Excellent feature by Valerie Grove about Allan Ahlberg to coincide with his new book (for adults)
The Bucket: Memories of an Inattentive Childhood
Grove visits Ahlberg at his home in Bath: “Here is Ahlberg opening the door of his handsome house high above Bath, a lean and lofty figure with a thatch of grey hair and a handsome, gentle face. Clean-shaven too I am glad to say (his former beard, like Paxman’s, was not a good look)…”
You’ll need to be a Times subscriber to read the interview online – otherwise buy the paper, just for today:
Ahlberg’s latest book — cover drawing by Jessica — is quite unclassifiable. It’s for adults: a beguiling little gem, 144 pages long, called The Bucket: Memories of an Inattentive Childhood . He calls it a patchwork of poems and prose about his boyhood. Parents will recognise from Peepo! the 1940s background: a back-to-back terraced house in the industrial Midlands, with lavatory in the backyard, wash house with mangle, coalhouse, green velvet tasselled tablecloth and a wooden clotheshorse that becomes a tent.
Growing up in the town of Oldbury with its 79 factory chimneys, Ahlberg was a curious lad who noticed things. The adjective in the title, though, comes from a school report, reproduced in the book, accusing him of being (at 8) “most inattentive and dreamy at times”. He recalls why. Miss Palmer was showing the class a painting of a knight, Millais’ Sir Isumbras at the Ford , and explaining that a ford was a shallow bit of river where you could cross. “So I crossed,” Ahlberg says. “And I was inside that picture. Not in the reality of the classroom.”
His book begins with his adoption as a baby in 1938. His mother struggled by tram and train to fetch him from Battersea, carrying “bootees, bottle, shawl”. As she signed the form her eyes filled with tears. “Brand new mother,” writes Ahlberg, “second-hand child.”