Book by author in his 90s about his 1930s Norfolk childhood is ‘unputdownable’
PUBLISHED: 06:03 01 June 2019 | UPDATED: 11:03 01 June 2019
Ten years in the making and out this week, The Boy from Rod Alley: An Account of a 1930s Childhood is a marvellous book which paints a vivid picture of village life in 1930s Norfolk says Derek James.
You've heard the expression "I couldn't put it down" or the more annoying "it's a page-turner" well, if ever there was a book which lives up to those words it is this one...written by an award-winning author, poet and painter.
Oh, and I almost forgot he is in his 90s.
His name is John Loveday and what a rare talent this man has. Artist, author, playwright and poet.
If any book deserves to be read it is this one. The Boy from Rod Alley: An Account of a 1930s Childhood is takes us back in time the way we were. Parts are sad, parts are funny and forthright....none of it is boring.
John, a former teacher in Norfolk, Suffolk and other parts of the country, was born in Old Buckenham in 1926.
He guides us past the great pond in front of his home, both feared and loved. The large village green with its mixture of buildings - homes, chapels, shops, a school, a church and workshops.
We also travel into neighbouring villages, meeting some wonderful characters and venture into the big city of Norwich.
John is an accomplished writer.
His novel Halo (Fourth Estate)won the McKitterick and the David Higham prizes, and was published internationally, as was Goodbye, Buffalo Sky, (Bloomsbury) which won Best Children's Book Award.
"The book took about ten years to write. I suppose it would be more accurate to say 'accumulate,'" John told me.
"I was determined to get the child's experiences through the senses, rather than the usual self-congratulation of memoir," he added.
"I think one of my aims was to make a truthful record of 'how it was' and celebrate lives, but quickly it also became an interest in a way of writing," said John.
It was back in 1971 we reported how he had a play called "You've Been a Long Time Arthur" accepted for the BBC-2 Thirty -Minute Drama series.
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It was shown the following year and was a hit with viewers telling the story about two youths on the run who go to the home of a women who fostered one of them. The part was played by the talented actress Mona Bruce who died in Suffolk in 2008.
At the time John, then 45, was the headmaster of a village primary school in Oxfordshire.
The boy from Old Buckenham went to the village school and then Diss Grammar School from 1939 until 1943 during the war years.
He qualified as a teacher in London and after National Service in the Royal Army Education Corps. His first teaching job was at Tasburgh Hall Hostel and he moved on to Old Buckenham, Roydon, near Diss, and Carleton Rode.
After appointments in Essex, Suffolk and Hertfordshire he moved to a school in Oxfordshire where he was headmaster.
John married Evelyn, the daughter of Ted Houchin, formerly farm manager at Gaymer's of Attleborough, and they had two daughters and a son. He is now a grandfather and great grandfather.
He painted the picture on the cover of the book. The view from his window. "The name Rod Alley used to puzzle me. Eventually, I noticed that an alley could be a way between lines of trees, or shrubs, and found that 'rod' was an old name for osiers, " he said.
This is a story of growing up in a decade, in the aftermath of the Great War as ex-soldiers ride their old army bikes, 'widow-women are familiar figures and 'Umbrella Joe' paces in shell-shock aimlessness.
We read about of a lad growing up in Norfolk between the wars. The characters which lived in the village and the old Hippodrome in Norwich.
John tells it straight. It is funny. It is sad and at times quite rude.
Young boys were rude! And still are.
We meet the likes of Mr Crane, the tallest man in the village who rode the tallest bike. His nickname was...best not repeat it.
Then there was Manny Bush, Naff Etteridge, Sudden Rudd, Stoot Loveday, Cuckoo Loveday, Podger Fisk, Tip Self, Fiddler Wright, Pippin Elvin, Lugs....
As for their exploits...you'll have to buy the book. I think you'll love it.
The Boy from Rod Alley: An Account of a 1930s Childhood by John Loveday is in the shops now at £9.99 It is a Matador Memoir and is also available at www.troubador.co.uk
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