LOCAL Q&A: Andy Harper – author of Knitted Swimming Trunks

Words by Ed King / Pics supplied by Andy Harper and Brewin Books

Just before Christmas, local author Andy Harper released his tell all autobiography – Knitted Swimming Trunks, published by Brewin Books. Click here for our first news story about the book and its author.

A searingly honest portrayal of school life in the 50s and 60s, told through the eyes of a self-confessed “massive target for bullies”, the 252 page paperback begins as the Erdington based author is born.

Knitted Swimming Trunks then takes the reader through his childhood growing up in the back to backs in Birmingham and continues across his troubled school years, until the day he received his City and Guild certificate after leaving education.

An intrinsically Brummie journey of hope and humility, hear more about Knitted Swimming Trunks as Erdington Local caught up with Andy Harper just before his debut book hit the shelves.

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Congratulations on you first book, what compelled you to write about your life?

“Lockdown came along and I was bored to tears. I help out with a charity called Dogs for Good (based in Banbury), socialising assistance dogs, and that gave me an excuse to go out. But everywhere was closed down and it was weird, it was a bit like a horror film. And there’s only so many repeats of Bargain Hunt you can stay indoors and watch.

“So, I started to write things down about those very early years as a legacy for my children and grandchildren – and then it seemed to grow and grow, and my wife said you’ve got a book here.”

 

The narrative focuses on your difficult school years, but what made them so challenging for you?

“It wasn’t until the back to backs were being knocked down, and we ended up moving to Rubery, that I was enrolled for any length of time into a school. And when I started at Colmers Farm I was very weak, very frail – emotionally and educationally I was well, well down. I was a massive target for bullies. And I was put on the ‘thick table’ which didn’t help.

“Then I went into senior school, and I remember sitting in reception and the headmaster coming onto the stage and telling us: ‘there are two types of people in this world, there are the chefs and they’ve passed the Eleven Plus and gone onto Grammer School. You lot are destined to stir the pot.’

“Now if you say that to a frail young lad who is very emotionally damaged because of the bullying and everything, what’s going to happen…? I went into a little bubble, sat at the back of the classroom, and just looked out of the window. And I did that for the majority of my school years.”

 

That must have been difficult as a younger child.

“I did feel let down by my schooling. But it isn’t a ‘woe is me’ book because it wasn’t just happening to me, it was happening the thousands of other children at that time. And all the teachers seemed to be interested in were the bright ones at front who keep putting their hands up and answering questions.

“But really they should be concentrating on those ones at the back who just sit there – those are the ones who need the teacher’s attention. But it wasn’t given, that’s just the way education was back in the 50’s.”

 

And where did the title, Knitted Swimming Trunks, come from?

“Back in the 50’s mothers used to kit you everything: hats, gloves, jumpers, everything. Because it was cheaper. My mother, bless her, decided to knit me swimming trunks… it didn’t work out. I didn’t notice the flaw in the design until I got into the sea at Westen Super Mare; I got a very strange feeling in the material around the groin, then they just billowed out and became very saggy.

“And it was a hell of a long walk back to where my mum and dad were, at the far end of Weston beach, holding on for dear life to these soggy knitted swimming trunks.”

 

That sounds embarrassing…

“All through the book it’s the rather embarrassing, rather bizarre things that happened to me. And that just typified what might have started out as a wonderful idea but ended up in complete disaster. So, the ridicule of that walk back sums up a lot of what was happening to me in those years.

“But It’s not just about knitted swimming trunks, it’s about my personal story of growing up in the 50’s and 60’s, seeing how the world and Birmingham was changing through my eyes. It’s very nostalgic.

“There are lots of tears in the book but also lots of laugh out loud moments; I experienced the whole lot across those twenty odd years.”

 

And for someone learning about your life today, through this book, what would you want them to take away from reading Knitted Swimming Trunks?

“This book is about making sure you’re not defined by the bullies and doing the best you can. It’s about making the most of yourself and not allowing it to be a bad experience. It’ll make you cry on one page, then loud out loud on the next.

“Hopefully some teachers will read it and think, let’s see what’s happening at the back of the class…”

Knitted Swimming Trunks by Andy Harper is out now, available through Brewin Books. For more information and links to online sales visit: www.brewinbooks.com/knitted_swimming_trunks

To contact Andy Harper directly please email: Andyharper74@btinternet.com

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