Twopence to Cross the Mersey
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The poignant account of a poverty-stricken childhood in Liverpool during the 1930s, and the brilliant first volume of autobiography. A bestseller ever since it was published in February 1993. One of the most harrowing but uplifting books you will ever read. Anyone who has enjoyed the Frank McCourt books is going to be equally moved by this magnificent testimony to a little girl's courage. When Helen Forrester's father went bankrupt in 1930 she and her six siblings were forced from comfortable middle-class life in southern England to utmost poverty in the Depression-ridden North. The running of the household, in slum surroundings and with little food, and the care of the younger children all fell on twelve-year-old Helen. She writes about her experiences without self-pity but rather with a rich sense of humour which makes her account of these grim days heartwarmingly funny as well as shockingly moving.
Echo, sir’ comes wafting down the years, like the overwhelming scent of vanilla pods, the sound and smell of a great port. ‘I know where we’ll go,’ I said to Avril, who was bouncing up and down in the Chariot pretending it was a horse. ‘Where?’ ‘We’ll go down to the Pier Head!’ I knew this part of the town, because I had been shopping in it on many occasions with my grandmother. I pushed the Chariot purposefully up Lord Street to the top of the hill, where Queen Victoria in pigeon-dropped
Mother began to cry, while Father phlegmatically started to gnaw at another piece of fish. ‘I don’t know how you persuaded him to trust you,’ she sniffed unhappily. I knew how he had obtained credit. I had already discovered that a good Oxford accent was a much respected asset. A man who spoke as Father did would be trusted by working-class people; they would be sure in their minds that a man who was so well spoken and refined would have the means to pay, no matter how shabby he was. At that
anything. ‘Are you sure?’ ‘Yes,’ she whispered, sudden pride in her voice. ‘What will you get for it? Your commission?’ ‘Thirty shillings.’ ‘We shall have to tell the public assistance committee. The little bit you earned selling treacle was not worth worrying about We shall have to declare thirty shillings – and they will just cut it off our allowance.’ Father’s voice was tired and old. ‘Are you mad?’ cried Mother with an unexpected burst of spirit. ‘No, of course not. But it is not honest
will take X-rays.’ He stood looking down at Fiona’s face by the light of the torch. ‘Does she have a mother?’ ‘Yes,’ Father replied. ‘You kindly took some stitches out for her after an abdominal operation some time ago.’ ‘Oh, did I,’ he said absently, and then rather more alertly, ‘Yes, I remember. How is she?’ Father looked uneasily at me, and then plunged in. ‘Her physical health has improved – as far as it can in our circumstances.’ He paused, and then added, ‘She isn’t herself, though.’
slunk back into the room. ‘A capable man,’ Mother was saying to Father, with a look which added ‘unlike you’. Before this subtle barb could be plucked out and shot back, she announced that she would go up to the bathroom. She had, hitherto, managed to use an ancient, cracked chamber-pot found under one of the beds. Refusing Father’s help with a lofty air, but using me and anything else she could to hold on to, she slowly eased her way into the hall and halfway up the narrow staircase. We sat