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So They Call You Pisher! by Michael Rosen review – Communism, Clive James and attitude

A joyful mishmash of a memoir from the novelist and poet ranges from his parents fighting against fascists to Bob Dylan’s singing style

I can see that, as a body of writing, it is a rag-bag of styles and genres,” Michael Rosen once said of his work. “But does it matter? I’m not trying to hoodwink anyone. I’m not trying to gain membership to a Peerage of Poets. I write ‘Bits’ and ‘Stuff’.” As always, the future children’s laureate was being both modest and a little feisty. Still, it’s a good description of So They Call You Pisher! It’s a mishmash, at once merry and pensive, of personal memoir, a history of left politics in postwar England, a portal into a lost Jewish London and a portrait of the artist as a nervy young man.

Famous individuals flicker in and out of the narrative – among them Christopher Hitchens, Howard Marks and Clive James (the latter yelling, “I’ll fucking have you! You’re ruining everything I’ve ever worked for!” when Rosen fluffs lines at a student revue audition) – but at its heart are his parents Harold and Connie Rosen. Harold was a poet, a noted educationalist, author of Are You Still Circumcised? (1999), and treated by some contemporaries “as if he was a cross between Lenny Bruce and Isaiah Berlin”. He and Connie met at a Young Communist League meeting in 1936 and both fought against Oswald Mosley’s fascists in the battle of Cable Street that year.

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