The Old Time
John Comer

Cover of The Old Time by John Comer

Growing up in the 1950s in the Chiltern Hills

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Paperback - 304 pages - ISBN 978-1-425142-98-8
Publisher: Trafford Publishing

Author's Note . Review . Further information

Author's Note

My generation which grew up in the 1950s was the last before television. Life was different then, and that eventually led me to the title, The Old Time.

I was lucky enough to live in a beautiful part of the Chiltern Hills in Buckinghamshire, and went to the primary school in West Wycombe, situated at the bottom of West Wycombe Hill, with the Hell Fire caves at the back and the Dashwood mausoleum on top next to the church with the famous golden ball.

At the end of my road were the meadows and woods where I spent all my time playing out. I have vivid memories of those days and my adolescence (there were no teenagers then, remember), and also of the schools I went to, and the teachers who made such impressions on us.

But this is not a book of memories. It is a loving recreation of countless funny and vexatious experiences that I had with friends and playmates. We had real childhoods then, and I have tried to recreate that world, to make it come alive, like shoes to walk around in.

It is often said of first novels that they are thinly-disguised autobiographies. The Old Time is a thinly-disguised autobiography which has a lot of the characteristics of a first novel. It's full of genuine dialogue and takes you through the author's life through childhood and childhood romances until the age of 18 where he sets off, quite unexpectedly, to university.

This is a book, above all, which shows the freedoms and expressiveness of the pre-television age, when it was pure joy to come in from snowballing to sit in front of a coal fire and to eat real toasted crumpets with lashing of butter and no conscience. A poignant book which shows the losses as well as the joys

Review by John Saunders

The Old Time is an autobiography of John Comer's youth, encompassing his post-war upbringing in West Wycombe, Buckinghamshire through to the summer of 1961 when he left the Royal Grammar School (RGS) at High Wycombe for Leeds University. It is sensitively written and captures the essential 'otherness' of the 1950s and early 1960s from a distance. In the mid-1950s he moved out of the area for two years and attended a different school, enabling him to draw a fascinating comparison between life at another 1950s grammar school in Canterbury and the 'Ancien Régime' of Tucker/Morgan at the RGS to which he returned for a further four years in 1957. The aforementioned masters and one or two others are vividly portrayed in the book as are several of John's school friends. As well as depicting our old school at some length, the book evokes High Wycombe at the time, particularly the West Wycombe area where John grew up and received his primary schooling. I found it a delightful, nostalgic read and devoured the book in one sitting. It is replete with drama, subtle observation and humour, and I'm sure other Old Wycombiensians will enjoy it. Some will find themselves mentioned in its pages (in some cases, names have been changed to protect the innocent – and guilty).

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