Semi-detached Griff relives freezing bus journeys to school and the impulsive stealing of that half-a-crown from Charlie Hume’s money box; sitting outside Butlins at Clacton (longing to be inside and on the Waltzer instead of stranded on the pebbles with his dad); hazy summer afternoons spent with feral gangs in the woods, or storming the mud flats singing extracts from the Bonzo Dog Dooh Dah Band. The memories are like Mivvis, frozen and fuzzy at the edges, but a sweet jam of pure recollected goo at the centre.
From birth to the BBC, this is a story of a confident middle child. Griff’s devoted parents Gwynneth and Elwyn gave him love, security and plenty of asparagus soup from a fake wicker vacuum flask with a plastic top. Griff’s father Elwyn, a retiring hospital doctor with a penchant for sweeties and ice-cream, loathed the tedium of English social ritual and hid behind his family and woodwork. From tree houses to boats, puppets to tables, he sawed and hammered his way into his family’s affections.
Griff left the bosom of his loving, irascible, eccentric, solid, all engulfing family for the firm embrace of real life; via the Upminster Fun Gang, the Direct Grant System and Party Sevens, losing his virginity down the back of a bunk in a twenty nine foot yacht, discovering the romantic advantages of shared babysitting engagements and the drawbacks of infatuation with identical twins.
If he hadn’t moved around so much as a child, would Griff have felt less like a voyeur, looking in on the lighted window across the square, the Georgian house glowing in the sun, the clink of glasses and the bray of public school certainties? Would he be able to tuck in his own shirt? Would he be fully detached?
A laugh-aloud buffet of baby boomer Britain, Griff’s self-deprecating, elegant, affectionate prose reveals a little bit better how on earth you got from there to here.