‘”Begin at the beginning……”‘ (p.20)
In his nostalgic, five-part memoir, One Step at a Time, Leslie John Robinson writes with pleasure about a happy childhood and dogged working life. Born in ‘Poulton cum Seacombe, an urban district of Wallasey on the west bank of the River Mersey’ (1) in 1929, Robinson proudly dedicates his work to his ‘daughter Jane’, ‘son Andrew’ and his ‘brand- new grand-daughter Nanette’ (Preface). Writing about the life of his late father ‘with affection’ (6), Robinson explains how his family ‘were luckier than most other large families of their time’ for having come ‘through the Great War without the Angel of Death taking his due’ (5).
A large section of Robinson’s work recalls joyful childhood memories such as ‘a grand carnival’ (17) and ‘the music hall’ (18). He quickly delves into the reason for the title of his memoir, a sentence uttered to him by his mother as he learned to walk as a small child. He has fond memories of being a member of the ‘Tower Hill Gang’ (55) where his disciplines were ‘the defeat of Adolph Hitler and all his spies in the Tower Hill area’ and ‘to be ready to go to the assistance of Flash Gordon and all other defenders of the free world’ (57). This chapter adds an element of humour to the memoir as the boys, aged nine to eleven put the world to rights! However, there is a solemn shift in ‘Chapter VIII ‘in which he recalls ‘The Thetis Disaster’ where the military submarine ‘sank out of sight’ killing many local ‘civilians’ (50).
There is a focus on career throughout the memoir as Leslie John Robinson struggles to find a job that he enjoys but strives to stay in the workplace in order to provide for his family. This mentality may have been borrowed from Leslie’s father and grandfather as he strongly emphasises the influence of their working lives at the beginning of the memoir. Gaining his first job as a cobbler’s delivery boy aged just ten, he became ‘one of the chosen, one of the employed’ (45). He then left school ‘at Easter 1943 and started work with the Birkenhead and District Co-op at their bakery’ as a van boy before becoming an apprentice painter shortly after turning sixteen. Robinson decided this was not the job for him and went on to be accepted by the Armed Transport Regiment of The Territorial Army. Arriving ‘at the Depot Company of the South Lancashire Regiment on 24th September 1947’ (86) Leslie John Robinson served a lengthy career in the army, being deployed to Egypt on the M.V Empire Pride (91) despite his mother’s disapproval. She had told him that he ‘was damned for life as decent people did not associate with soldiers’ (87). Finally, Robinson was sworn in as ‘police Constable 288 on 6 April 1956’ (154) this being his final career path before ‘pastures new’ (220).
Although a lot of emphasis is placed on his childhood and career, the author appears to be a passionate family man who talks highly of his wife Hazel, despite taking ‘an instant dislike of one another’ (83) upon their first meeting. He recalls their life before marriage enjoying ‘cycling and going to the cinema’, with their ‘favourite haunt’ being ‘the Plaza in Borough Road’ (84). His paid work meant he and Hazel could enjoy ‘a good social life’ attending some ‘very good social evenings’ (85). Giving up life in Birkenhead, the couple eventually moved to a ‘new home on Teesside’ (220) with their two children Jane and Andrew, in order for Leslie to further his Police career. After another job working for a large business, associating with the middle- class yet still living a working- class lifestyle left a bad taste in Leslie’s mouth. Eventually, he resigned as there was a ‘bad feeling (230) between himself and his employers and he went on to start his own business, something he had always longed for.
In the final pages of his memoir, Leslie John Robinson speaks of the ‘black clouds of recession’ that drove his business into liquidation meaning his family ‘had nothing’ but ‘a few pounds’. He explained ‘the future looked bleak’ (231) after entering the eighties ‘with what seemed to be a death wish’ (231) but with the support of his wife and children, and in the words of his mother and the corporal, they took it ‘one step at a time’ (231).
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