Magazine article The Spectator

'So They Call You Pisher! A Memoir', by Michael Rosen - Review

Magazine article The Spectator

'So They Call You Pisher! A Memoir', by Michael Rosen - Review

Article excerpt

In 1952, the five-year-old Michael Rosen and his brother were taken on holiday along the Thames by their communist parents. The coronation was approaching, and the trip was an effort to 'ignore it away'. All went well until they reached Wallingford, where Rosen's father and a friend visited a pub, not knowing it had a TV set. They entered 'at the very moment the Archbishop was putting the crown on the Queen's head. The whole purpose of the punting holiday was ruined.'

His family's political convictions are a recurring theme in Rosen's account of his childhood and university years. Their experience was typical of many Jewish people at the time: branches of the family in Europe had been wiped out by the Nazis, driving the survivors not only abroad but leftwards. Rosen's father pronounced 'bourgeoisie' as 'buggers are we', and held Tuesday night Communist Party branch meetings at his flat in Pinner. When (as sometimes happened) no one else turned up, Rosen's parents went ahead with the meeting anyway.

His father had been born in the US, and so joined the American rather than the British Army. While stationed in Berlin after the second world war he was charged with writing a history of the Army's occupation of that city. 'Somewhere deep in the archives of Omgus (Office of Military Government, United States),' Rosen points out, 'sits a report, written by someone who would come to be called in the following decades a "card-carrying member of the Communist Party".' For a while, the young Michael assumed that everything good -- for instance the butcher his family used -- must be communist, 'until one day I was playing football with the butcher's son and he said that his dad said that we should drop the bomb on Russia'.

Rosen's description of his schooling shows what a horrible place 1950s Britain could be. His primary school playground was segregated by gender: a girl got into trouble for handing him a skipping rope across the line that ran down the middle. Pupils were taught the spellings of words but not their meanings. 'We coughed up piles of facts', says Rosen -- the best phrase I've ever read about Britain's absurd text-based approach to education. …

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