Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Book Report/Nobbut A Lad

Nobbut A Lad
A Yorkshire Childhood
by Alan Titchmarsh
Memoir, 2006
Finished 2/29/08

When I came to the end of Nobbut A Lad, I closed my book, and said, right out loud, "wonderful." Alan Titchmarsh seems like the kindest, gentlest soul, who would never knowingly hurt anyone. Add to this a quiet sense of humor, and he's quite the appealing fellow. He writes in a very conversational manner, as if the reader is sitting around the living room listening to him tell stories. His first memoir, called Trowel and Error, covers more of his life, coming right up to the present day, but this book is about his Yorkshire boyhood, when he was "nobbut a lad."

A dictionary says of "nobbut" -

Northern England only:
just or only

We see the kindly parenting which very likely made him the man he is. We read about the beginnings of his love of the outdoors and plants. It doesn't follow along an exact chronological path. Rather it is made up of episodes and various facets of Titchmarsh's upbringing. The book is not only interesting because of the author, but also as a snapshot of that time in that place. It doesn't exist anymore. Nobbut A Lad is nostalgic in a way, but not really so much. He doesn't bemoan present-day life, and extol the "good old days." He simply and beautifully tells his story. You'll not find horrific details of a terrible childhood here. This is more the type of book that could have as its motto the words from Bye Bye Birdie: Spread sunshine all over the place, and just put on a happy face.

He writes:

I am not naturally pessimistic. Whenever I'm asked, by some newspaper interviewer, what's the worst thing that's ever happened to me, my mind goes blank. I can never think of anything that might be acceptable, except for the loss of my parents, and that seems far too heavy for their needs. Most of the 'little local difficulties' along the way I've expunged from my memory. It seems more rewarding to save space for happier recollections.

Is it better to dissect bitter feelings and lay them bare for the benefit of others than to soldier on and forget they ever happened? Not in my case.

But there I can blame my mother. At the end of her life, her mobility curbed by arthritis, her once-beautiful hands swollen and deformed and most of her body gripped by pain, she would answer the question 'How are you?' with a single word: 'Fine.'

And I suppose most of us are 'fine.' A bit battered by this and that. A bit bruised. A bit odd. But basically fine. And growing up in a pleasant town in the Yorkshire Dales in the 1950s was, for a child who liked to be out of doors, the best of all possible worlds.

Alan Titchmarsh willingly and joyfully shares this childhood with us, and I am most grateful he did.


  1. Nan, This sounds like a wonderful book that I really need to read! :) Thanks for writing about it.

  2. It is definitely right up your alley (or street as they would say in Britain). It is full of kindness and warmth.

  3. Thank you for the lovely book review. I'm looking forward very much now to reading this book!

  4. I am putting it on my list of books to read. I always just assumed (I know, I know...I shouldn't) that nobbut was the shortened term for 'nothing but'.
    Guess I wasn't far off.

  5. As one who also hails from the north of England, 'nobbut' is the short form of, nothing but!!! Alan T. is something of an English institution these days. He covers everything from his original brief of gardening, through classical music, daytime talk shows, and documentaries about this country, he seems to do it all tirelessly and never looks a day older.
    I have never posted here before and have to put anon. as Google seems to eject me every time I try to sign in. I came to your site via either Cornflower or Stuck in a Book, can't remember which. I live in the Cotswolds and love visiting your gentle, and lovely site...thank you for it... C.B

  6. I love Alan Titschmarsh. When it was on BBCAmerica, I would watch Ground Force every day. When he left as host, I stopped. It lost its charm and gentility, both of which were owed to Mr. T. himself, guiding the viewer with his impeccable narration.
    I have yet to read this book, but it is on my list. A secret trip to B&N is in order.

  7. Ground Force was such a good show. I'll be putting this on my list.

  8. PS if you have Netflix there is Groundforce dvd to rent.

  9. Aha my fellow countryman Alan is a true original and legend in his own lifetime back in England. He is great entertainment, regularly gets the giggles on TV and is a fantabulous gardener. I will be looking up this book, as it will bring sweet memories of home.


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