How lovely to discover a book that makes one seize friends by the lapels and implore them, ‘Read this’. Even better, to find that a son has already devoured it, and a daughter is even now in its thrall. On one level, Keggie Carew’s Dadland is a wartime adventure story. On another, it is an investigative memoir, a history of how one family’s fortunes can be sunk. But above all it is a portrait of a loveable, charming, mischievous old rascal named Tom Carew – the most vivid Aged P since Wemmick’s father in Great Expectations. Tom has a devilish grin and a knack for winning the affection of anyone he meets, from fellow care-home patients to police officers. ‘I don’t remember you,’ he tells a neighbour. ‘But I do remember your teeth.’
This darling fellow – he reminds me of my husband’s late Uncle Tony, an old Spitfire pilot – is physically indestructible at eighty-seven but unfortunately has lost his marbles. ‘How old am I?’ he asks daily. Tall, white-bearded and handsome, with a mane of silver hair, he used to be a demon at chess and poker. Now he demands every day: ‘Right! Give me a job.’ Keggie, the daughter he lives with, is driven almost bonkers. ‘There should be A Book of Jobs for the demented,’ she writes. He can’t even tear up paper or water the plants.
He had such an adventurous early life that nothing after his army days could possibly measure up. Like his namesake ‘Mad’ Carew in J Milton Hayes’s poem ‘The Green Eye of the Little Yellow God’, he was loved as a maverick and a mischief-maker