This Boy: A Memoir of a Childhood

This Boy: A Memoir of a Childhood by Alan Johnson Read Free Book Online Page A

Book: This Boy: A Memoir of a Childhood by Alan Johnson Read Free Book Online
Authors: Alan Johnson
enough to start a new life. I think she won about £90, which was a significant amount in the 1950s – the equivalent of two or three months’ wages for a male manual worker. She used it to make down-payments on lots of things: a three-piece suite, a sideboard, a kitchen table, a Spanish guitar for me and a red and grey Dansette record-player for Linda. Inevitably, she couldn’t keep up the HP payments, no matter how hard she worked. One by one, her acquisitions were seized or had to be returned, except for the guitar and the Dansette.
    For Linda and me, that record-player brought a sense of joy that is difficult to articulate. We placed it in the middle of our room and spent ages just looking at it, admiring its sleek lines and absorbing the glorious smell of new plastic and rubber. While we were yet to acquire any up-to-date records, we could at long last listen to the old 78s, although I worried that the huge shellac discs would damage the delicate precision of the turntable. My favourites were the records by Arthur Tracy, ‘The Street Singer’, and his rendition of Frances Langford’s 1937 hit ‘Was it Tears that Fell or was it Rain?’
    Skies were grey that rainy day we parted in the lane,
    Was it tears that fell or was it rain?
    There we stood as lovers would;
    Did parting bring you pain?
    Was it tears that fell or was it rain?
    I couldn’t tell if your eyes were misty,
    Or if you felt regret,
    I noticed when you kissed me, that both your cheeks were wet.
    Till we meet again, my sweet
    The memory shall remain.
    Was it tears that fell or was it rain?
    I’ve never heard that record played on anything other than the Dansette in our damp room in Southam Street well over fifty years ago, yet I remember every melancholy word.

    By the time she was in her early thirties, Lily seemed to be degenerating from a good-looking, petite young woman into a dowdy, prematurely middle-aged charlady. Her fresh, Liverpool-Irish prettiness was fading, the glamorous sheer stockings and bright red lipstick made fewer and fewer appearances and the hand-me-down fashionable clothes she acquired from various employers, or scavenged from the market on the Lane, remained hidden beneath the wraparound floral overall she’d once used only for work but now rarely took off. Her beautiful chestnut hair stayed bunched under her turban. Wounded by neglect and battle-weary, she began to put on weight as a result of the drugs she had to take for her heart condition, her legs became mapped with varicose veins and she developed bunions on her feet.
    She was told to give up her cleaning jobs and rest. Anyexercise or activity that raised the heart rate, such as the nightly battles when Steve finally wandered home, made the symptoms worse. But Lily could not afford to stop working. When her increasingly frequent stays in hospital forced her to do so, we would be plunged deeper into poverty and debt and she had no choice but to work even harder when she came out.
    When I was seven and Linda was ten, Lily was taken into hospital again just before Christmas. As usual, she’d been paying her few shillings into the Christmas club for a hamper, which was stashed in the pantry. She had also already bought and wrapped a Hotspur annual for me and a Bunty annual for Linda, placing them with boxes of sweets in two pillowcases for us to delve into on Christmas morning. I’m sure Linda must have abandoned any belief in Santa Claus by then. If I’d begun to doubt his existence, my suspicions were confirmed that year.
    Steve went off on the afternoon of Christmas Eve and never came home. We were used to fending for ourselves but we’d never been on our own at Christmas before. We found our pillowcases and ate the sweets for breakfast while reading our annuals and waiting for Steve to return and cook our Christmas dinner.
    When he failed to materialize Linda decided to take control. She put the chicken from the hamper in the oven, checking the instructions on the

Similar Books

From Leather to Lace

Jasmine Hill

A Cup of Light

Nicole Mones

An Aegean Prophecy

Jeffrey Siger

Next to Me

Emily Walker

Rosa's Island

Val Wood