A Bomb in a Basket

26th May 2006 at 01:00
A Bomb in a Basket. By Peter Congdon. Serendipity. First floor, 3739 Victoria Road, Darlington. pound;11.95.

Order from 0845 1302 434 or: serendipity530@tiscali.co.uk

Peter Congdon was a senior educational psychologist in Birmingham and Warwickshire, and still works independently as an authority on dyslexia and gifted children. A Bomb in a Basket is an account of his childhood in wartime Plymouth. It's not difficult to see the link between his professional life - so much of it spent in observation and note-making - and his interest in recording his private memories and those of older relatives. The result is an enviably complete account of a time that, for many, is a story with missing pages and some glaring errors.

Plymouth was in the front line in World War II, both as a naval port and a target for enemy bombers. Dr Congdon writes graphically of families waiting at the dock gate as Navy survivors came through, hoping for the safety of loved ones. Then, in 1941, came the raids that virtually destroyed the city.

"It was not until dawn that we emerged from our shelter, like waking rabbits, sniffing the air which reeked of smouldering wood and dust, but we were glad to be alive."

The author recalls the way children in blitzed towns collected bomb fragments, the more recognisable the better. One day, when he was out shopping with his mother, some teenagers gave him a complete bomb. Small but lethal, it was "placed carefully in Mother's wicker basket among bags of vegetables". Later, a neighbour confiscated the bomb and dumped it at sea.

Children studying the period will enjoy hearing some of Dr Congdon's book read aloud, for he provides a lovingly accurate, elegiac account of a time that's almost beyond imagining now.

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