Life

Nuala McCann: Now we are the Liver birds, out on the town in Liverpool

We watched this little one from a distance, across the Irish Sea... snapshots from nursery, toddling about on the beach. And here we are, toddling towards retirement and she's playing host to us, picking us up in her zippy red car and sailing us about her city of Liverpool

Liverpool's Royal Liver Building with its big green birds on the top

SHE was a small blonde toddler picking peas off the floor at our wedding 22 years ago and now she's all grown up and living the high life on the 18th floor of a waterside apartment in Liverpool overlooking the sea

Where did the years go?

She was my mother's first grandchild. When she was born, my mother went right over to help out – she knows the voodoo secrets of baby winding. Mum sent a card from our new baby that ended: “PS My granny is a wee peach.”

After that, granny was always known as Granny Peach.

We watched this little one from a distance, across the Irish Sea... snapshots from nursery, toddling about on the beach, in her stiff starchy uniform on her first day at primary school, into big school, a beautiful young woman at her first formal, university and graduation.

Now she's the age we were when we were striding out on our own and making all sorts of mistakes – forgive me ye purple nasties.

And here we are, toddling towards retirement and she's playing host to us – her mum and her two aunts – picking us up in her zippy red car and sailing us about her city of Liverpool.

It feels like home. Half of the people are Irish and I can't quite understand the other half – but they're dead friendly, that's for sure.

It's a quick walk along the docks into town past the Liver building. I've never been before, but of course I know that building. It's the Liverbirds from that old 1970s sitcom from oh so not very long ago.

Now we're the Liver birds, out on the town.

Gaze up at the big green birds on the top of the building and the old tune plinks in your head.

Dander through streets and down alleyways, taste the whizz and the buzz of the city as it whirls past at lightning speed.

It's the cruise ships that my big sister loves. High up in the apartment that overlooks the water, you can watch them come and go. In the misty light of morning and the soft light of evening, they are lit up like ghostly carousels.

We're turning the corner home on Saturday when the horns honk and fireworks crackle and sparkle in the evening sky.

“It must be the last cruise ship of the season,” says my niece.

We turn the corner on to the docks to watch the huge boat, lights twinkling, turn about and head off into the faraway ocean. There is something eerily beautiful about it – the romance of it all.

And we laugh about how the locals get all excited when the Disney cruise ship docks and all the children come down to meet the stars.

Then, how the parents are left trying to comfort howling and distraught little ones when the big boat finally hauls anchor and heads back to sea with Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck and Elsa and Pocahontas all waving goodbye.

I'm not a sailor. I turn frog green on the boat to Rathlin and I'm not sure that I would thank you for a cruise holiday. But even I could see the magic of the moment and of that sailing.

It reminded me of my father's tales of long ago when he was a small child in the 1920s. They all went down to Belfast harbour to wave off his big brother, Malachy, on his way to find work in America.

Sometimes that would be the last a family would see of a much loved son or daughter. Down at the boat to wave him off, the crowd broke into a chorus of: Come back to Ireland.

In fact so distraught was my grandmother that she named her youngest son after the boy who had sailed away. He was Malcome – as in “Mal come home”.

We were none of us too fond of boats. My aunt had a painting of a large sailing ship in her home and my father used to say, “I don't like the look of it, it looks sad.”

So on his birthday, my aunt sent him a card with a beautiful galleon in full sail on the front.

Inside she wrote: “This ship is coming home.”

And staying with my niece is a homecoming too – it's good times, together times. That small blonde toddler is giving back all the love we sent freely across the Irish Sea down the years – and it's magical.

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