Jane Merrick: That's not wallowing. It's emotion, the Scouse way

 

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Calm down, calm down! If you're a Scouser like me you would have heard that phrase about every 10 days for the past 20 years, usually coupled with the flat-palmed hand gestures and "'ey, 'ey". Thank you, Harry Enfield, for cementing a stereotype of Liverpudlians that has been harder to shift than a van full of shell suits.

When it emerged last week that Brian Regan had been jailed for perverting the course of justice after he drove the getaway car in a Liverpool pub murder, he was remembered not for his role as Terry in Brookside but as the inspiration for Enfield's Scousers, all Kevin Keegan bubble perm and bushy moustache.

The brilliance of Enfield's sketch, which appeared in the early 1990s but captured the 1980s, was in its accuracy. Everyone in Liverpool in the Eighties had a bubble perm, even my Mum. But it also got right the other bit of Scouseness that Boris Johnson got so wrong. To him, we are obsessed with "wallowing in grief".

What he should have said, had he been aware in advance of our ability to hold centuries-long grudges, was that we do emotion properly. Enfield's Barry and Terry (Gary Bleasdale) are always arguing (before calming down). Not for us British reserve. This ability to tap into our emotions may be part of our Irish Catholic heritage, or a determination to set ourselves apart from the rest.

I once went into a Manhattan bar so chic that everyone, unusually for shouty New York, sat in silence, aloof, sipping cocktails. With a smoking ban in force and -5C outside, I was delighted to be tipped off about a secret smoking room at the back. I opened the door and found a room full of people arguing, laughing or crying through a fog of smoke. And they were all from Liverpool.

It was, arguably, Scousers who gave the country the flowers and teddy bear shrine – Irish Catholic roots again? They are commonplace today: mostly associated with the death of Diana and derided for their sentimentality. Look at the reaction to flowers left for Fabrice Muamba at White Hart Lane last week. But, in 1989, after Hillsborough, when we tied our scarves to the rails of the Kop, this was new; a spontaneous public display of grief. Not wallowing, but wanting to show that we were upset and angry.

In Liverpool a few years ago, a drugs baron, already convicted, was recalled to court on a technicality, handcuffed to security guards. His lawyer asked if his client could be released from his manacles while he gave evidence. Why, the judge asked. My client finds it very difficult to speak without gesticulating, your honour, said the QC.

But has the Scouser finally calmed down? On Thursday, the Liverpudlian comedian John Bishop featured in a documentary for Sport Relief in which he cycled, rowed and ran 295 miles from Paris to London in five days. He suffered sleep deprivation, shin splints and exhaustion, but was stoical throughout, crossing the finishing line in Trafalgar Square not in tears but with a grittily controlled emotion. Bishop is emerging as the nation's favourite Scouser, but, while funny (we are, aren't we?), he does not fit the stereotype. We will cheer for you, John, in decades to come, but the Scouser we will remember most is Terry from Brookie. 'Ey, 'ey?

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