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This Boy

PostPosted: Wed Oct 01, 2014 1:28 am
by Garth Cartwright
I don't claim to know a lot about Alan Johnson as a politician - just another slick New Labour cabinet minister, or so it seemed - but reading his autobiography, subtitled A Memoir Of A Childhood, has got me interested in him. This is an excellent memoir, written in straightforward, unfussy language that is full of detail and emotion yet never descends into misery memoir - and considering how impoverished and often brutal his childhood and adolescence were he could have gone for a "woe is me" book. But Johnson is too smart, tough and decent for that. Instead, he tells of the Notting Hill he grew up in as a place of awful slums where his mother waited 17 desperate years for a council flat (getting a letter offering one weeks after her death), where casual violence and violent racism were taken for granted - along with a belief that poverty was their lot. Johnson's father was a scumbag and his mother broken by ill health, bad luck and poverty. His sister Linda was forced to become the family adult as a child and seems to have held the family together before she was in her teens. It's hard to imagine a London where poverty was so engulfing but this was the lot for Johnson right up into the 1960s.

And he is really good on the 1960s - he was a Mod, worshipped the Beatles (wisely choosing Paul as his all time hero), did the blues snob thing (briefly), rehearsed with the Small Faces (he played rhythm guitar in a couple of bands that worked the pub circuit), saw a young Rod Stewart at the Marquee, learnt a lot about clothes and scooters and seemingly always did the right thing. He mentions the purple hearts some Mods took but never mentions taking them himself. No mention of marijuana or acid. I'm guessing he was too poor and too practical to want to mess with his mind. Smoked a lot of cigarettes. Followed QPR.

Johnson comes across as a very decent sort - which means he has told his story convincingly (he could be a prick and I've simply believed his tale) - who relishes when bullies get their come tuppence. And he storms out of an exploitative Tesco job by telling his manager where to stick the job! If only as a politician he had encouraged workers to stand up and do the same then he really might have achieved something!

Re: This Boy

PostPosted: Wed Oct 01, 2014 10:01 am
by john poole
There's a second volume "Please, Mr. Postman" which was recently Book of the Week on R4. ... 8675789420

Re: This Boy

PostPosted: Fri Oct 03, 2014 11:49 am
by Pete Fowler
Smoking dope in the middle 60s was cheaper than drinking, Garth. Indeed, it was one of the very reasons that kids like me took to it. Alan Johnson's absence from that scene would have been entirely social and nothing to do with money: he did not mix with students.