When We Were Young

28th October 2005 at 01:00
WHEN WE WERE YOUNG: A COMPENDIUM OF CHILDHOOD. Compiled and illustrated by John Burningham. Bloomsbury pound;7.99

This is one of those "dipping into" books that you make yourself put down, because you want to delay the moment when you search in vain for a bit you haven't read. The delights are legion. There's John Major pleading with his father to be allowed to keep his wireless in bed with him (cricket, of course) and being told he'll end up in politics: "I think you have the tongue for it."

Then there's Sylvia Syms, in therapy as an adult still asking for her mum (she died when Sylvia was 12). And the young Dirk Bogarde being mildly propositioned by kind Mr Dodd in the cinema.

It is very much a truthful account of childhood as it's remembered, the carefree happiness well offset by doses of prurience, bewilderment, and fear.

One of the best bits is Norman Lewis's account of how his Sunday School teacher, Mr Bowles, told boys about the facts of life helped by a mechanical demonstration featuring dolls driven by a miniature steam engine. (At last, a good reason for watching Antiques Roadshow.) "A brief prayer in which we all joined followed," says Mr Lewis, "and our preparation for life was at an end."

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