A Northern Life

A. L. Mottley

What she dont know cant hurt me. A tyrannical mam, a semi-absentee West-Indian father and a brood of children, all girls apart from the Chosen One, who would have thought an account of childhood in 1960s Manchester could be so much fun? This is a society where a telly is a must, an inside bathroom is a luxury, and a scrubbed doorstep and ostentatiously clean net curtains are ultimate marks of respectability. Amina, as the eldest daughter whose care of her younger siblings includes posting one of them down the slide of the rubbish chute, is the one upon whom her mam relies and who therefore cops most of the backlash from the sisters adventures and mishaps. A precocious child, she loves school but hates PE and becomes a dab hand at forging excuse notes until her fictional injuries lead to an investigation of child abuse. Mam receives a note from school about the impending visit. We dont want them to have a wasted journey, do we? she says with a glint in her eye. Oy! get back here you little sod. An archetypal Mancunian Mam, Aminas mother governs her family with an iron rod but is fiercely loyal, trading insult for insult with her less-well-meaning neighbours and defending her half-caste children. Her authority is absolute, and her discipline both harsh and sometimes irrational, but she carefully, in order of putting on, lays all her childrens clothes on the fireguard to warm before school in the winter. The comic timing of this book, where a childs limited viewpoint is set ironically against the storytellers superior awareness, is up in the same league as that of Adrian Moles diaries. Devoid of sentimentality, recalled from the clear-eyed perspective of a child whose lifes goal is to get the most treats and flaunt them in the face of her siblings, these are joyful memoirs - truthful and forgiving, entertaining and illuminating.