Toxteth is one of the rougher areas of Liverpool, rows and rows of late Victorian red brick terrace houses suffer from years of neglect from an immigrant and indigenous population that is too poor to care. The area was a pawn in the battle of wills between the loony left councils of Derrick Hatton and psychotic lack of compassion of Margret Thatcher. Years of being ignored have molded the locals into a hardy bunch and they cope, in fact they thrive, in their own imitable way.
Buried deep in Toxteth, in a converted stable house is Billy’s garage. Its more a workshop than a garage and more an accumulation of old cars, car bits and general crap than a workshop. Billy and his mate will fix your car for you if required but they make most of their money by buying cars from “crash auctions” and fixing them up to sell. They do a good job and with the exception of the obligatory “knocking the clock back” its all above board and done legally and properly.
A day at Billy’s garage is a sociologists wet dream. The constant patter of scouse banter is funny enough, but the people who pass by and the people who call in make the place. There’s the Polish guy who just hung around for 3 days without saying anything before picking up tools and starting to work. He doesn’t speak a word of English but apparently is a refuge (this is before the Polish influx into the UK). There is the constant stream of scallies who wander in and try and sell bikes, stereos and almost anything else that can be carried or wheeled while its unsuspecting owner looks the other way. There is a stream of people, out of breath chasing the bloke who just stole their bike. There is “Robbie the pimp”, a small weasel of a man who hangs around offering work to any females who come in. Apparently, he is actually a pimp. You meet all sorts here.
The place is crazy and at the end of the day, all the cars in various states of repair, disrepair and reconstruction which have been pushed on to the street to create working space are wheeled back in and the multiple locks are locked and alarms are turned on. The one bit of kit that you wouldn’t want to skimp on in Tokey is the security.
I race offroad landrovers. I have a cool machine which I am quite good at racing but even better at breaking. This time I have smashed the oil pump and need to fit a new one. So I ask Billy if I can use the ramp in his garage after hours and he agrees, but only under the promise that I am finished in one evening and I lock up properly and leave nothing outside.
So we empty the garage and set the landi on the ramp. Strip down all the oil system and fit the new one. It takes a couple of hours but everything is going well. We put it all back together again and I am sensing victory. Its midnight and I predict I’ll be in bed by 1am. That’s a result.
We fire up the beast which starts ok, but the oil pressure gauge tells us the pump is not working. Kill the engine quick. We try a few more times but still no luck. Things are not looking so good, we have to fix this tonight and we have to get the garage cleared. So we resort to a man’s worst nightmare – the workshop manual. The manual very clearly states “the pump has to be packed with Vaseline to cerate a vacuum and prime it”. Vaseline! Where the fuck am I going to get a large quantity of Vaseline at 12.30 on a Thursday morning?
So I leave Dave and head off into the night. First I try the all night garages. These are scary places when you are pissed and need a twix. Try standing sober in a queue of psychos, junkies and taxi drivers and ask for a large tube of Vaseline. Its an interesting experience. Unfortunately none of places I tried stocked it.
Then I remember that Asda have just started to doing 24 hour opening in Hunts Cross. I drive out there, its 15 miles away but it’s my only hope. I get there and its very surreal. The place is brightly lite and soothing musak is playing. Its almost empty except for a few Goths with the munchies loading up on crisps and baked beans. I pick up 3 jars of Vaseline and head to the check out counter, feeling just a bit self conscious.
The rather pretty checkout girl does not seem to notice. She obviously gets large guys, covered in oil buying large quantities of Vaseline at 1am all the time. I feel a strong urge to explain that I need to prime the oil pump on a landrover, but my stuttering attempt just makes things worse. I exit hurriedly and head back to Toxteth.
The vas does the trick and the oil pressure shoots up. We pack up the garage and are in bed by 3am – not so bad after all, Steve suggests that I should have just gone the whole hog and bought a cucumber and a packet of condoms at the same time!
Just another evening at Billy’s garage.