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Penny Lane is in my ears and in my eyes … because I live just around the corner | Lynsey Hanley

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Once a place is immortalised in song it’s hard to imagine it as somewhere in which people really do walk their dogs, or go to the Londis or get a haircut. When it’s the Beatles doing the immortalising, it becomes almost impossible – unless, of course, you live there.

Penny Lane, in Mossley Hill, south Liverpool, lives on not just as a Beatles song but as a street five minutes’ walk from my house. John Lennon and George Harrison went to the primary school on the corner, and Paul McCartney was a choirboy at the church opposite the song’s “shelter in the middle of a roundabout”, where this photo was taken. (Mossley Hill was a bit too posh for Ringo, who has his own mural in Toxteth.)

I see these landmarks while going about my daily business, and in the 10 years I’ve lived in Liverpool it has never ceased to feel wonderful and strange. Sometimes, it’s like living in a theme park: the open-top Liverpool Explorer bus passes the top of my street a couple of times a day. The Magical Mystery Tour bus – you can see the sticker on the street sign – ambles round daily on a three-hour tour of historic sites that I’ll never quite be able to take for granted.

Come to my house and I could walk you to John and Paul’s childhood homes. I’d show you the fire station, the barber shop, the park they walked through to get to each other’s houses, and the bus stop where Paul caught the same number 86 that I get into town most days. It’s a daily privilege to see something like the world they wrote about – still recognisable, though inevitably altered, 60-odd years later – through my eyes.

For someone who grew up in a pop-worshipping household, far away in Birmingham, a household that regarded the Beatles essentially as family members, it can resemble a living dream, a bit like the song itself. It was partly because of them that I knew growing up to have something like the life you dreamed of was attainable. Although moving to Liverpool wasn’t part of that early dream – I’m here because I married a Merseysider, falling in love with the place as well as the person – it’s in so doing that I’ve found the community and life I always hoped for.

Macca’s mental map of these streets remains intact to this day, as it was when he wrote Penny Lane from his Regency mansion in St John’s Wood, around the corner from Abbey Road in London. In McCartney’s telling, the “pretty nurse” selling poppies by the tram shelter “feels as if she’s in a play/ she is anyway”. When I’m going off to the doctor’s, or dropping bags at the charity shop, within sight of that same tram shelter, I catch myself thinking, how lucky am I?

Part of this comes from Liverpool’s own irrepressible, elaborately gregarious character, which to a dour Brummie like me is an unending source of hope and delight. Among the sights I’ve seen within yards of my front door are Ken Dodd’s extensive funeral cortege (with Dicky Mint, his puppet Diddyman, guarding his coffin), two Liverpool FC cup-winners’ processions – the main road a cheering sea of red and white, and a thumbs up from Mo Salah – and Stephen Graham wearing plus-fours and a tweed waistcoat outside the local wine bar.

Liverpool is exactly this, all the time: the dreamlike and the everyday overlapping at every opportunity. That’s not all it is. It’s also about dockers striking and winning, as they’ve done this year; chasing fascist sympathisers out of town to the sound of the Benny Hill theme tune, as Liverpudlians did in 2017; about LFC and Everton fans going from collecting tins to building a national campaign for the right to food. Its socialism is practical and dreamful at the same time. The sticker commemorating the life of the late Guardian columnist and campaigning writer Dawn Foster is there for a reason: Liverpool was her kind of town.

Ask a scouser what Britain’s second city is and of course they’ll reply, “London.” But I love that in a place. Maybe it takes moving here from somewhere else to recognise how special that is. I never wanted to live in a fantasy world, but I always hoped to find a place that was real and fantastic at the same time. Penny Lane is it.


Once a place is immortalised in song it’s hard to imagine it as somewhere in which people really do walk their dogs, or go to the Londis or get a haircut. When it’s the Beatles doing the immortalising, it becomes almost impossible – unless, of course, you live there.

Penny Lane, in Mossley Hill, south Liverpool, lives on not just as a Beatles song but as a street five minutes’ walk from my house. John Lennon and George Harrison went to the primary school on the corner, and Paul McCartney was a choirboy at the church opposite the song’s “shelter in the middle of a roundabout”, where this photo was taken. (Mossley Hill was a bit too posh for Ringo, who has his own mural in Toxteth.)

I see these landmarks while going about my daily business, and in the 10 years I’ve lived in Liverpool it has never ceased to feel wonderful and strange. Sometimes, it’s like living in a theme park: the open-top Liverpool Explorer bus passes the top of my street a couple of times a day. The Magical Mystery Tour bus – you can see the sticker on the street sign – ambles round daily on a three-hour tour of historic sites that I’ll never quite be able to take for granted.

Come to my house and I could walk you to John and Paul’s childhood homes. I’d show you the fire station, the barber shop, the park they walked through to get to each other’s houses, and the bus stop where Paul caught the same number 86 that I get into town most days. It’s a daily privilege to see something like the world they wrote about – still recognisable, though inevitably altered, 60-odd years later – through my eyes.

For someone who grew up in a pop-worshipping household, far away in Birmingham, a household that regarded the Beatles essentially as family members, it can resemble a living dream, a bit like the song itself. It was partly because of them that I knew growing up to have something like the life you dreamed of was attainable. Although moving to Liverpool wasn’t part of that early dream – I’m here because I married a Merseysider, falling in love with the place as well as the person – it’s in so doing that I’ve found the community and life I always hoped for.

Macca’s mental map of these streets remains intact to this day, as it was when he wrote Penny Lane from his Regency mansion in St John’s Wood, around the corner from Abbey Road in London. In McCartney’s telling, the “pretty nurse” selling poppies by the tram shelter “feels as if she’s in a play/ she is anyway”. When I’m going off to the doctor’s, or dropping bags at the charity shop, within sight of that same tram shelter, I catch myself thinking, how lucky am I?

Part of this comes from Liverpool’s own irrepressible, elaborately gregarious character, which to a dour Brummie like me is an unending source of hope and delight. Among the sights I’ve seen within yards of my front door are Ken Dodd’s extensive funeral cortege (with Dicky Mint, his puppet Diddyman, guarding his coffin), two Liverpool FC cup-winners’ processions – the main road a cheering sea of red and white, and a thumbs up from Mo Salah – and Stephen Graham wearing plus-fours and a tweed waistcoat outside the local wine bar.

Liverpool is exactly this, all the time: the dreamlike and the everyday overlapping at every opportunity. That’s not all it is. It’s also about dockers striking and winning, as they’ve done this year; chasing fascist sympathisers out of town to the sound of the Benny Hill theme tune, as Liverpudlians did in 2017; about LFC and Everton fans going from collecting tins to building a national campaign for the right to food. Its socialism is practical and dreamful at the same time. The sticker commemorating the life of the late Guardian columnist and campaigning writer Dawn Foster is there for a reason: Liverpool was her kind of town.

Ask a scouser what Britain’s second city is and of course they’ll reply, “London.” But I love that in a place. Maybe it takes moving here from somewhere else to recognise how special that is. I never wanted to live in a fantasy world, but I always hoped to find a place that was real and fantastic at the same time. Penny Lane is it.

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