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Songs Of Separation
Songs Of Separation
Price: £9.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful, 3 April 2016
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This review is from: Songs Of Separation (Audio CD)
Love this. Great tunes, stories and songs.

The Year of the Runaways
The Year of the Runaways
by Sunjeev Sahota
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

4.0 out of 5 stars From India to Sheffield, 3 April 2016
A challenging but worthwhile read. Full review [...]

This Boy
This Boy
by Alan Johnson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Inspiring and Moving, 13 Oct. 2014
This review is from: This Boy (Paperback)
The story of Alan Johnson's childhood provides a brilliant and moving account of life in post-war Britain. It's a book that I had to read after hearing so many people eulogise about it. I wasn't disappointed. It made tears well up, it made me smile, it made me laugh and it made me angry.

It was shocking to read about the poverty of his childhood in the 1950s and 60s. The bravery and determination of Lily his mother was evident throughout this powerful book. Lily raised two children in a backdrop of poor housing, low income, firstly with an unloving husband and then on her own as a single parent when Steve, his father left the family.

Linda, Alan Johnson's sister is a shining star throughout his childhood. She provides stability and additional income to the Johnson family. Linda and Lily are two women of incredible strength and purpose who together help provide a love that the book has etched on every page.

The injustices that Alan Johnson experienced could easily have turned someone into a bitter individual but the stories of people around him also help provide an insight into why 'This Boy' provides a picture of a caring and sensitive author.

A good book touches the readers own sensitivities and this book particularly effected me when he describes his mother, Lily's death. I remembered my first encounter with death when my grandad was killed in a road accident when I was eleven and the profound impact it had on me. His account of his coming to terms with his mother's passing away was particularly resonant for me. He describes his lack of tears until he remembers her some time after her passing. This reminded me of when I finally broke down in tears several months after my mam died while strolling around a cricket ground. Those were the first tears I shed as an adult. I should say I was lucky my mam lived until my 20s.

The period after Lily's death when Mr Pepper, a brave social worker, supported a 13 year old Alan Johnson to live with his 15 year old big sister independently was incredible by today's standards. Linda's single minded determination made me smile and laugh as she stubbornly refused to accept offers of foster care or placement in a children's home. She stood up to authority, she fought and she ensured her and her brother could stay together living on their own with their own front door.

How Alan Johnson's life might have been different if he'd been signed as a musician as a 17 year old when he auditioned for Peter Jay and the Jaywalkers we will never know. One thing though is certain, that is, that politics would be poorer if it had prevented Alan Johnson becoming an MP.

The People: The Rise and Fall of the Working Class, 1910-2010
The People: The Rise and Fall of the Working Class, 1910-2010
by Selina Todd
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £20.40

41 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A stirring account and a book that compels you to keep turning the pages., 20 April 2014
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The People. The Rise and Fall of The Working Class 1910-2010

My dad is my reading alter-ego, his birthdays and Christmas provide me the opportunity to buy the books I'd like to be reading as presents for him. He loves books on history and politics, I do too but generally struggle to find time to read them.

For his 86th birthday I bought Selina Todd's book and when it arrived I glanced at the cover and started to read the introduction, I was hooked.

My dad left secondary modern during the second world war, he worked in various manual and semi-skilled roles, was conscripted at 18 and developed his socialism via his life experiences and involvement in the Communist Party in 1950s, trade unions and the Labour Party from the 1960s. He found his way into white collar work and has since read bucket loads of books and writes pages of letters to the local newspapers in the north-east of England on a range of political issues. I tell the story of my dad as I'm proud of his achievements but also as it is the sort personal story that Selina Todd uses to chart working class history.

Throughout the book Selina Todd offers interludes from the life of Viv Nicholson who won the pools and "spent, spent, spent" but ultimately lost her wealth.

The People is full of facts, discussions of working class campaigns and injustices but what brings the history to life is the personal stories such as George McCartney, "The volunteers viewed themselves as the guardians of democracy. George McCartney, a Scottish volunteer, was certain that his peers didn't go to Spain to usher in Communism or anything like that. He went to Spain to continue the fight for freedom of a people to put a cross on a ballot paper."

