Dark days when we had to take out the light bulb just to do the ironing

Alan Johnson, at the Yorkshire Post  literary lunch at The Crown Hotel in Harrogate   Picture by Tony Johnson.
Alan Johnson, at the Yorkshire Post literary lunch at The Crown Hotel in Harrogate Picture by Tony Johnson.
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It was the present that changed his life, except that he had no idea how to plug it in.

Alan Johnson, the former Labour Home Secretary and now award-winning author, had been given a Dansette record player by his mother, after she came up lucky on the pools.

Their house, not far from where Grenfell Tower later stood, had electricity, “but there were no sockets over the skirting board”, he recalled at yesterday’s Yorkshire Post Literary Lunch, part of the Raworths Harrogate International Festivals.

“So my sister – nine years old – had to stand on a chair, take the light bulb out and plug the Dansette into an adapter in the light socket.

“I’ve now discovered that kind of thing was common practice. No-one had vacuum cleaners or televisions, and people have told me they remember their mum doing the laundry with the iron plugged in where the light bulb should have been.”

Mr Johnson’s own mother died when he was 14. His father had departed years before and he was left in the care of his sister, who was only four years older. As a teenager, to earn money, he collected the cash from his friend’s milk round in Notting Hill, where the clients included someone at 10, Rillington Place, the address at which John Christie killed at least eight women, including his wife.

Mr Johnson’s latest memoir, In My Life, is about his love of early rock music and The Beatles in particular, though he admitted that his first record was a show tune, Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’Be. Asked if his was the raunchy Lionel Bart original or the cleaned-up version by Max Bygraves, he said: “I didn’t even know there was a dirty one.”

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