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on 19 May 2013
While I must admit personally to having blown hot and cold so far as the Blair and Brown governments were concerned I always regarded Alan Johnson as one of the few members of those governments who combined integrity, honesty and a deep-rooted sense of fairness with the character of an authentically nice bloke. My liking and respect for the man is enhanced by this book, not least because, although it's his own autobiograpy, in fact it's not about him per se.

And when did you last read a political autobiography that was not an ego-trip by the author?

Rather Alan Johnson's book is mainly about two remarkable women - his mother, Lily and his sister Linda - struggling for their own survival, and that of the young Alan, in dreadful slum conditions, with a husband and father, Steve - who was a total waste of space in every respect - during the period between the end of World War Two and the beginning of the Swinging Sixties. (And the book is a powerful reminder to those of us who remember those times of how bloody horrible in some many ways the "good old days" of the 50s really were; violent racism, unbridled sexism and homophobia, casual violence, grinding poverty, Arctic winters....)

Lily's life is an eternal struggle, made even more unbearable when Steve abandons her and the two children. Wastrel he may have been but his leaving is still like a bereavement. Yet she copes, robbing Peter to pay Paul, always doing her very best for Linda and Alan. Then Lily dies, at only 42 and Linda takes over, defying officialdom though only in her teens so that she and her young brother can stay together.

The story sounds tragic. While it's certainy sad, it escapes tragedy due to Alan Johnson's refusal to write it as a "dreadful childhood" memoir. Rather it is full of humour - much of it self-deprecating - optimism and generosity of spirit.

An easy read, in the sense that it is written in good,plain English, and written as a story rather than as either a polemic railing against the injustices of the time or as a profound political testament. And none the worse for that.

My only source of regret is that this man, with a character forged by intimate experience of the life of the urban poor, is no longer at the centre of Government.
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on 22 May 2013
Wonderful book, well written with complete humility. What a remarkable upbringing Johnson had. To come through it all and make such a success of his life is testament, not only to his own perseverance, but also the love and tenacious spirit of his mother and sister. I fully recommended this book.
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on 10 May 2013
I haven't been able to put this down since starting it. To the current generation,Alan Johnson's account may seem one of unbelievable deprivation growing up in now trendy Notting Hill, in what was then a crumbling slum. Yet those of us Baby Boomers can still recall the reality of the pre-benefit,pre-central heating,pre-health and safety era and this is undoubtedly part of the book's charm. Every page resonates with shared experience- the world we grew up in the fifties is indeed another country.
But that is not all this work conveys- a testament to the devotion of his mother Lily who raised two children and formed their characters admirably despite grinding poverty,failing health and a feckless,violent husband,and also to the strength and feisty determination of his sister Linda to keep the family together.
Written in an unsentimental and highly readable style,this memoir is the best autobiography I have read in very long time. Enjoy!
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on 15 May 2013
I have always admired Alan Johnson as a politician and you can see through reading this account of his childhood why he went on to be a committed socialist. I would recommend this book to anyone of any political persuasion. There is always an upbeat optimism even in the face of extreme poverty and squalor. I couldn't put this down and hope there are further episodes to come.
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on 27 May 2013
I rarely give 5 stars for anything because that implies the read or listen is perfect - well, in this case that's pretty much the case. Beautifully and honestly written account of life in London in the 50's/60's where Alan's sister Linda is the true hero A classic example of how someone can lift themselves from the depths of poverty to levels that must have seemed unachievable. Alan Johnson writes with a simple sincerity that is endearing and heart breaking - the account of his relationship with his mother strikes close to home and in parts is heartbreaking. Anyone with a passing interest in social history should read this - just a shame Alan never made it to Prime Minister. He would have been great.
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on 17 May 2013
Thoroughly compelling, this story is a fantastic bit of social history in its own right. Post war, slums, the position of women, the arrival of commonwealth migrant workers but it also details the early life of a remarkable politician so very different to the leading political figures who all seem to be cloned from the same Oxbridge college.
Alan Johnson comes across as witty, charming, authentic and self-deprecating, but the real heroes of the story are his sister and mother who never gave up hope fighting against what must have seemed like impossible odds.
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on 21 July 2014
I found this, the story of Alan Johnson's early life, a moving and encouraging recollection of a desperately poor upbringing.
Abandoned by his father at an early age Johnson survived a very deprived childhood thanks to the efforts of his permanently ill mother and a particularly tough and determined sister Linda.
In the current political climate where an Eton education appears almost obligatory it was astonishing that someone from a background like this should reach high office.
Alan Johnson always struck me as a thoroughly decent, honest man who carried out his political career with great integrity. I think it is a great shame that he never challenged for the Labour leadership as I feel that he would have been, almost uniquely, a leader I would have trusted.
As a writer I think that he conveys the hardships of the working class in the slums of post-war London accurately and without the sentimentality so often employed in memoirs.
I look forward to the next instalment and thoroughly recommend this.
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on 10 May 2013
An excellent book.
Written in a matter of fact and modest way but very moving.A rare working class account written from the inside and telling a story of strength and love.This is not a directly political memoir but it does give a voice to those neglected by their so called betters.I hope a sequel follows. Glyn Roberts
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on 29 May 2013
Alan Johnson had a tougher life before he was 18 than most people can experience in a lifetime. His sister was quite unbelievable in the sacrifices she was prepared to make. She also should wrote her story.
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on 25 June 2013
This Boy brings back many childhood memories for me. I too was a poor child in the early 1950s though thankfully I didn't suffer the abject poverty and loss of parents that Alan did. Reading his description of having no heating, no hot water, no lights and outside loos with wooden bench seats brought it all back to me. There were thousands of us poor children during that time although I'm sure that not many were orphaned and had to fend for themselves to the extent that Alan and his sister did. A very good read - it should be read by or to those who think they are poor today because it shows just how far we have progressed in this society in trying to help those who need help most. Well done Alan for making such a success of your life despite the poverty and hardship you, your mum and your sister suffered.
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