Clearing out my mother’s house has now reached a greater level of detail – I am now spending more time with my head in boxes of stuff, sorting out what should be kept. I take care to have my name and address written on the soles of my shoes, in case I need to be rescued.
My mum seems to have every postcard that she was ever sent, and a great heap of birthday cards and letters, accumulated in large manila envelopes, with not the slightest trace of classification – a trip into one of these envelopes is just a mind-numbing exercise in randomness. She certainly has no idea what’s in there, and I’m not sure if she remembers many of the people who sent them, so it’s a little complicated – though interesting in its way.
Recently I found some letters from me, written when I was very young. Mostly letters about forgotten trips, written by a child I cannot really remember having been. About the earliest of these dates from a week I spent in hospital – I had some stomach problems – certain foods made me sick, and the doctors decided that my appendix had to come out. To this day, I’m not convinced there was anything at all wrong with my appendix, but at that time the medical profession was just itching to separate kids from their tonsils, adenoids and appendices (?) at the slightest excuse.
|Myrtle Street hospital, a few years after I was there|
So my stay in the Liverpool Children’s Hospital, Myrtle Street, was one of the very earliest times I was separated from my mother. I have remembered some things about this episode, and more came flooding back when I saw the letter.
(1) A stout lad named Gordon, who was in the next bed – he had some horrifying sort of drain in his knee, but his main claim to fame was that he used to lend me some pretty raunchy American comics he had inherited from his big brother
(2) Ribena – aargh – they forced gallons of blackcurrant flavour squash down us – served up in aluminium mugs. Woe betide anyone who didn’t finish it. I still can’t stand the stuff.
(3) The smell of hot tar. It was fine, warm weather, and throughout my stay the City Council was pulling up the old tramlines outside in Catherine Street and Myrtle Street, and laying tarmac – a very big project. A week with an asphalt cooker outside your window is not recommended.
(4) Most exciting - we had a visit from Roy Rogers. Now then – my lifelong devotion to celebrities got off to a flying start. This is the thing I wanted to recall here.
Roy Rogers (1911-98), in case you are not old enough to have heard of him, was a very big deal at the time – children all over the world just loved him – it said so on his publicity posters. Born Len Slye in Cincinnati, he was a Western cowboy movie star, recording artist (he was, to be fair, not a bad singer if you like that sort of thing) and a complete merchandising operation – very impressive – he even had a string of restaurants named after him. Me and my mates were not too convinced about Roy. When we went to the Saturday morning cinema matinee (at the Gaumont in Allerton Road, which was a bit less rough than our local flea-pits), the cowboy films we preferred starred Lash LaRue (which sounds a bit dodgy now), Monte Hale, Rocky Lane, Tim Holt – we were definitely less keen on the more showbiz style productions starring Roy Rogers or Hopalong Flaming Cassidy – though Rogers’ movies were normally in colour, which was unusually luxurious for that market.
Roy was doing a European theatre tour at the time, and he visited Liverpool. It seems remarkable now, but this caused about as much excitement as if the Pope had come. Crowds lined the streets to greet him, and he and his trusty horse, Trigger, were accommodated at the Adelphi, which was probably Liverpool’s only worthwhile hotel at the time. It has become a matter of Merseyside folklore that Trigger had his own room, which I’ve always dismissed as celeb goss (darlings) – I assumed that Trigger had stayed in the Adelphi’s stables. However, it seems that he was installed in a room – at least the official records claim that he was. Trigger duly appeared on a balcony, to acknowledge the cheering fans below. You get the idea – these were rather dismal days, I guess, and Liverpool was pretty close to the Third World.
|Roy and Trigger enter the Adelphi|
|Trigger signs into the hotel (surely not?), and visits his master, who was laid |
low with influenza, apparently - maybe this disrupted his schedule.
You may imagine the breathless excitement when Roy and Trigger were to visit the Children’s Hospital during my stay. The place was cleaned and then cleaned again – no comics or spare plates or anything were to be in sight – the nursing staff had their best No.1 kit on, starched and flawless, and everyone was very tense. Including me, of course – I was prepared to swallow my normal disbelief in Roy’s marketed persona, just to bask for a moment in the glamorous world of Hollywood. The word was that the Liverpool Echo would send a cameraman, and photos would be taken with the kids. How cool is that?
Well, it really turned out to be an early lesson in How Things Rarely Turn Out As You Hoped. The official party was 3 hours late. Trigger was not allowed in the hospital (probably just as well), and Rogers made a very fast pass through the wards. I had a brief, distant glimpse of a rather uninteresting-looking, hatless, middle-aged man in a pale grey business suit, who waved from the door of the ward (a ward which was about the size of a football field). So much for celebs. My contempt for the Roy Rogers brand was confirmed and reinforced – he was never forgiven.
This clip is maybe a little more like the sort of extravaganza I expected to see during the visit. Not a bad singer, but as a tough-guy cowboy hero he was a bit of a girl's blouse, wasn't he?