The book opens with accounts of life at the beginning of the 20th century of people working in domestic service, the biggest single group at the time of working class men and women. A group that were often regarded as possessions by their wealthy employers.

The feminism that is evident throughout the book is energetic and inclusive. The stories of women campaigning provides a refreshing counter-balance to an often male orientated discussion of political struggle. The fight for universal suffrage describes both the unfairness of an electoral system that excluded all women and 5 million men without property. The bravery of the women like Hannah Mitchell who said, "without us having the vote, no one would ever put paid to the life of drudgery that trying to make ends meet caused us" is inspiring to read.

While the book is uplifting, it's also depressing to realise that the demonising of people in poverty we currently see is replicating the media's divisive portrayals poverty in the 1920s and 1930s. The policies of Baldwin's Conservatives mirror those of Cameron's coalition.

Selina Todd charts the success of the Labour Party in 1945, "Kitty Murphy was among those first time voters who put Labour into power. She had grown up in the East End of London, and had witnessed the effects of unemployment on her father and uncles. By 1940 she was a young married woman, working in the Woolwich Arsenal with her mother, father and younger brother while her husband fought abroad. In 1945 she was demobbed and cast her vote while awaiting her husband's return. The Labour slogan - "Never Again" and "Ask Your Dad" - made sense to her. "We didn't intend going back to how it was," she explained. "The Labour Party promised us that they'd do this and they'd do that and they did, they'd done it...whereas I don't think that would have happened had Churchill got back in" "

The examination of the post war Labour government both celebrates the successes of a reforming government but critics it's meritocratic method instead of an approach championing true equality. It left a question whether the 1945-51 government could have managed public ownership differently with greater worker involvement in running industry.

The post war period outlines how conditions for working class people improved as did aspiration. However, the hard work and drudgery is also clear. A search for a new Jerusalem was not as successful as Macmillan's assertion that people had never had it so good.

Selina Todd challenges the often fashionable argument about the positive nature of the grammar school system, that's an area my dad will enjoy, his experience in 1939 of failing the 11+ stuck with him.

The 1960s charts the struggle for equal pay, the exhausting nature of manual and process work and the often inhumane way immigrant workers were treated. The period saw gains in wages but economic and political power was still held outside the working classes.

The story of Jayaben Desai, an Indian woman and leader in the Grunwick dispute challenged assumptions about both the role of women and immigrant workers in accepting the status quo. While the strike was ultimately unsuccessful it did offer optimism about working class solidarity across gender and race in the 1970s.

Reading a history book about the period after 1979 seems strange. I remember those years vividly, I remember my teachers working to rule, the attacks on trade unions, the unemployment (and fear of it) and the vilification of those who need benefits. Selina Todd brings these memories back and reminds the reader of Thatcher's mantra of individuality.

The story of the working class is not drawn to a close in 2010 but is simply punctuated. Britain remains unequal, more unequal than in 1979. Trade Unions have been weakened and consequently people still are striving to have access to economic and political power. The working class has changed from 1910 but it is not unrecognisable. The story of the 100 years from 1910 offers hope of progress, highlights the importance of aspiration and recognises the necessity of organisation of the working class through the Labour movement.

I'll wrap the book up for my dad. He'll be delighted I've read it and I can be sure of a great discussion of the history through the prism of his experiences, his reading and his interpretation of working class history.

I hope whoever writes the history of the people from 2010 to 2110 will write a different story about how the Labour movement wins the argument for more equality and more importantly manages to wrestle the economic and political power to make it a different reality in the future.

A brilliant account. Thank you Selina Todd.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 5, 2014 12:06 PM BST

The Testament of Mary
The Testament of Mary
Price: £4.99

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Bit Monty Pythonesqe, 17 Oct. 2013
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Quite enjoyed a very readable book but couldn't stop thinking about the Life of Brian and the quote "he's not the Messiah, he's a very naughty boy".

The Lowland
The Lowland
Price: £6.02

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Journey of Sadness and Passion, 17 Oct. 2013
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This review is from: The Lowland (Kindle Edition)
A beautifully crafted story that creates sympathy and antipathy towards all the characters throughout. The life stories offer a glimpse into all our strengths and fallibility.

I loved the pictures of India from independence to today and the way the portrait of immigration into a new culture unfolds with the past always looming.

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