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NOBBY'S DIARY by I.R. Walker


by I.R. Walker

Pub Date: Sept. 10th, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-69229-516-5
Publisher: Self

In this short novel set in 1980s London, a boy becomes involved with an underground newspaper operation run by a group of homeless people.

Walker’s tale begins with an unusual premise. It’s 1985, and the city’s major newspapers are relocating their presses from Fleet Street to locations outside the city limits; the cost-cutting measure has dire consequences for the area’s homeless people, who rely on the warmth from the presses in winter. Speaking fondly of the warm air piped up to street level, the titular Nobby, an elder of the community, says, “It’s like having our own central heating system, only it’s outside. Lovely! Snug as a bug in a rug, even on the coldest nights.” However, Spencer Sweetnum, the 10-year-old son of a newspaperman, is the novel’s central character.When he discovers Nobby living in his parents’ shed, the two strike up an immediate friendship, and the elder man lets him in on a grand secret: the forsaken people of the city have come together to create their own paper to get heat flowing through the grates again. They’ve been stealing hardware from other papers’ presses and reassembling it in an abandoned tube station. To help his new comrades, Spencer must sneak around his father, who works in the circulation department at The Scribe. Meanwhile, the shadowy media baron who runs that newspaper, known only as the Proprietor, makes ready to crush his unlikely opposition. In one of several villainous speeches, he exclaims, “We seem to have been victimized by—indeed, have been outsmarted by—no less than four bums and a boy!”

Walker builds a colorful cast of characters in this novel. Like many child protagonists, Spencer doesn’t offer much beyond a sunny, energetic disposition, but Nobby and his friends’ characterizations more than make up for it. There’s Caractacus, who has an eye patch with “an eye crudely drawn on it,” and the enigmatic Kipper, who strikes quite a figure—although the author pays closer attention to his odor, which brings to mind “a touch of something recently deceased.” Mavis, the newspaper’s fashion editor, stylishly dresses in clipped-together plastic bags. And there’s the charismatic Nobby, a talkative old schemer with a big heart. Walker brings this crew to life as well as their unlikely iconoclastic newspaper, The Daily Bread, ostensibly founded just to keep them all warm. However, implausibilities abound: Kipper, for instance, happens to be an engineering genius who’s able to reassemble an entire press from purloined parts, and Spencer’s parents conveniently forget about him for long periods of time as he hangs out underground. But this is a heightened world of slapstick antics, and a few gaps of logic don’t stop the author from having fun, which makes for an enjoyable read. In one memorable scene, for example, a group is cornered by heavies working for the Proprietor. Kipper, like a malodorous superhero, flaps his lapels to waft a “greenish fog” at their pursuers.

A rollicking adventure that sends up and pays homage.