The second volume of my family history and personal memoir picks up where the first left off, with our hopes of prosperity and independence dashed and the next generation taking a different course through life. The extract featured on the right comes from this period of adjustment to straitened circumstances.
The book follows the lives, loves and careers of those that followed, tracks their movements through both poor and aspiring districts of London and stands, sometimes literally, by their graves. Among the themes dealt with are the role of friendly societies in working class culture, the grubbier side of music hall, early photographic publishing and the book trade. Lost love, illegitimacy, drunkenness and fraud provide much of the colour, two world wars a fair helping of drama but mercifully little tragedy. The Johns were lucky in that regard – or good at saving their skins.
The story began with my father’s death and will end there, too – a depressing place to leave it, you may think. Along the way, however, it has followed the effect of that loss on me in a personal narrative that often resonates with the first, and this strand of the books will reach a happier conclusion, giving The Man with Eight Names an upbeat conclusion to balance the sadness.
Another side of the whole project receives more attention in this second instalment. As ordinary people the Johns were victims of poor health and medical care and received limited education. But as the twentieth century progressed what are now called ‘life chances’ steadily improved, with myself as the greatest beneficiary. This incline in welfare and expectations might have been expected to continue, if not inexorably then with the same principles of equal access in mind. Such assumptions no longer seem warranted, adding relevance to the readability of my work.