother was left with all the ‘parental duties’ (19) that included the two boys and everything in between. Although Hayter regularly comments on her willingness to nurture and only remembers her loving persona there is still a clear divide in the family regarding gender roles.
Mam is often seen to be gossiping with her other female neighbours outside their houses. Hayter remarks that ‘nobody was spared the innuendo and, sometimes, outright slander of the gossiping women’ (27). Melanie Tebbutt argues that women’s leisure time was undivided from their duties within the household, unlike men whose paid work and leisure was divided. The pleasures of talking and gossiping were melded into women’s daily work life as Tebbutt says they would often stop on the way to the market to exchange ‘interesting words of news, plus the latest local scandals’ (Tebbutt, 58). Hayter’s Mam then was seemingly involved within a cultural phenomenon that blended a woman’s duties with her social pleasures.
But it was not just a cultural rage that the inclination to gossip suggested but also a pathway into a sense of community for the women. The Second World War was in many ways an isolating time for women as their husbands and partners left to fight on the front line many were left to fend for themselves alone or with their children. The gossiping woman image then that was so common during this period could perhaps be an image for the choice of remaining joined together. All the women partook in this idle activity in Tagus Street as Hayter remarks, ‘It was a brave woman who was first to leave a group of women, chattering in front of one of the houses’ (27). However, surface-level this activity may look to the reader perhaps we can suggest that it was a justification for socialising between the women who were left behind. They only had each other in the community during this time and had to find a way to keep connected.
Throughout the memoir, Hayter concludes that family is of the utmost importance. However, within his very definition of ‘family’ Hayter also includes his boisterous best friends his neighbours down Tagus Street. As discussed in my previous blog post, Liverpool shared this loving community feel during the wartime and Tagus Street was a large example. To Hayter and his fellow Liverpudlians, everyone in your street was your family in some way- albeit many Scousers had literal generations of their family down the same street. He says, ‘everybody knew everybody else [and] there was an intangible something that caused the neighbours to be there if they were needed, to give a little something to those with less, without being asked’ (27). This beautifully conceptualises that the working-class family did not just stop at the front door but extended down the street to the people you grew up with and shared your memories with. In many ways, you cannot choose your family and perhaps Hayter’s strained relationship with his father demonstrated this, but regardless, he had the luxury of being surrounded by his best friends and neighbours who he will always lovingly regard as his family from Tagus Street.
Hayter, Kenneth. Toxteth Tales. Lancaster: Palatine Books. 2017
Lewis, Jane ‘The Problem of Fathers: Policy and Behaviour in Britain’. Ed Hobson, Barbara. Making Men into Fathers: Men, Masculinities and the Social Politics of Fatherhood. London: Cambridge UP, 2009
Tebbutt, Melanie. Women’s Talks: A Social History of Gossip in Working- Class Neighbourhoods 1880-1960. Aldershot: Scolar Press, 1995.