Member Musings – ‘Paradise Lost’ by Philip Whitfield

More musings from the Membership, today’s edition has been provided by Proprietor Philip Whitfield.

Paradise Lost

By Philip Whitfield

Something got under Thor’s skin. The god of thunder and awe puffed his hardest, sending a mighty blast down Deeside. Brollies skidded along West Kirkby’s prom; bowling over the lunchtime crowd outside Tanskeys… more devastating than ten pins crashing on Bromborough Bowling Alley.

The canopy of a Jollybrolly flew over the sea towards Moel Famau; leaving me holding a limp, crooked matchstick, once a handle.

Even worse my 20-year-old houndstooth was stripped bare of its leather-covered middle jacket button: Essential ever since the portly King Edward VII (48-inch waist) deemed Never ever fasten the upper or lower buttons.

What’s a chap to do? 

Fix it.

Stepping out of Central Station as naked as a new-born bereft of swaddling, Thor’s assault strategy switched to blinding: entwining the jacket round my head.

‘Take me to Paradise,’ I pled, hailing a taxi.

‘Begorra, that’ll cost ya,’ the Irish cabbie joshed, enjoying the craic.

‘Street, not heaven, gormless eejit,’ I responded in his Dublin lingua franca.

‘Where in Paradise?’

‘Big John’s…’

‘He’s on the corner of Victoria…’

‘Splitting hairs…’

‘Awl right…’

‘Not a Brad Awl this time…’

‘What then?’

‘A button…’

‘What kinda button?’

‘Brown leather.’

‘You need Abakhan…’

‘Behind TJ Hughes-that-was?’ 

‘Stafford Street.’

‘Mum used to go there for her needles and thread for the embroidery class in Wavertree. She’d save up to buy cotton and silk by the ounce for ‘Dwina’s dresses and corduroy to kit me out in kindergarten jodhpurs.

‘They sell cloth by the kilo these days.’

‘Curtains are heavy.’

‘You’re banjaxed.’  

‘I’ll go broke if you keep shilly-shallying the meter up. Bang your boot down.’

A few quid for the ride and £2. 80 for a brace of buttons and the quest for Paradise was parfaire.

Post Covid has reignited make-do-and mend for some. Primark founded by Arthur Ryan in Dublin in 1969 scooped up 8 billion pounds flogging throwaway off-the-peg stuff last year.

Girls in white rubber and plastic trainers would no more consult Big John than fly to the Moon. Big John keeps me shod in Oxfords I acquired 45 years ago. I spit and polish each shoe’s uppers with Parade Gloss beeswax. Big John takes care of my sole.

Liverpool’s handful of leather artisans are experiencing a revival. Walk up the narrow Leather Lane near Moorfields off Dale Street. On the left Debbie Maugham’s third generation of craftspeople welcome customers every few minutes. 

What do they need? Belt buckles fixed; satchels stretched, Winston Churchill braces’ clasps reconnected; camel bag zips zapped… armchairs recovered with the finest Italian leather; leather buttons re-covered. (Debbie tut-tuts me for threading my own needle).

She’s a miracle worker. How many skills will be lost in this pandemic? Is the essence of Liverpool, its innovation, hanging by a thread? Is the city that gouged out the world’s first non-tidal inland dock about to be scuppered?

Let’s hope not. Scousers with dreaded P45s hanging over their heads are wising up.

I approach a shelf stacker at M&S. ‘Could you tell me where the sourdough is?’

 ‘Let me show you…’ says a shelf stacker, who, straightening up reveals a badge label Manager.

‘Just point the aisle out… You’re busy.’

‘No it’s OK.

She grabs my arm and escorts me to the bakery. I know how the Prodigal Son felt. For a few minutes the baker explains there are several types of sourdough bread (all in plain sight), some sliced.

I’d better disclose my interest. ‘I was ALDI’S guru in America in the 90s when they stormed across the states. My job was keeping the ball rolling.’


‘Now the little ALDI grocery store founded in Essen (ironically means food in German) has 1,600 stores in the USA, 10,000 worldwide; third largest grocery business in the US…and the most profitable in the World, focused on investment and growth, sales and customer numbers.

‘Private label is their secret weapon. Manufacturers for the premier brands keep the lines running with the same product and badge them with the ALDI brand, which is sold much more cheaply.’

‘ALDI beans are Cross & Blackwell’s?’

‘Keep it to yourself…’

‘Bit like M&S, my Marks guide says.

‘Not really. ALDI oozes cash. Billions. M&S is haemorrhaging, like all the big names on the High Street. Everyone’s buying online. I get my spuds and other heavies delivered… from Tesco Express 16 yards across Wavertree High Street. Miffs the lugger.’

‘Doesn’t complain?’

‘Lump it or loaf it.’

Avoiding another of Thor’s salvos I nip through the alleys for the respite of the Athenaeum. By coincidence a new friend, Kieran Quigley mentions he’s just been in Stiches in The Bluecoat at the end of the lane for them to pop on his regimental buttons.

‘Good job?’


I finger steadfast silver fastenings.

‘Good as mess dress, I reckon… paradisiacal so long as they’re good and tight and Thor don’t bite.

Philip Whitfield, a proprietor, reported war in Ireland, the Middle East, Africa and the Fall of Saigon for the BBC before he went into business. He’s writing a film dealing with global insurgency and intolerance titled Everyone Lies.