The cosmopolitan bohemian quarter, and also a red-light district – my Catholic father hated it. He drove us all through it once on the way to somewhere and accelerated like mad. "Don't look out the window," he shouted, his face all screwed up. I was only eight and hadn't a clue what was happening, but I was intrigued and eventually got a flat round there myself after I left home. My father never came to visit.
I popped into my local library and asked the staff if their stamper was working properly. "Yes it is," said the woman. "Why do you ask?" "Because no one's borrowing my book." "Well that's poetry," she said.
Rather than move to a bigger house we had an attic conversion built in the summer of '72. We watched the many workmen on the roof and saw it slowly take shape. And when it was finished you could see out over half of Liverpool, as far as the Welsh mountains. And it had two new bedrooms, one of which was mine. It seemed strange waking up on the roof with the pigeons and having this amazing view. It made me very happy for a while.
I was glad I'd left school when my mother died. I would have hated hearing the Headmaster announce it at morning assembly, everyone pitying me and being a little nicer to me that day – the class bully offering me a sweet, being allowed to go first in the dinner queue.
How Was It For You?
If I was to meet up with people in the afterlife, I should talk about death and dying. How theirs had been – get them to describe their final moments. I should want to know what it was like to fall from a high building, die in a fire, get stabbed or shot. I should want to hear from those who drowned, hanged themselves, bled to death, died of shock – soldiers who were blown to bits in wars, folk that died in car accidents, victims of poison and torture. And of course those lucky ones who passed away in their sleep – did they really not feel a thing?
And then there was the time my father decided we should all see a hermit, so we took a bus out to Freshfield and called on this old chap who had been in the first world war and afterwards had built a small house on Freshfield beach. He opened the door and we all stared at him, then my father produced a camera and took his picture. The hermit lunged at my father and we all ran away.
Paul Birtill was born in Walton, Liverpool, in 1960. He moved to London in his early twenties when he began writing, and apart from a brief period in Glasgow, has lived there ever since. His poems appear regularly in national newspapers, magazines and literary journals and he has read them on national radio and at poetry venues nationwide. He has published a number of collections on the Hearing Eye imprint including the best-selling Terrifying Ordeal and Collected Poems 1987-2010.