Life in a Liverpool tenement block during the Great Depression is a grim struggle for Martha Connolly and her poverty-stricken family, as every day renews the threat of homelessness, hunger and disease.
Helen Forrester’s poignant novel relays bleakness and hardships, but also celebrates the spirit of unified hope of the close-knit community.
Helen’s compassion for some of Liverpool’s poorest residents shines through in this, her last, novel. During some of the bleakest years of her own life, she shared many of the hardships of the people portrayed in this moving story despite having come originally from a far more privileged background.
In a letter to the head of the charity where Helen had worked as a social worker, she discussed one of the challenges of writing about the very poor.
“Some time back, when I was writing A Cuppa Tea and an Aspirin, I had indeed mentioned to you the problem of getting photographs. Our main library here managed to dig up a few photos and someone else also lent me some. But, of course, on the whole, slum people did not have cameras, so photos tended to be taken only by people with a special interest in Liverpool’s poverty and were rich enough to own cameras!
“I was surprised when I saw [in a photograph he had sent] that every child had on shoes and, all but two of them, had socks. Their mothers must have got their shoes out of pawn especially for the photograph! Of course, if they got them from the police–aided clothing organization, they were specially marked so that they could not be pawned. Or maybe their schoolteachers had been particularly vocal about parental neglect, etc. An awful number of distressed people, e.g. school teachers, seeing their need, did their utmost to provide shoes for work and for children.
“Two of the photos show that the much-needed opening up of the Court had been done, by pulling down the back wall, so that fresh air could blow through. This idea was one of the first improvements made to slum housing.”