Elizabeth McLeod


Elizabeth McLeod

I suppose most stories start by introducing the main character, but who is the main character in this story? Is it me? Is it a member of my family? Is it my perpetrator?

I am the storyteller, but also the victim.

Let me explain.

Hi, I am Kate. I was born and raised in Birkenhead. I have lived in many areas including Birkenhead North off Conway Street, Highfield Road and eventually my last home was by Birkenhead Central. I am only fifty years old and I am a mother to five children.  Four beautiful boys and my precious daughter, my sidekick. People would describe me as chatty, bubbly, friendly and even nosey to be fair, as I love a bit of gossip, but who doesn’t? So why have I described myself as a victim?  Have I been burglarised? Have I been assaulted? Good question!  No, I have just simply disappeared off the planet, literally.

I am currently sat with my mother in law, Eileen. You may say we have had a similar path in life, not always a straight one, altered by people we have met and let influence us one way or another.

We are shrouded by a veil of light, a calm and tranquil setting with strange looking plants to add a green hew.  You could almost be in a health spa but without that irritating whale music. It’s a strange sort of quiet, where you know there are things happening around you but no one is communicating by speech nor hand gestures.  Have we all become telepathic?

Illustration for Made in Wirral by Elizabeth MacLeod. Collage of a yellowy building with lights on in doorways. Setting appears to be a dark sky with clouds and snow on the ground. Liverpool Metropolitan cathedral is in the background and in the foreground a road leads to the yellowy building.

Apologies as I digress, but it is such a strange sensation being here and as most people would say, it’s not my turn, I’m far too young to be here.  Alas, here I am, chatting with Eileen who has been here for eighteen years already, as if those years have never existed.

So, let me take you back to how I became a telepathic, angelic being.  Okay, you can stop laughing at the angelic bit.

Life is what you make it, you work with the cards you are dealt including those where your family members have a drink problem or mental health problems. Attitudes such as, ‘shh we don’t talk about those things, let’s sweep it under the carpet,’ are eventually going to catch up with you. It’s whether you succumb to those vices that determine what path you take. Well I wasn’t as strong as some people.  My path was a slippery one, like penguin shit off an iceberg!

Let’s go back to 1987, the year Saturday Superstore last aired, the Old Grey Whistle Test ended, and the first episodes of Fireman Sam began.  It was also the year my life seemed to change for the better, as my first born son arrived to brighten our days.  He was such a beautiful baby and still is a beautiful soul, hardworking, caring and such a good parent. Doing a better job than I could do, proud of you son.

This is also when we had  to become adults,  taking responsibility for everyday life, bills, cooking, cleaning, and taking care of a child. No one prepared either of us for this amount of responsibility.  We did not have great role models ourselves to say the least.  My mother had more children than she could cope with and she struggled at times.  My husband’s parents were in a love/hate relationship and had children close together in age, and they struggled when his sister was born, resulting in their older child being taken on by his paternal Grandparents.  They in turn did not have the best start in life, so the circle of poor mental health and issues with drink began before I was even a twinkle in my mother’s eye.

I suppose you could say that my path was already pre-determined?

If I could go back in time would I change some of the things I have done?  Of course I would.

Would it have altered my life?  Certainly.

Would it have been a better life for me and my family?  Who knows?

What I do know is that my life over the last few years was not the happiest for me.  Don’t get me wrong, I have been blessed with lots of beautiful grandchildren.  I had friends and family around me, but the person they saw each day on the outside was the person I needed them to see, not the person within me.

The person who was struggling.

The person who was screaming inside.

The person who was battling demons brought on through life choices and a predestined path that was out of my control.

Let’s fast forward to 2020!

2020, the year that changed for the whole world.  The year that Covid-19 took hold.  The year of restrictions, lockdowns, clusters, not seeing family and friends and being cooped up with mental health issues, a partnership that could be volatile one minute and lovey-dovey the next.  Unpredictability in an uncertain time.  After eight months of being cooped up, only allowed to go for a walk for an hour a day, foods being scarce and obviously the limits on loo roll. It’s not surprising things came to a head.

The cold autumnal day in October with its multitude of oranges and browns started pretty much like any other.  I eventually got the energy to get up and make a brew and have the first ciggie of the day.  I can still feel the flimsiness of the ciggy paper and the smooth texture of the tobacco as I made the first rollie. Carefully pressing the tobacco into a thin line along the translucent paper, gliding my tongue along the narrow, shiny, gummy edge of the paper ensuring it’s not too wet.  Pressing the edges between my thumbs and index fingers, applying just enough pressure to seal the deal. The aroma of the Old Holborn invading my nostrils, the Dark Virginia tobacco with its heavenly scent tempting me into a smoker’s paradise. Perfection in a rollie!

