When the author was three years old and his brother not quite one, his father left the family in the West Indies to look for better work in England. Soon, his mother followed and the children stayed with a grandmother. After two years, the boys were “dragged from the warmth of our grandmother’s protective arms” to join their parents. This short autobiography outlines what it was like to be a minority in an unwelcoming climate and a strange culture.
The trip to England didn’t begin well. The boys had never seen a plane, ship or train, and weren’t told what to expect. They climbed up “long and never-ending steps in the jaws of this gigantic silver bird made of metal,” and “strapped down as if we had been chastised for something wrong….” At one point, a woman threw herself onto the aisle floor and wailed they would die a “horrible death.”
He was seasick on the ship, and hungry on the train. The sight of London was “mind-blowing.” Still, they had a home, went to school (almost all white), made friends and had the adventures that most boys have.
The book is composed of various episodes in the author’s life: marriage to two women, divorce, his apprenticeship as an electrician and later as a “shift worker” for Scotland Yard, his addictions to alcohol and gambling. Much is made of relatively small incidents: his Achilles’ tendon snapping, boyhood pranks, a few sexual escapades. There’s little about his wives, less about his children.
The words the author chooses are often inappropriate for the context and overblown (he describes a meat market as “a produce of the various carcasses slaughtered in the disguise of providing sustenance”). The narrative offers no exceptional lessons and few engaging stories. As such, there’s little to recommend it to readers who are not in the author’s inner circle of family and friends.