Poignant, loquacious recollections of growing up in postwar, working-class Britain by Gourmet magazine copy chief Haney.
Named for the Labour Party’s winning slogan in 1945, this stylistically knotty memoir focuses on the Cockney relatives of the author’s father, Denis Haney, a “grapher” (telegraphist) from London’s East End. Denis relocated his family to suburban Chipping Ongar, 20 miles outside the city, but they were still eating the unappetizing fare of blue-collar Britons: Kippers, bangers and bacon sandwiches served as madeleines for young John, born in 1954. At the rare family outings to the East End’s Isle of Dogs neighborhood, he was charmed by the rough, chain-smoking bonhomie (induced by hard drinking) of his father’s siblings and extended kin. Plenty of food here too: Pickled onions, cocktail sausages “lined up like fatalities on stretchers,” winkles, welts and prawns were the holiday delicacies at these functions, and the author rapturously devoured them all. Weekly excursions to South Woodford to visit his mother’s father, a barely educated man who grew up in the London slum of Limehouse, yielded exciting, grisly tales of battle in World War I, as well as meals larded with Marmite spread on white bread. John was a bookish lad, and his ambitious, poorly educated mother had plans to inject culture into his upbringing, but he gradually and painfully became aware of class distinctions at the King Edward VI Grammar School and auxiliary military groups such as the Boys’ Brigade and the Air Training Corps. Haney’s reflections turn rueful with his emigration to New York to marry an American. He was far away for the deaths of his parents and various relatives, whose memories arouse acute homesickness.
Though clotted with Briticisms, this keenly felt memoir will evoke tender impressions of childhood in patient readers.