The book receiving the most attention in the UK is not Dan Brown’s Inferno but a book about poverty – This Boy: A Memoir of Childhood by Alan Johnson. The author was Home Secretary from 2009 until 2010, and has been the MP for Hull West since 1999, but this memoir is all about his early years in west London. Chris Mullin reviewed the book in The Guardian and was very positive about it.
Johnson, who was to hold five Cabinet posts including that of home secretary, was born five years after the war at the wrong end of pre-gentrification Notting Hill or, to be more precise, North Kensington. It was a world of slum landlords, gang warfare, race riots and, it must be said, a strong sense of community. His first home was two rooms in a tenement that, even before the war, had been declared unfit for habitation. There was no indoor toilet, no bathroom, the kitchen was a stove on the landing and the electricity was metered, which meant the family were constantly scrabbling for shillings and often had to rely on candles for light. As a young teenager he recounts walking the streets with an old pram scavenging for coal and the repeated humiliation of having to ask local shopkeepers for goods on tick.
The book describes two strong women – Alan’s mother, Lily, and his sister, Linda, who had to assume an enormous amount of responsibility at a young age. It describes an era of west London not mentioned much today – the post World War II slums along with the race and crime problems.