This book about growing up in the suburbs during the 1970s and 80s will resonate with a lot of us. What’s more, the suburb in question is Brookmans Park, just a few miles north of Barnet.
Tracey Thorn is most recognisable as a singer and half of Everything But The Girl, but she is also an acclaimed writer. In her third book, Another Planet: A Teenager in Suburbia, she goes through her adolescent diaries, revisiting her old neighbourhood and the result is part autobiography and part social and cultural history. Many of us come from families who since WW2, in search of the suburban dream, gradually moved out of London for bigger homes and fresh air. (It’s easy to forget how physically devasted London’s housing stock was by the Blitz.)
My family moved out of London, in our case taking a further step from suburban Enfield to rural Hertfordshire, just 30 miles north. For Thorn, although Brookmans Park is close to London and served by train (the main reason for its evolution as an aspirational commuter town), it felt like “another planet”. Remember, this is long before the internet and digital media, so the cultural remoteness was stark despite the geographical proximity of the capital. She also points out how her parents regarded her as from “another planet” for being so attracted to the metropolis rather than the material comforts of the suburbs.
Like Thorn, I couldn’t help gravitating back to London. More recently, as parents with a young child in Tufnell Park (having previously lived in Camden and Islington), we briefly considered more distant options like St Albans and Hertford, but Barnet was as far as we were prepared to go. We wanted to offer our daughter as many options as possible and we certainly didn’t want to be driving everywhere. So, we simply moved further along the Northern Line. In so many ways the tube is a lifeline.
Other aspects of Another Planet that make it so good is that it’s strong on local history (especially Brookmans Park and the Green Belt) and it’s also strong on the complexity of family relationships. Tracey Thorn writes with wit and tenderness about an upbringing so many of us can relate to.
Not surprisingly the Barnet branch of Waterstones had been taking orders for it – and when mine arrived, it was a signed copy! As well as growing up in the suburbs and beyond, I also grew up loving Tracey Thorn’s music, so it was a double result. Highly recommended.