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Memoir set in BIRMINGHAM

6th July 2020

Broken Greek by Pete Paphides, memoir set in Birmingham 1970s/80s.

Chosen as BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week.

Memoir set in Birmingham

I listened to this on audiobook and it took me right back… to a childhood of pop music, Top of the Pops, Woolworths, Wimpy and being able to smoke on the top of metropolitan buses. All in the 1970s/80s.

Takis, who soon wanted to be called Peter, was the son of Greek / Greek Cypriot parents, who were, as it turns out, unhappily married. As a couple they ran various fish and chip shops around Birmingham and had to work hard to make a living. Little Peter went on holiday one Summer with his parents, to Greece and to Cyprus and he experienced carefree days with the extended family. When he came back, selective mutism descended and he only chose to speak to members of his close family. That lasted three years until – almost casually – his brother Aki intervenes and the author’s ability to speak and interact is restored. But this kind of behaviour is about keeping oneself emotionally safe and the mutism may have passed but other forms of ritual behaviour ensued.

From that point forward this is the story of the shy and prepubescent Peter cleaving his way through friendships and school, with a clear interest in the music scene of the era, an interest that gave him focus and meaning. If you grew up in the late 1970s, early 1980s you will be enchanted by the copious mentions of familiar titles and musicians! They are all there, from Abba to Dexys Midnight Runners, Brotherhood of Man to UB40 and The Police, and many, many more.

Pete’s anxiety was in part the worry that he was more in tune with English culture than with his familial traditions and somehow the disappointment shown by his parents would possibly have felt pretty intolerable. Fantasies about parental substitutes amongst the pop glitterati kept him anchored, but feeling guilty.

Wow, the era really does transport you. Dial-A-Disk, anyone remember that? You would dial a number (you had to dial 16!) and there would be an automatic play of a random disc from the Top 10. Repeat it and you might well get another randomised choice. Or not! You could easily hear the same tune twice if you were unlucky!

I found this memoir quite charming and poignant. I am glad to say that Pete went on to have a career as a music critic. If you are familiar with the music of that era, then this will be a trip back in time. Personally, I got to the point when Adam and the Ants appeared and it was then that my interest waned a little. This is a book, in its paperback form, of just short of 600 pages and so it is a lengthy tome stuffed with memorabilia from the 70s and 80s. Overall, a delight for those looking for a memoir of growing up at a time when the pop scene was so vibrant and eclectic. And how heart-rending is that cute little boy on the cover, looking so shyly yet keenly at the camera!

Tina for the TripFiction Team

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