Most helpful positive review
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A vivid and engaging memoir
on 4 July 2011
Bombsite and Lollipops tells the story of the author's childhood in Hackney, north-east London, in the years following the Second World War: an age of shortages, rationing, queues, power-cuts, cold and all-pervasive greyness. She grows up in a slum scarred by bomb damage, in a flat in a block with a stinking rubbish chute, but the life that she and her parents lead is way out of the ordinary. Her father, known as Ginger Sid, is a street bookie with a string of shady contacts - he and her mother at one point attend a party given by the Krays - and the family eat well (thanks to the Black Market), dress stylishly, employ a cleaner and a baby-sitter and are driven in a Daimler when they go for outings or for seaside holidays.
The author has some harsh things to say about her own past selves: the solitary bookish little girl with a penchant for showing off in public, and the rebellious teenager who, determined to get out of Hackney, opts out of her Grammar School and heads for Soho and abroad. She comes across, however, as a spirited and plucky character, with the resilience that her mother showed in coping with an alcoholic husband down the years, and the reader may readily discern - both in the stroppy, impressionable child, and in the sarky adolescent - the makings of the writer she is set, at the end of the story, to become.
I myself thoroughly enjoyed this memoir, which should appeal to a wide audience. For older readers, much of it may have the lure of a trip down memory lane (Ah, yes, those sachets of sherbert ... farthings ... the ineffectual Ascot water heater ... Liberty bodices ... smog ... the 1947 freeze ...) Younger readers, who might be disposed to see this evocation of a past age as the stuff of fiction, will benefit from the writer's skilful pointing, throughout the book, to the many differences, social and domestic, between then and now. But readers young and old should enjoy the pace, wit and detail of an unusual and engaging story.