Paperboy

Christopher Fowler, Doubleday, £16.99

Remember not so long ago when we were discussing the groovy plans drawn up by the GLC for the Blackwall Tunnel Southern Approach in the early seventies? Those full-of-optimism brown and orange hopes and dreams, with little cardboard models and artists impressions of what it was all going to be like?

Dazza wondered at the time if there were any protests or petitions from the people being hoiked out of their homes to make way for Progress.

Apparently not. It would seem that the residents looked at the grand new plans with puzzlement before meekly saying “Oh, okay. I’ll be on me way then…”

I can now reveal that the protests amounted to one small boy running away from his family’s dodgy new location in Abbey Wood, arriving at his old house in Westerdale Road just in time to see the wrecking ball in full swing. That small boy was Christopher Fowler…

I bought Fowler’s (of the Bryant & May mysteries) memoir Paperboy last Friday. By Saturday evening I’d gobbled up the lot. In an age where everyone can be a TV star, a micro-celebrity or a self-published writer(ahem) it’s great to sit back and enjoy an autobiography written by a professional.

Even if it hadn’t been about the ‘wrong’ end of Greenwich, for which I have a particular soft spot, or about a white collar working class world that I recognise only too painfully (Fowler may be writing about the sixties – but this stuff was going on well into the seventies and even eighties. Hell – I bet it still goes on in pockets all over Britain…) and even if it hadn’t discussed my favourite kids’ TV shows and games (though I disagree with him over Noggin the Nog – that prog rocked…) I would have still enjoyed Paperboy for its sheer joy of narrative, fun with words – and sarky footnotes.

As it is, it’s a tender, unsentimental part of Greenwich’s history that’s never going to make it to the Pepys Centre or into most conventional history books, but which is just as real as any tale I’ll happily recount for the nth time about Sir Walter Raleigh and Queen Elizabeth I. The characters of Christopher Fowler’s childhood might be working class, but stereotypes they’re not. They’re real people – which makes a fair few of them all the scarier.

Fowler himself, a speccy, bookworm of a child, was as much of a puzzle to his parents as they were to him. As is customary in such tales, true understanding came all too late. To avoid the fights and arguments, he hid himself in East Greenwich Library, immersed in whatever reading matter came to hand until one day when – well, I’ll let him tell you about that.

This is a book intended for a market beyond Greenwich, unlike most local memoirs, which although often sweet – and, of course, important documents in their own right, can tend towards the “After blacking the fireplace, we always used to go down the Co-op of a Friday, before we sat in the sixpenny stalls at the Regal. That was how it was done in those days….” method of storytelling. Therefore, when Fowler does move onto the cinema (of which there were a fair few in Greenwich) his concern is more with entertaining the reader and building a picture of childhood than namechecking as many locations as possible. He no longer lives around here – and hasn’t for many years.

Nevertheless, this is still a local book – to be cherished by local people. Don’t be put off by the lukewarm quote by Joanne Harris on the front cover (was that really the best he could get?) I recommend it with all my spectral heart. It’s funny and touching – and beautifully written.

Taking a quick break from my almost one-sitting Paperboy readathon, (and in the same trip that I visited Lauren’s bench) I took a little pilgrimage over to what’s left of Westerdale Road (see top) on Saturday, as well as the hallowed – if a bit battered – East Greenwich library, which, despite the best efforts of several generations of town planners, still stands (just about.)

I daresay that the young Christopher Fowler would have gobbled up the meagre selection of kiddie-fare and large-print romances purveyed there, but the poor old place has really seen better days. Reading Paperboy, I just struggle to work out when those better days actually were…


2 Comments to “Paperboy”

  1. [...] me, by appearing at his local Gaumont cinema. I wonder if that’s the one that the young Christopher Fowler used to hang around up at the [...]

  2. [...] this area in the 60s and 70s – not least, of course, the novelist Christopher Fowler whose memoire Paperboy deals specifically with the area around Westerdale Road – and being turfed out his home to [...]