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MY NAN'S OLD STORIES HELPED GET ME THROUGH MY CRISIS; Ex-carer who suffered stress at work and home was inspired to tell tales of area's history.

Byline: TOM DUFFY ECHO reporter @tabduffy39

A LIVERPOOL man who was forced to give up his job as a carer due to a personal crisis found a way forward by re-discovering the stories passed down to him as a child.

John Thompson, who grew up in Vauxhall, left school at 15 and drifted through a number of Youth Training Schemes during the recession of the early 90s. John then went back to college as an adult, completed courses at the Rotunda College in north Liverpool and then at Ruskin College in Oxford.

He then managed to forge out a career for himself as a carer in the private care home sector.

A couple of years ago John was going through a particularly stressful time at work when one of his three sons was diagnosed with Asperger's. John decided to give up his job due to the extreme pressure at work, and to help out at home with his son.

He said: "Working in a children's care home at any level is hard, unforgiving and thankless. There are unsociable hours and you are exposed to tough situations and things that ordinary people are not. I was often on call around-theclock and there was a lot of pressure from Ofsted.

"I'd been disillusioned with the private care sector for a while and at about the same time my son began having major issues in school.

"He was diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum, specifically Asperger's syndrome. After a conversation with my wife, who supported me throughout this, I left my career to focus on caring for my young family."

Amid the depths of this personal crisis, the Liverpool dad began to think about the stories that he grew up listening to at the kitchen table when he was a schoolboy in 70s and 80s Vauxhall.

He told the ECHO: "My nan used to tell the stories in our house. She was a real character, who used to cook a mountain of potatoes which would keep us all fed.

"Her dad was a docker, but could have been so much more. He passed an entrance exam to get into the grammar school. But when his mum died he was ostracised by his father who remarried and raised a new family. He refused to buy his son a school uniform.

"He then found himself, at the age of nine, having to fend for himself. He worked at the docks and endured the horrors that were lodging houses. His experience gave him a sense of justice and solidarity and he became involved in the new politics of Labour and socialism."

John then began to spend months in Central Library, to find out the facts behind his great-grandfather and the other stories he heard at the kitchen table all those years ago.

He concentrated on the late 19th century period, and was shocked by some of his findings.

"I started to research the area around Vauxhall toward the end of the 19th century and discovered so much about the city I grew up in."

His discoveries included the Reformatory Ships that used to be anchored in the Mersey. "They were decommissioned naval hulks that were used to 'reform' the street urchins that lived in Vauxhall and the wider area," he said.

"There was the Clarence for Catholics, and Akbar for Protestants.

"They were terrible places where the kids were starved. I remember reading about one lad who broke into a store room at night because he was so hungry. He gorged on porridge oats, but his stomach could not cope and he died in agony.

"The kids used to have to clean the decks with coconut husks - and they would fight each other so they could eat the shells. That is how hungry they were.

"There's such a rich tapestry of history around Vauxhall, which keeps in line with its heritage of being part of the very foundations of the city."

John was equally shocked by the way the prison system treated adults in the late 19th century, including forcing them on treadmills and to spend days making ropes with their hands.

"If they did not hit their targets they went on a bread and water diet," he said.

John grew up in Vauxhall during the 1970s and 1980s, during a period of recession and high unemployment, when companies such as Tate and Lyle and British American Tobacco had closed down.

He said: "My mum and dad were typical of their 80s generation in that they struggled because the big employers had left the area."

John's research led to him writing a historical novel set in late 19th century Vauxhall.

Jobe tells the story of an eightyear-old boy from the slums of Vauxhall who had to make his own way in life after being abandoned by his dad.

Jobe ends up one of the nightmarish reform ships on the Mersey.

John said: "Jobe was a victim of circumstances and above all, poverty. Although the reform ships have now gone from the Mersey, social deprivation and poverty have not.'' In Jobe, John also touched upon a spring of water in West Lancashire which was said to have restorative powers.

Recently, the ECHO reported on how Steven Gerrard and construction businessman Mark Doyle have turned the spring into a business called Angel Water. John and Mark are now in touch.

From his first days poring over the books in Central Library to writing his novel, John's exploration of Vauxhall's past led him to try new things.

Needing cash to get the book published, John tried his hand at white-collar boxing. "The tickets sales helped to get the book published," he said.

| JOBE is for sale on Amazon. The sequel, titled Jobe: A Tale of Victorian Liverpool, is out next month.

My nan used to tell the stories in our house. She was a real character, who used to cook a mountain of potatoes which would keep us all fed John Thompson


|Steven Gerrard and construction businessman Mark Doyle have turned a spring mentioned in John's book into a business called Angel Water COLIN LANE

JAMES MALONEY ||John with his book Jobe: The beginning of a Liverpool legend

JAMES MALONEY ||Author and former carer John Thompson, who dealt with work-related stress by finding solace in the streets of Vauxhall - then going on to write two books about one of the oldest communities in Liverpool
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Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Jun 9, 2019
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