Unlike a lot of people, it would appear, from reading their memoirs, I had a great deal of fun growing up. Sure, I had a few traumas, but who’d want to read about them?
I was lucky in that I had pretty exceptional parents who read to me, took me to plays and films, concerts and art galleries, and had, in both cases, a brilliant sense of humour. My mother, a housewife and music teacher, was quietly witty and a terrible giggler, while my father, who worked on the railway, was a sort of slightly mad, household comedian who could probably have made it in show biz, had he not begun to suffer from acquired deafness while still in his teens. He was also a gifted kitchen sink and shaving singer, whose repertoire ranged from music hall to grand opera, including the works of Verdi, Bizet, Marie Lloyd and George Formby(alas). He was a great ad-libber and improviser, and on looking back, I’m still not sure I ever knew the proper words to anything. Only Ken Dodd could possibly have improved on my dad’s version of The Road to Mandalay, and even now I’m not sure which version was which. If anyone ever asked me who was my greatest inspirations were when writing the funny stuff, I’d have to say my dad, Ken Dodd, and the man of whom Dad was a big fan, Ronnie Barker.
I grew up in Allestree, then a growing suburb of Derby, largely half-finished in the years just after the Second World War, and now almost unrecognisable. There were still fields, then, across which I could walk freely, local shops which have now all been converted into private houses, and a pre-fabricated school, known to children from the village school, apparently, as The Cowshed, which opened just in time for me to start there in the first intake, thus saving me from the dreaded village school and/or the dark and gloomy convent in town, which were the only two not very desirable alternatives. In the village, believed by those who lived there to be the posh bit, was a chip shop which was only allowed to be open on Fridays, in case it lowered the tone.
We lived in the newer suburban part about a mile away, and the whole place seemed to be populated by an enthralling crop of eccentrics, many of whom were far from benevolent. In fact, some were downright scary, but I suppose, as kids, we liked that sort of thing. There was also, to me, anyway, an eeriness, an unsettledness about things then, a kind of emptiness left over from the War. A sort of vacuum that lay in wait to suck in unwary children, which together with the local nutters so abundant at the time, afforded rich pickings for the writing of memoirs.

Winter Afternoons with Dylan

Marianne and Me

A Few Notes on Caretakers