“Words, words for his word-hoard” is how Robert Druce reacts in this memoir to his grandma’s cataloguing of plants and insects for him when he was a small child. Robert loved both words and facts – and indeed this is a well-woven feast of words for anyone who loves the English language and an extraordinary treasure trove about life in the middle of the 20th century for anyone who loves facts! And above all, it is a pleasure to read a book so full of wit and wisdom.
I have just finished reading “My Dad’s a Policeman” for the second time! Expressions which might sometimes sound corny or even banal, like “dazzled” and “scintillating” come to mind because of the abounding richness of the language, the cornucopia of extraordinary details of life back in the forties and fifties, the thrill in reading about the doings of wayward schoolboys, about how Robert and his mates spent their time magically turning all kinds of odds and ends into wonderful, exciting and, often, exploding toys, how they explored every corner of the countryside, how they gave bad teachers hell and appreciated good teachers, their thrill, well above all Robert’s thrill, at the magic of words and the luminous horizons opening up to him through his wide reading, the excitement attached to his sexual awakening, the joy and frustrations with his parents – and with his girlfriends, his wit and perseverance. His Dad, the policeman in the village and very much the policeman at home, and his Mum wanted him to do better than they had done in life, but Robert needed no pushing. He makes his account of days in the country, in school, in church, in his mother’s kitchen come so alive. The details kaleidoscope thick and fast before our eyes, and one wants them to go on coming, because it is all so enthrallingly entertaining. Although Robert may also write about the most prosaic things in life, his vacation jobs as a student (postman, gardener, station porter, navvy, and many more), case studies of kids in Hackney, his life as a national serviceman, it is never for one moment boring – one just has to on reading, and with the deepest pleasure.
I must make a confession: I did actually know Robert Druce rather well. Would I have enjoyed the book if I had not known him? The answer is: yes, and yes again. It is much more than a personal memoir. It is more like a profoundly moving coming-of-age novel, although it begins with fascinating details of very young childhood, is dense with philosophical thoughts on education, both at school and home, and ends, much too soon, with Robert (boasting a degree in medieval French) teaching English in a secondary modern school and getting married. It thus ends on a rather sad note. He met the girl who he thought was to be the love of his life when he was twenty-one. The uproarious scene of their first night in bed, interrupted by his deeply shocked mother, is one of the many delights of the book. After their disastrous breakup, which he describes movingly by being brutally honest with himself, and almost on the rebound, he falls in love with Emily, who he ends up by marrying rather half-heartedly. They leave their unexciting marriage reception for what one imagines will be their equally unexciting honeymoon in the dingy little house in a London suburb that they will from now on have to share with their landlord. The book ends there, but – as with a really good novel – the reader feels uplifted by experiencing every detail of this extraordinary man’s early life.
Could somebody please go on with this wonderful story?
by James Pankhurst