Thursday, November 16, 2006

Untorn tickets

Another British Council offering, this book was written by Paul Burke. It's about the lives of two lads in 1978/79, both from severely Catholic backgrounds in London (one Polish, one Irish) and the period in their lives between O-levels and A-levels, when they both get jobs in the local cinema. One goes off to become a film-buff and a mod, the other falls in love. They also find ways of enriching themselves and develop a fairly comfortable lifestyle for lads so young. At the same time, the very strict Catholic boys' grammar school they both attend loses its sixth form and they suddenly have to attend a sixth form college where life is anything but strict.

The book is quite funny and describes very well the agonies young men go through in relation to girls, their family traditions and religion, the seemingly total lack of conscience about their enrichment activities (what do I know about the agonies of young men?). A number of other interesting characters pop up such as the cinema manager, the boys' idiosyncratic families, the Jewish girlfriend, and here and there the story takes some very unexpected turns. In some ways the story jumps along like a car driven by a learner driver; en passant it includes a blistering critique of the comprehensive education system (it was written in 2002 well after many grammar schools were abolished), comments on the Rachman housing scandals and other events of the time. Another light read, and again not a Duracell book.

How do I know it was set in 1978? That spring I spent a month pruning the Queen's roses in Windsor (so they would be flowering the day she went to Ascot) together with a girl from Singapore who always listened to Radio 1 - it was in the days before walkmen and MP3 players. It was the season of Kate Bush's 'Wuthering Heights' (ye gads) and Paul McCartney's 'Mull of Kintyre' - both of which were played endlessly. Come to think of it, Kate Bush's song may not have been so bad; it was certainly different - but that awful squeaky voice! Worse than a vile-din! These events get a mention in the book....