The Big Alfie and Annie Rose Storybook ambushed me the other day. It was sitting in the window of a charity shop while I was on my way somewhere. Sentimentality can get you when you’re least expecting it, especially where the children’s author Shirley Hughes is concerned. One minute you’re thinking about what you need from the chemist, and the next about how long it was since you’ve read to your kids, and why the little pests have to grow up so quickly. But they’re off to chat to their mates online and don’t care that you are left clasping a book with a hopeful expression. It helps – a bit – to know that you’re far from the first to go down this road. Literature and modern culture abound with examples. From Peter Pan to Toy Story, it’s clear that leaving behind childish things can be painful; sometimes for the one growing up, but more often for those around them. Is it possible to watch Jessie the cowgirl being thrown out by her owner, without reaching for the tissues?
Like many middle-aged Brits I came to political sentience chanting, ‘Maggie, Maggie, Maggie…’ followed by some general abuse inviting Mrs Thatcher’s exit. It was all so easy. Hating the Tories in general, and Mrs T’s economic brutality in particular, was as natural as breathing. For all the economic and social divisions, 1980s Britain was a straightforward place to grow up.