Family fortunes had dwindled into a genteel memory of former wealth.
From Biggles to bee-keeping, John Carey threads together the chapters of his life in books - taking in politics, social history and the skirmishes of academia along the way.
Vignettes of pre-war Hammersmith and Barnes accompany affectionate accounts of Saturday jobs which he was expected to do to compensate the household for staying on at school.
The book is also partly a tribute to the grammar school system. He skewers the snobbishness of Oxford in the 50s but also gives us endearing portraits of the writers and scholars he met and was taught by - including Graves, Larkin and Heaney.
Later in his life, his politics and his sometimes controversial cultural criticism take centre stage, producing a commentator who is not afraid to move between genres and labels, always saying something refreshing and frequently unexpected.
Family fortunes had dwindled into a genteel memory of former wealth by the time the young Carey was born in pre-war south London.
Read by Nicholas Farrell
Abridged and directed by Jill Waters
A Waters Company production for BBC Radio 4.