Making the Best of Things: The Autobiography of a Camberwell Lad

by Len Williams

452 pages, 156 x 234 mm
47 photographs, 1 map (Black & White)

Hardcover | ISBN: 9780955577710 | £19.99
Softcover | ISBN: 9780955577727 | £12.99
Kindle ebook | ISBN: 9780955577734 | £7.20

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The tea tin had pride of place on the overmantle, a sort of shelf over the fireplace with a frilly dado hanging from it. On this was displayed our few treasures—a box with seashells embedded in it, a decorated biscuit tin (full of hairpins and junk), a nine-inch statue of Psyche (chipped) and our money boxes (usually empty). Below was the kitchen range which in winter time was kept alight continuously, usually with our iron kettle singing away on it. Mum liked her cup of tea and she often said that she hoped there would be tea in heaven.

A Camberwell Lad

Making the Best of Things is a record of the experiences of its author, Len Williams, over a period of more than thirty years. His narrative opens with a vivid and engaging memoir of childhood and adolescence in Camberwell during the 1910s and early 1920s, and culminates in a personal and anecdotal history of the Second World War, during which he served with the Auxiliary Fire Service and with an RAF Maintenance Unit (60 MU) based in Yorkshire and other parts of England. The central chapters are concerned with the changing fortunes of the Williams family during the 1920s and 1930s, offering an evocative account of the era of the Depression from the perspective of one who toiled, with little hope of advancement, as part of London's army of shopworkers.

Williams presents these memoirs as a candid history of his family, and more particularly as his testimony with regard to an extraordinary and disturbing family secret uncovered in the wake of his father's death. The scope of the work quickly broadens, however, to form a rich and detailed panorama of his surroundings in Camberwell, one that pays special attention to the places he knew intimately, including Stobart Mansions, Kimpton Mission, the United Kingdom Tea Company and the Camberwell Green branch of the Royal Arsenal Cooperative Society. Making the Best of Things is a meticulous and absorbing recreation of a lost world, offering masterful descriptions of the rituals and routines of ordinary life as Williams knew it, as well as first-hand accounts of many of the more momentous episodes in London's history, including Zeppelin raids, Armistice Night, the General Strike and the Blitz. This new edition, which collects these memoirs into a single volume for the first time, features editorial notes, an index, and a series of appendices relating to Williams's father and other members of his family. Making the Best of Things is also copiously illustrated with photographs and maps.