The communal energy of Blackstock Gardens was so powerfully palpable there was a sense its series of three linked tenements where all somehow home. No word of a lie and never listen to people rubbishing your experiences, but every door was open, everybody was known and no sooner had you sat down in say the lovely Mrs Drear’s, she’d have a cuppa tea and a piece of toast ready for you in a flash. In fact I’m pretty sure she forever had the kettle on and toast always just forked on her real coal fire. Everybody had a real coal fire back then, it was boss.
We were told we had to leave Blackstock Gardens because it had become something of a slum area, wether that’s true or not I’m not sure. It never ever seemed like one to me, opposite being true. Far as I was concerned I was surrounded by Tolkien like castles towering above and to this imaginative kid that was always adventurous, magical and welcoming. Summer or snow it just looked magnificent, those old tenements and their beautiful chimneys so noble, bold and steadfast. As Vauxhall Road dusks descended behind them, I would with childlike glee admire their silhouettes, so startlingly scarlet, dark, vivid and evocative. I was eight nearly nine when we had to leave Blackstock Gardens and even though we were only moving fifteen minutes down the road to Lapworth Street, to this day it was one of the saddest moments my family and I had to face.
We were the Butlers a well know family in the area and I’m not being big-headed here, because every family was a well know family. The cliche that everybody knew each other’s business was no cliche in Blackie, because they did. The reason they did is everybody readily told each other their business, it’s what bonded successful communities naturally do. Remember those were the days we were completely surrounded by industry and pubs, you could time the day by the amount of shift-workers clocking in/off. So everybody worked and then automatically drank together. Gerry’s and Cons (The Feathers and The Eagle), where full nearly every night and by the weekend, fit to burst. As kids we’d scruffily hang outside those pubs, kicking about, waiting to get money, crisps and bottles of lemo. In many ways Blackstock Gardens was a quaint English village with all the trappings associated, but this quaint English village was a profoundly Scouse working class one, sandwiched between the Dock/Scottie Roads and just a hot spit and thump away from town.
It was a Catholic area and large families big time proliferated, so many kids constantly playing. We used to play a game called Rush, a mutated version of British Bulldog, but I’m pretty sure because of the Irish influence everywhere, the last thing we were going to call it was British Bulldog. No one ever deliberately called it to take place, it just kind of psychically happened. Seriously, what now feels like hundreds of us, without command from anybody, just naturally coming together to take part in this massive runaround… it was brilliant. Always with mother’s, aunties and nans watching from landings above. Because of the square of its design, as a kid you always felt looked over and safe. Sometimes a bit too looked over, it was difficult to get up to any mischief as there was always somebody looking out for you. “I can see yis Gerard ‘n’ John Butler, I’m gonna tell y’ma’s on youse!” But we did.
The fourth floor of those landings ended in a gigantic red-brick arch. My baby-sitters the Kings would sit me down, then tie a big thick rope to something above the gigantic red-brick arch and confidently swing in and out from it. Yeah four floors up (five including the ground), dangerous, but it was just about the most exciting thing I’d ever witnessed. I adored Anne, Bunny and Theresa King, best babysitters any kid could wish for. Clearly remember loving the women of Blackstock Gardens, I instinctively trusted them, they had a lot of power, control those broads, always looking out for and after. They seemed without fear especially when doing their windows, no matter how high and those tenements were tall, they’d hang out by the backs of their knees and with cloth in hand lean outside of their windows and wash them. I’d watch aghast and anxious from our second floor flat, while above me they not only determinedly cleaned but we’re calmly chatting away to one and other. Looking back it certainly wasn’t health and safety conscious, but I’m tellin’ ye, woe-betide anyone with dirty winders!