Leslie John Robinson’s autobiography is a working man’s tale. Leslie dedicates a large amount of his autobiography to describing in lucid detail the experiences of his various occupations. Unfortunately the same cannot be said of the details provided of Leslie’s home life. This is true from the very beginning of the autobiography, when Leslie even describes his own birth as being a rather unimportant event.
“I was not the first grandchild of the Nutt family and certainly not by a long chalk in the Robinson family, so i should imagine that the only real impact i made was with my parents” (p.21)
What follows is a threadbare but also poverty free childhood for Leslie, who describes his father’s “soul destroying search for work” (p.22) and the joys of finding a six pence piece in the street. Leslie never complains about the situation which he found himself in growing up, despite occupying a position squarely on the breadline. There is an indication from Leslie that the sense of adventure which led him to the Army and across the world was due in part to the constant movement of his parents from house to house, which he describes as “nomadic” (p.26).
Leslie has little interaction with those from social classes above the one he occupies, although there is one particularly interesting, and awkward, example of class interaction when his parents take him to visit a relative.
“I was about eight at the time that the Robinsons….. were invited to a musical evening at Uncle Charles’ house ‘The Nook’ in Seymour Street. Uncle Charlie preferred to be called Charles which he felt was more fitting to a man in his position” (p.39)
What follows is an amusing deconstruction of the pomp and circumstance of Leslie’s middle class relatives, with Leslie’s father whispering that the expensive French wine provided by their hosts “tastes more like vinegar”. The culture clash of the restrained middle class and Leslie’s working class family ended on a sour note. “There were murmurs of ‘you must come again’ – but we never did!” (p.42)
Overall, Leslie’s young home life seemed to be positive and enjoyable, and he makes several mentions of the values of discipline and caring for others taught by his parents which he then carried through his working life.
When Leslie moves on to talk about life away from the family home, his mentions of home life become less and less substantial. The only time when Leslie makes proper reference to his home life is when he has no regular work, as soon as he leaves school his focus switches almost immediately to his labour. While we do learn from the autobiography that Leslie is happily married and fathers two children during his working life, there is relatively little detail provided about the ins and outs of his home.
It is my opinion that the scarcity of details about Leslie’s home life has much to do with the entire purpose of his autobiography. When he originally set out to write this work, Leslie clearly stated that it was written to provide his grandchildren and future descendants with an insight into who he was.
I return again to the preface, in which Leslie states “I give my view of my life and times, not a history of the years in which i have lived but my impressions of them”
I believe this shows that Leslie felt his home life was perhaps not as interesting as his working life, and that his grandchildren would be less interested in his home life and more interested in the relative excitement of his work in the police and armed forces. I stated in a previous blog that Leslie’s autobiography reads like a story rather than a life account, and Leslie’s choice to skip over the more mundane details of his life backs up this view.
The intended audience of his autobiography likely explains why he doesn’t dwell on the passing of his mother and father, his mother’s death in particular only receiving a short and respectful mention. The tone of the autobiography is a humorous and light hearted one, and Leslie clearly did not feel it appropriate to discuss at length the effect it had on himself and his family at the time.
Overall the domestic life of Leslie Robinson unfortunately remains largely a mystery. Unlike the fine detail provided of his time in the police force, and the army, and almost every other occupation during his working life his family life is painted in much broader strokes. It is difficult to gleam much about Leslie’s opinion on how home life should operate or even how it operated for him, which is unsurprising. After all, this was not an autobiography written to inform the general public of working class life (as we might hope), but one written to excite his family members. Discussion of household chores and other domestic necessities do not fit the bill !