"A lovely tongue-in-cheek memoir...a wonderful antidote to all those tales of childhood woe pouring from the presses; read and enjoy" (Publishing News)
"A welcome visitor into any home that houses a Nick Hornby or a Tony Parsons." (Glasgow Herald)
"An unashamed nostalgia fest . . . comic gold." (Time Out)
"Warm moments . . . thanks to the author's grasp of the anecdote." (Word)
From the Publisher
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About the Author
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Lt. Cmdr Ericson, The Cruel Sea (1953)
How far back can I remember? If I'm going to discover what it is that screwed me up without my even noticing - or even getting screwed up - I must dig deep. So where does my memory of me begin?
Nothing in the womb, for a start. I don't believe anybody really remembers bobbing around in a sac of amniotic fluid pre-birth - they just think they do because when you're grown up it still feels natural and nice to adopt a foetal position under the quilt. Pull yourselves together.
The first marker flag of memory is often planted by pain or misery. My wife Julie stepped on a nail aged four. Yowch! Run VT!
My own first reel begins aged two-and-a-bit. Nan and Pap Collins took me to Weymouth, and my only mental picture of this jolly holiday is being stood up and washed in the sink against my will and screaming the place down. That's gratitude for you. Nan and Pap kindly take me off my parents' hands for a few days and grant me a formative taste of sea air and plastic spades and all I can remember is playing up like a bastard at a simple act of hygiene.
There are Kodak-moments of me grinning at tin-topped pub tables in the south coast sun wearing a sailor's hat, and I'm told my catch-phrase for the trip was 'Lovely on the wa-ter!' (after a man advertising boat trips), but I don't really remember any of that. Just the soapy tantrum. I don't know if it was the soap, the embarrassment or the unfamiliarity that upset me - can it have been as dark in our holiday apartment as I remember it? - but at least this flashpoint of distress acted as a spark plug in my memory engine. I start remembering bits and pieces after Weymouth.
I have only the dimmest mental picture of our first house at Duston, a village unprettily boxed in by new estates on the western rim of Northampton. (By the way, it's pronounced Duss'on should you ever wish to go undercover in the area.) More darkness. Perhaps it was the drab Sixties decor. I recall, through the fug of 30 years, Auntie Wendy1 once coming to stay (without Uncle Pete); me characteristically hiding from a visitor (no more details available); and being house-called, prone on the settee, by the doctor. I know we lived in Ashcroft Close - a cul-de-sac if you please - and that we self-effacingly called it Ashbox Close (although perhaps that was after we moved). I've even been back there on a nostalgia cruise with Mum and Dad: down the main road past the post office, pub and little shops, right into Eastfield Road, left into Northfield Road, left into Grange Avenue and right. Like L.P. Hartley's past, it was a foreign country.
But I was there. For three years. I've got the tapes to prove it.
My parents were the proud owners of one of those bulky reel-to-reel tape recorders which weighed a ton and grew hot to the touch if you left it on too long, and they had the foresight to record me talking into it as a toddler. For posterity. (They've always been good on posterity, Mum and Dad - school exercise books, letters, swimming certificates, comics, photos, toys, their loft is like a well-insulated Smithsonian Institute. This curator's instinct is one they've passed on to me.)
I've listened to these reel-to-reel tapes as a grown-up, and there I am, at Dad's prompt and in a broad Northampton burr, delivering a two-year-old's approximation of 'Yabba-dabba-doooo!' into the microphone and gamely parroting the theme tunes to The Monkees, Z Cars and Dee Time. What an adorable and already mediacentric little poppet I am: [phonetically] 'Hey-hey Murnkiz. Peepuw say murnkee rouuuund.' I even had adorable blond hair then, and adorable red nylon dungarees.
But scratch the surface of the adorable Murnkiz me and you'll find the abominable Weymouth me - and not that far beneath either. Legend has it, I was a walking pain in the arse, and before that a crawling pain in the arse, although archaeologists will never guess it when they unearth the grinning, bright-eyed, red-nylon-dungarees photographs from the rubble and play back those reel-to-reel tapes. (Was I turning it on for the media at that young age, or do all kids make sure you get their best side?)
At least I gave my mum advance warning that I was going to inflict pain in her lower half: I was by all accounts - in fact, by her on-the-spot account - murderously difficult to give birth to. Then I started crying and complaining the moment I was wrapped in swaddling clothes and didn't stop until I was handed over to Mrs Carter at Abington Vale Primary School five cacophonous years later. Mum and Dad reckon the trip to Weymouth galvanised me into a 'little sod'. Lovely on the wa-ter!
Nor would I breastfeed, something I now lament, because a squirt of mother's milk might have prevented me developing asthma in adult life.
I even formulated my own disturbing party trick as the Rosemary's Baby of Duss'on. When I was in my cot I would literally bang my head on the wooden bars and gradually move it around the lino by cranial force and sheer bloody-mindedness. Little me. All in all, it really is a wonder my mum ever went through with a second and third baby, but mums are programmed to forget, aren't they? Dad used to have to stand in the doorway of my bedroom until I stopped headbanging and dozed back to sleep. Then he would silently inch away and I would start again. This was the dance. Welcome to parenthood. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.