The Taste of Too Much by Clifford Hanley

published 1960

It was Joe Chadwick who suggested a mass outing to Millport to celebrate the end of Highers. Peter embraced the idea without pausing to think of any practical difficulties…

‘We can climb to the top of the island and have a bonfire of the papers.’…

When they went down the gangway from the steamer at Millport, Cathie Martin and Sidney were already waving a welcome. Sidney was wearing a school blazer and flannels and a scarf tucked elegantly into his open-necked shirt…. Cathie visibly counted the party and her small petulant mouth shaped a satisfied smirk at the discovery that there was an extra male. Sidney Martin was making the same calculation, with one hand in his blazer pocket and the other elegantly gripping a cigarette…

[the 11 young people go to a café]

When they came to discuss what to do next, Sidney had a great idea. They would hire motor-boats and race them… Peter faced the impossible problem of stopping this atrocity without punching Sidney’s sneering little mouth there and then, and making a fool of himself.

‘We can hire bikes and race round the island.’

observations: A couple of weeks ago I read Gordon Williams From Scenes Like These, a dark and serious look at the life of a boy growing up in Scotland in the 1950s: a book I described as ‘unrelentingly miserable.’ To make a contrast, I hunted out this largely-forgotten coming-of-age novel about a young man living with his family in Glasgow: he goes to school, hangs out with his mates, tries to get off with girls, and gets to go out with an older woman – 19 to his 17. It is a lovely book, very funny and charming, and although very specific to its time and place and the manners thereof, it is all very recognizable. The outing of the young people, the counting of boys and girls, the way plans are randomly put forward and changed – it’s beautifully described. In this case, the original grandiose idea was for a weekend away, but that turned into a day out. But then, some of the party miss the last boat back…

It’s a great picture of family life too. Peter’s sister Julie, 10, is busy boiling a sheep’s head to make a painted skull as an emblem for her gang: her father says ‘Have you got no dolls to play with?’ The next-door neighbour, knowing Peter is smart and staying on at school, gives him a book called Every Boy’s Treasure House of Knowledge, aimed he thinks ‘at an average-to-dim child of ten’ and he nearly cries for her kindness. Hanley is very good at writing long anecdotes about strange incidents, and knowing just when to end them.

Getting in touch is an issue: telephones, call boxes and the tuppences for using them feature a lot. But other things haven’t changed: on his way out to a dance, Peter is pulling the waistband of his trousers down to make them hang lower, and the next-door dog likes his chips with mayonnaise.

A girl turns up to take Peter to a badminton club 'She had one hand stuck in the pocket of a camel coat and a badminton racket swung from the other'– just like this very different book featured on the blog last month.

The picture of young people hiking is from the Imperial War Museum.


  1. I like the sound of this...(what the hell is wrong with me) day maybe!

    It's not just dogs that like mayo on their chips, though curry sauce is the preferred option in our house,

    1. I always like curry sauce - I thought it was a northern thing? - but mayo is easier to ask for in posh restaurants... And, Im not going to tell you to break the embargo, but if you ever run across this one do grab it, it's a really funny delightful book and it should be better-known.

  2. Moira - There are some really nicely-done coming-of-age novels, and this sounds like one of them. And you make an interesting point that some things haven't changed about coming of age (Do you think that's why some of this seems familiar?) even though some things have changed over time.

    1. Yes indeed, that's what I like about them in general and this one in particular - so much is completely different, times have changed dramatically: but you can still recognize many of the emotions and jokes and incidents....

  3. This sounds very good although I don't know if I will ever have time to fit it into the TBR piles. I don't have a buying embargo (yet), but ... I have too many books. This sounds like a very innocent time.

    1. It is a nice picture of a very different era. But I do know what you mean about too many books on the pile. We all have the same problem I think.


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