2. Old Brown Shoe

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If I grow up I'll be a singer, wearing rings on every finger.
Not worrying what they or you say, I'll live and love and maybe someday,
Who knows, baby, you may comfort me.

November 1960

Some stories will end with an escape, but our story began with one...

I gripped the ferry railings for dear life, knuckles white, trying not to look down into the white foam the ferry was churning up at a rate of knots. I glanced down anyway and my stomach turned over. My older sister, Minnie stood next to me, seemingly not affected by the ships lurching movements.

'I feel sick,' I said.

'For Gods sakes, Hannah. Anyone would think I'd told you you were about to be dragged out and executed,' she replied, rolling her eyes at me. She turned to look back at England, quickly disappearing into the sea behind us. 'We're free now. We can go wherever we want. Do whatever we want. And I promise you, Hannah, we are never going back there again.' She smiled, but it didn't quite reach her eyes.

'Sea sick, I mean,' I told her, as the ship listed one way and my stomach went the other. This was all too much to take in. I closed my eyes, but that just made me feel worse.

Minnie laughed at me. 'You've been on the Mersey ferry hundreds of times!'

'This is a bit different to that,' I said. The ferry across the Mersey took about twenty minutes and didn't seem to travel half as fast as the overnight ferry to Holland did. 'Can we go inside?'

'You go. I want to watch until I can't see it anymore.'

'See what?'

'That - home,' she said, pointing back to England. 'You do look a bit pale, actually,' she added looking at me.

'Yeah, 'I'm going to go and sit inside. ' I agreed. 'Don't be long, you might fall in,' I added, an attempt at humour, although neither of us felt much like laughing.

She nodded with small smile. 'Just close your eyes and think of George,' she teased. 'You'll be seeing him in just a few hours!'

I pulled my face at her, and turned to leave. Minnie turned away again and I stopped, watching her for a moment. She stood, completely still in her red gingham dress, seemingly emotionless and just staring out into the distance. I frowned, worried. I hoped she knew what she was doing. I slipped through the door, back inside the boat.

It was only later, when I'd recovered from the sea sickness a bit, that the realisation of what we'd done finally dawned on me. Something I'd never thought possible. I wouldn't have ever believed he would have let us go. He wouldn't have, if he'd know where we were actually going. Or that we had no intention of ever returning, no matter what happened.

It had been Minnie's idea of course. Most things always were back then, in the early days.

* * *

Music. It was always music with Minnie. Back in 1958, when I was 15 and she was nearly 17, she'd fallen in love with a record by an American girl group called The Chantels. 'Maybe' it was called. She'd managed to get a copy of it on a 45 vinyl from somewhere, it wasn't all that easy to find the American imports in Liverpool then. She kept it hidden under the bed, only daring to play it when it was just us at home.

Minnie loved the idea of The Chantels. An all-girl group, singing harmonies together. There was nothing like that in Liverpool at the time. Merseybeat was just coming through, off the back of the Skiffle craze. It was Rock and Roll, but Liverpool style. Clubs sprang up all over. The Cavern, The Iron Door, The Blue Angel - and coffee bars too, some of which would put their own bands on. Most of the groups styled themselves after the likes of Buddy Holly and The Crickets, Elvis Presley or Bill Haley and The Comets. There weren't that many girl singers, but there were a couple - Beryl Marsden who was singing with The Undertakers at the time, but she was just a kid really, a few years younger than us, and Cilla Black - 'Swingin' Cilla' as she called herself.

It was one night when we were watching Cilla singing with Kingsize Taylor at the Iron Door when Minnie leaned over and shouted above the music, 'You can sing better than her, Han. You should get up and have a go!'

I wrinkled my nose and shook my head, but the idea had already taken hold of Minnie. Only a couple of weeks later she was pulling me up on stage with her, when one of the clubs was doing open spots where anyone who wanted to could get up and sing. To my suprise, people actually clapped when we finished.

When you live in Liverpool, you've got to have a party piece, and singing was ours. We'd always been brought up to sing, that was at least before Grandma Minnie died. She would always be humming a tune and she would encourage me and Minnie to sing with her. She told us stories about our mother, she had been a professional singer before she got married. She sang in the music halls and some of the clubs round Liverpool and Merseyside. Mum had died when I was about four or five so I didn't have very many memories of her. Minnie was a year and a half older than me, so she remembered a bit more. She remembered Mum being ill for a long time, always being in bed and then one day, she wasn't there anymore. That's when Grandma Minnie had moved in to take care of us.

Minnie - Minerva Millicent James - was named after our paternal Grandmother. I was after our maternal Grandmother - Hannah. Our father was an officer in the army so he was away a lot, most of the time it was just the three of us. Those were the best times I remember from when we were little. When I was about eleven, Grandma Minnie passed away and everything changed. Dad retired and moved home. All the fun and laughter went out of the house. We had to be quiet and respectful, don't speak unless you're spoken to and woe betide you if you step out of line. And that wasn't the worst of it.

As we got older, the clubs and coffee bars became a refuge for us. We could stay out late - as late as we dared - watching bands, listening to music - and with a bit of luck he might have already drunk himself into unconsciousness by the time we got home.

It's strange, but you can get used to anything eventually. It was actually alright for a while. We got into a routine. From school, we'd get in, have some tea on by the time Dad got back from the pub and then we'd go out, catch the bus into town and spend all night down Mathew Street or at the Jac or somewhere. Dad drank a lot, but I didn't mind that. It was better when he did, he'd be in a better mood - usually - and much more likely to leave us to our own devices. If we got home and he was there, if he hadn't gone to the pub that afternoon, then we weren't going anywhere either. We'd be trapped in that house all night.

I left school at 15. I'd scraped through the eleven plus exam and managed to get into the same girls Grammer School that Minnie had. Minnie had flown through the eleven plus two years eariler but she never could settle in disciplined environments like school. She was always in trouble over something or other and came close to being expelled on a couple of occasions. She'd left as early as she could and enrolled into secretary school. That didn't last long, so she got a job waitressing at a restaurant near Penny Lane. That didn't agree with her either - they wanted her to work evenings - so she'd flitted from job to job for a while, until she'd decided we should make a go of singing.

Starting out was hard. Trying to get gigs was one thing - getting paid for it was another thing all together! Beryl and Cilla sang with some bands, but they didn't exactly want to share them with us. That's how we ended up at The Caberet. And that's how I met George Harrison.

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