I can’t say I’d normally be falling over myself to read the memoir of a former Home Secretary but Alan Johnson has always seemed an amiable sort of a character and someone I could certainly spend a few hours with.
Rather than focusing on his rise as a politician, This Boy tells Johnson’s story from birth up until shortly after his wedding. It’s the story of a hard life in London in the 1950s and 1960s, with some of the conditions described being absolutely unimaginable now.
More than anything this is a story of two women, Alan’s mother Lily and his sister Linda, and their struggle to ensure the family are able to live. His mother is plagued by ill-health and his father is of little use to the household. One particularly heartbreaking Christmas sees his father leaving Alan and Lily in the house for days while is mother is laid up in hospital. Linda’s attempt at making the Christmas dinner is ruined when she puts the chicken into the oven without taking the plastic off.
All Lily wants is to have her own council home rather than the dreadful dwellings they’re forced to live in. It’s something she strives for throughout the book and there’s little happiness for herself apart from some trips to the cinema.
Alan describes football, books and music as the three passions of his life and there’s some great descriptions of his trips to see QPR and of his time spent listening to records and forming bands.
This is a very moving account of a hard childhood with Johnson displaying a real love for the hard efforts of his mother and sister. It’s brilliantly told and I’d be certainly be keen now to read the story of his entry into political life.