Broken Greek- Pete Paphides (2020) – A Real Life Review

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Music Journalist Pete Paphides has taken me off into a time machine with this memoir of his childhood.  It felt like I was back in the 70’s and early 80’s as he recreates the Acocks Green area of Birmingham so vividly and with excellent recall.  Running alongside his memories (and no doubt enhancing them greatly as there is nothing like music to recreate past times) is what is amounts to a soundtrack of his young life.

Paphides was the second son of Greek-Cypriot parents who had come over to Birmingham and soon found themselves running chip shops.  His father never lost the intense yearning to go back to Cyprus and only listened to music from his homeland which the young Takis found intense and mournful.  (His father shifted a little when Abba and Boney M came along).  His son attempted to make sense of his position in a culture different to his parents but struggled and became an elective mute speaking only to parents, his brothers and the occasional teacher when no other children were around.  His brother introduced him to the telephone Dial-A-Disc service which became a bit of an early obsession with him not quite able to process the magic of hearing The Rubettes’ “Sugar Baby Love” through the phone line.  Lack of self-esteem led him to think his parents didn’t want him and that they would return to Cyprus without him leading him to select Eurovision winners The Brotherhood Of Man as his substitute family.

Eventually Takis starts speaking, calls himself Peter in order to feel more of a part of school life and thus begins his struggle to be accepted by a father too busy with the demands of his business and also by those at school. He used music constantly as his crutch becoming obsessed with Top Of The Pops, chart positions (I can identify with this) and Abba and eventually seeing the gang of outsiders who were Dexy’s Midnight Runners as possible salvation.

I really enjoyed this.  It is enhanced by Paphides’ almost total recall of the era which gets so detailed (I don’t know if this is just memory, heaps of research or a bit of embroidering but it feels totally authentic). A lot of it will resonate to anyone growing up at the time but the author’s cultural and racial background gives it a fascinating slant.  Like all the best memoirs it feels both tragic and funny and oh so honest.  Many works of this era feel like wannabe memoirs, adopting what are now with hindsight seen as highlights of the culture.  You can’t get better than the young Pete’s obsession with pop comedy group The Barron Knights (until he gets to see them live) a section which is so realistic and so touchingly written and says volumes about the times in which we were living.  I have talked to people more about this book whilst reading it than I would usually do which is a good sign of the impression it has made upon me.  Definitely recommended.

four-star

Broken Greek was published in hardback by Quercus in March 2020.

2 thoughts on “Broken Greek- Pete Paphides (2020) – A Real Life Review

  1. Kay Carter

    I was listening to an old cd i had made myself with songs from my youth. Music, like certain smells, can bring back memories so vivid, it could have happened yesterday. What made me laugh though, was the reference to ‘Dial a Disc’. One warm summer evening, my friend Jacky and I walked about three miles to see another friend, Debbie, who lived in a little village, passing quite a few phone boxes. (We always pressed the ,’B’ button as sometimes it returned coins.)So we rang dial a disc. The operator, a man, was quite rude, so the next box we came to, we asked for dial a prayer. Got the same operator, who hung up on us. Not to be deterred, we tried again at the next box and the next one. Always getting the same operator. He came back with, you’ll need dial a prayer if you don’t behave, and said he was calling the police. We were only a little way from Debbie’s, but went deliberately to the next box and tried again. So now we were bored, got to Debbie’s and sat in the garden with her, drinking tea, not much later a police car drove past, we were sweating now. They stopped on the way back to ask if we’d seen anyone mucking about in the phone box. Saved by Debbies dad, who appeared at the same time, he told them we’d been there most of the evening, usually we were. But the best bit, Jacky asked these policemen if they were going back to Ore, and if they were, could we have a lift as we’d missed the bus? And they took us, they didn’t want us walking all that way as it was getting dark. The song on Dial a Disc, When will I see you again? the Three Degrees. I always think of that evening and the home made battenburg cake we had at Debbies when I hear that song. I think I will have to seek this book out. Thank you Phil. I needed to have that laugh today. xx

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