Paradise didn’t last for long though. My other half, my pain in the backside, and lifelong partner obviously got up on the wrong side of the bed. To say he was looking for an argument was an understatement.

Tea didn’t have enough sugar in.

Run out of butter for his toast.

I needed to tidy up.

I need to sort my life out, blah, blah, blah!

Constant nagging and not listening to each other.

I could feel the anger boiling up inside me like hot, molten lava, simmering on the edge of a precipice, about to boil over and cascade down the sides. Obliterating the constant booming voice of a Bittern like male but without the charisma of an actual Bittern.  Did you know they were nearly extinct?  Not once, but twice.  How unlucky were they with their charisma and their shyness and their puffy-brown plumage.

So back to the overheated lava and the eruption about to explode.  The toing and throwing of blame that resulted in us both being shoved, only I came off worse.

I banged my head with the force of Thor’s hammer on the newel post and cracked my eggshell-like head, resulting in a downpour of blood.  To say I had seen red was putting it literally.  I was furious and in my moment of anger I actually had him arrested and charged with assault. Enough was enough, time to make a change. Time to put myself first. Time to sort out what I want for the rest of my life.

First things first, lick my wounds and gather my family around me.  Safety in numbers against those who threaten my well-being.  Do things that make me happy such as spending quality time with the grandchildren, make memories to hold onto later in life, live, laugh and love those around me. At first it was like reliving my youth, back to the days of hanging out with friends, retelling old memories for my children to pass on, but it wasn’t to last.

Old demons began to creep in through the chinks in my armour. Clinging like trumpet vines, invading the mortar that was holding the fabric of my being together.  Destroying the bricks of my existence one by one. I crumbled under the pressure.

“I need you in my life,”  he said.

“I cannot exist without you,” he exclaimed.

And the old adage, “I can change!” Into what I ask myself? A unicorn?  Superman?

Maybe it’s me that should have changed? My attitude to life.  My outlook on life? My value of life?  Life is like the satin wings of a butterfly.  Strong enough to lift body and soul into the air but so weak it could break in an instant with the wrong force against it.

Pressure is what culminated in my downfall.

Like the ever building steam from a train long forgotten, replaced by yellow and black wasp like creations, speeding to a new destination without thoughts or feelings. Not knowing where we will end but knowing it is inevitable that our final destination is in our own hands.  Or is it?  Is there another force behind it?  Is there a plan that I do not know about?  Will I see it coming? Who knows?

What I do know is that my final day upon this plane was a cold one.  Not just your average Birkenhead winter, but minus four, brass monkey weather.  We had been on lockdowns and clusters for nearly a year.  We had endured Boris and his cabinet having illegal parties, why not join in?  Oh no, it’s not allowed! Party for one it was then.  But how was I going to be able to do this?  Where would I go?  Was I going alone?  What if they found out? Planning was the key!

Money?  Check!

Rollies? Stuff that, If I was going to enjoy myself I was getting proper ciggies for a change.

Drink? Can’t party without a bevvy can you? Even if it was a party for one.

Vodka it was then!

The waiting for people to go about their normal day seemed to be taking longer.  Like watching paint dry, sucking my soul kind of waiting. The mind numbing chatter that I’m not interested in but smile in  acknowledgement, hopefully at the right moment.  Until at last they left me in peace. It was time to put my plan into action. First stop was the local shop around the corner.  Hair tied up, coat on, cash card in my pocket and a lighter for the proper ciggies, whoop whoop.  Did I need to take a glass or a cup for my ‘voddy’? Or be a daredevil and swig it from the bottle? Ooh choices!

As I opened the door I was instantly struck by the biting cold, Jack Frost nipping at my ears. “Onwards and upwards girl!” I told myself, “a bit of cold can’t harm you,  the vodka will soon warm you up.” As I walked towards the shop I thought about what the future held for myself and my family.  What lay ahead for us all?  The world was changing and we needed to adapt, but not that night. That night I would party!

“What do you mean people have been looking for me?”  I asked Eileen.  “I haven’t left.”

“You have moved on hun, at last you have broken free from the shackles of life,”  she says. “You are loved and missed by many, but many did not see the pain you were in,”  she whispered.  “Rest a while and watch over those you have loved for they still need guidance from above.”

So here I sit, in the calm and enveloping room. Surrounded by funny looking plants, listening to the non-chattering of passers-by and thinking of my five beautiful children.

Peace at last. Xx

Williamson Art Gallery & Museum