Alan Johnson's Book This Boy -  "For Linda who Kept Me Safe"

Alan Johnson, the former Labour Cabinet Minister, has dedicated his new book This Boy to : 

“ Two incredible women, my mother and my sister.

“Whilst it will touch on tragedy and record our poverty, I hope it will also reflect the vibrancy and optimism of a community that has all but vanished."

He reflects on his upbringing in a run down area of London’s Notting Hill in a condemned house when most days were days of hunger for his poor family, but he does not reflect on them in self-indulging pity.

His mother Lily strove against domestic violence, recurring bad health and lack of money,to raise her two children.  

She neglected medical advice on the consequences of overwork for her weak heart condition and died while both were still at school. 

Johnson’s older sister Linda already had parental duties thrust upon her at an early age and, as an unassuming heroine, raised her younger brother while caring for her sick mother.

Johnson says that Linda would “ remonstrate with her father for his fecklessness” as she defended her mother when he would “stumble in, drunk and abusive”.

Johnston decribes his feelings on the day he discovered that his father had left the family home.

“This was no normal Saturday for me. It was a red-letter day , a Saturday I would always remember for the happiness I felt when I was sure that Steve had really gone. The sense of exhilaration floods back every time my mind returns to that morning. “

Before her mother had died, when Linda was 16 and he was 13, Linda had already taken full control of the family budget and affairs.

By the age of 10 she was cooking Christmas lunch for Alan and herself while her mother was in hospital.

Later, as well as running the house, Linda had a  Saturday job in Woolworth’s and a job in a chemist’s shop two afternoons a week after school.

After her mother’s death , she stood firm against the demands of relatives  that Alan and she move out of London.

She stood her ground against welfare officers telling her that she could not raise her younger brother .

The council offered her and Alan a new home - a flat on the top floor of a 10-storey building. 

She refused the offer and would not move till she was offered another, much better one, which she accepted .

She ran the house, did the cooking and the cleaning , and raised Alan till he was old enough to look after himself.

 Linda Johnston is a remarkable woman.

There are still many others of her kind today who endeavour to provide the means for their siblings and their children to overcome the effect that disadvantaged backgrounds can have on and mean for character, self-confidence  and success in the world beyond the family home.

 They too earn the dedication that that Alan Johnson gives in his book:

 “For Linda who kept me safe”


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