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Summary

'Nothing wilfully invented. Memory invents unbidden.' The 1950s were not grey. In Jonathan Meades's detailed, petit-point memoir they are luridly polychromatic. They were peopled by embittered grotesques, bogus majors, vicious spinsters, reckless bohos, pompous boors, suicides. Death went dogging everywhere.

Salisbury, where he was brought up, had two industries: God and the Cold War, both of which provided a cast of adults for the child to scrutinise - desiccated God-botherers on the one hand, gung-ho chemical warriors on the other. The title is grossly inaccurate. This book is, rather, a portrait of a disappeared provincial England, a time and place unpeeled with gruesome relish.

©2014 Jonathan Meades (P)2014 HarperCollins Publishers Limited

Critic reviews

"Meades has been compared favourably to Rabelais and flatteringly to Swift. The truth is he outstrips both in the gaudiness of his imagination." (Henry Hitchings, TLS)
"Meades [is] in the upper echelon of 20th-century prose stylists. His use of language is relentlessly inventive, violent, fresh, precise. He shares with the great stylists - Dickens, Joyce, Nabokov, Bellow - the ability to make the world appear alien while rendering it a more intense version of itself, and the power to recalibrate the reader's own perception of the environment in which they live." (Matthew Adams, Independent)
"If Meades was a racehorse you'd be calling for a stewards' enquiry. There's something in his feed which gives him the lot. He's working at terribly high octane." (Iain Sinclair, Kaleidoscope)

What members say

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A big disappointment

I have greatly enjoyed almost every tv programme Johnathan Meades has fronted, so I looked forward to hearing his life-story as an audiobook, read by him too. However, I was greatly disappointed, There is a place for self-depracation but chapter after chapter of it palls really quite quickly. I gave up on the book about two thirds of the way through, as a result. Maybe it has a more upbeat and engaging ending, but I rather doubt it.

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So dense with detail you could cut & serve as pie

Close your eyes & enjoy the erudition. (*bring a dictionary). Nostalgic for 50s & 60s England? Meades captures so much of that time, articulating your sense of loss for things you can't remember, but instantly recognise. They're described in lovingly unsentimental detail: childhood car crushes, the taste of poster paint, biscuits, holidays in weather-beaten caravans with weather-beaten relatives, parental banter, illicit curiosity about death, Benny Hill & Ken Russell and most of the parks and gardens of Dorset, Wiltshire & Hampshire.

Listening to Meades' monologues are a chore for many, but a joy to some of us, so several hours of autobiographical revisionist rambling is well worth your money or Audible credits. Meades' delivery is deadpan to a fault and you could be forgiven for thinking it's a po-faced indulgence of a book, but listen carefully and the humour will emerge. You could listen 10 times and still not register every reference. Enjoy the density responsibly.

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An absolute joy

Meades' own narration makes this memoir an absolute joy to listen to. Very funny too.

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Magnificent!

This is the most enjoyable autobiography particularly since the author/narrator is a unique genius! Formidable!!

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tvSSFBM BVEJP

I'm glad I opted for the audio book, rather than the print version. The fact that the author narrates this work allows it to be closer in format to his television documentaries. Abroad in sound, the 12" version. I don't know why that should have surprised me, but it did.

It ticks all the boxes for a Meades program (I'm won't try to list them). Panoramic views with himself talking to the camera from the middle distance spring clearly to mind.

The characters & themes will be familiar to fans of Meades' other work; uncles Hank & Wangle make appearances, as do classic cars, diversions (is this one a diversion?), new Labour, childhood friends.