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I didn’t know you cared

19 January 2017

I Didn't Know You CaredI Didn’t Know You Cared by Peter Tinniswood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another book about the Brandon family, somewhere in northern England in the 1960s, sequel to A touch of Daniel. Carter and Pat Brandon, after two years of marriage, find that living in a young executive housing estate with architect-designed homes isn’t all it is cracked up to be. Carter’s uncle Mort decides to cash in his life savings to buy three allotments, where he goes to live in a retired railway carriage and proudly grows weeds, among which cousin Celia searches for healing herbs to cure Uncle Mort’s wasting disease.

This is the third time I’ve read this book, 40 years after the first time, and I think it is still my favourite of Peter Tinniswood‘s Brandon quartet. Like the others, it is a slice of life, a picture of life in 1960s northern England. As I noted in my review of A touch of Daniel, it is now frozen in time as well as in space, a picture of a way of life that has passed, of pre-Thatcher Britain.

I also think, after the third reading, that it would not be unfair to compare Tinniswood to Charles Dickens. What Dickens did for 19th-century southern England, Tinniswood has done for 20th-century northern England. He has created larger-than-life characters that typify the place and period. There is Pat Brandon, who talks in advertising slogans, trying to be a yuppie. There is Uncle Mort, who in many respects is just the opposite. In the age of the youthful rebellion of the hippies, Uncle Mort was an elderly rebel, defying convention and the social expectations expressed by his sister, Annie Brandon, Carter Brandon’s mother.

So Peter Tinniswood portrays everyday life with a kind of Dickensian satire and dark humour. Some of the problems of the 1960s, which became obsessions in later decades, like racism, sexism, pollution and capitalist greed, are also present and treated with satirical humour, and occasional outbursts from the normally taciturn Carter Brandon, who otherwise says little other than “Aye. Well. Mm.”

That, and other sayings from the books, have entered our family vocabulary, and we have been using them for the last 40 years. “Pardon?”, “Ke-wick” (the cry of a pet owl), “Ursula smoulders”. And my all-time favourite, from Mrs Annie Brandon, “It’s only human nature for dogs to chase motorbikes.”

Yes, the more I think about it, the more I think Peter Tinniswood deserves recognition as the 20th-century Dickens.

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