This review is from: Two's Up: Memoirs of a Borstal Boy in the 1970's (Paperback)
This book took me straight back to the seventies - as evocative as the hit TV series "Life On Mars" - honest, gritty and immensely enjoyable. As a teenager the author, Kris Gray, was sentenced to between six months and two years (depending on good behaviour)in a Borstal institution. They were not all the same, some were reputedly tougher than others, and he has to endure a spell in the infamous Wormwood Scrubs while the authorities decide which one would be best to put him back on the straight and narrow.
'The Scrubs' was a Victorian monstrosity, a throw back to less enlightened times. 'Slopping out' was the order of the day, the food was inedible and he was banged up in a cramped cell - which had been originally built for one person in the last century - with two other prisoners. 'I never ate a full meal while I was there, I just couldn't face it let alone swallow it.'
From the Scrubs he is finally moved to Gaynes Hill Borstal in Cambridgeshire where he joins the 'recepos,' and learns the 'Two's Up' custom: half of what you've got you share - your 'burn'(tobacco) food, book, whatever.
Kris wisely decides he's going to work the system and get out as soon as is humanly possible and as his aspirations to be a professional musician are frowned on by the authorities he elects to work on the farm, notably in the dairy looking after the herd of cows, a role he takes to with some pleasure. As the tale unfolds we are introduced to a cast of memorable characters, some whom become good friends as well as one extremely nasty enemy. I warmed to the six-foot tall enigmatic Irish stockman Paddy O'Reilly who encouraged Kris to deliver his first calf, pulling it out on a length of rope tied round the animal's slippery hooves. For me the most malodorous inmate was the bespectacled white South African rascist Steve Palmer who worked in the dairy, held Britain in contempt and hated cows and would regularly lay into them with a large lump of wood. When Kris couldn't bear it and objected he was snarlingly told what he could do!
One of the things I loved about this book was its attention to detail. It's more than just a good read: it's a valuable historical record of an era now long gone. The Criminal Justice Act abolished the Borstal system in 1982 and 'Two's Up' is a vivid personal account seen through the eyes of a teenage boy who survived and seemingly benefitted and lived to tell the tale. I can highly recommend it.
Should you have met or watched the amiable, renowned bass player with those red shoes, from his work with The Edgar Broughton Band or his long-standing services with the Miller Anderson Band, you will be surprised at being presented with a tough reality smash about his prison term as a teenager: Far from portraying himself as Mr Cool, Gray starts by describing the literally punishing naivety that brought him in front of a judge. This is followed by the harsh introduction into the walls of the institution “Wormwood Scrubs” with its sometimes cruel, sometimes grotesque and often enough gray (!) prison routine. Later, the inmate luckily finds himself laboring away on a farm in the county of Huntingdonshire. You are certainly “inside” and suffer with Gray – none of his anecdotes seems worth the price of “admission”. Did Kris at least get to play in a jail combo. Fortunately he did, even getting a chance for gigs, for instance on a village green, „just like out of the Kinks song ´We Are The Village Green Preservation Society´“. Small mercies indeed.- Gripping!
Uli Twelker - Good Times Magazine - Germany
I’ve read the book “TWO’S UP” by Kris Gray, and although this is not the kind of book I would generally read, I actually liked it very much, it was written in an “earthy” way which literally is ‘down to earth’ and was funny, informative, sad, interesting too and has a story that one could follow through. It’s a real life story and just shows how life can evolve and get from almost “rags to riches” as it were, but that we have choices in life what and how to do things. Good or bad.
I hope it does well, it’s definitely a good read and worth keeping in the collection.
John Rushton - Life Doctor author of 'Love Your Life'
'I've just read the first novel by musician and now author Kris Gray. His book took me into a world and the system I knew little about.
A great read, warts and all!!
I really enjoyed it.'
Graham Sclater - Author and music publisher
Brilliantly funny, sometimes sad but also a good insight into the world of the Borstal boys - a real story about real people, couldn't put this book down and here's hoping for a follow up?
Crime, Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll all in one great read. A must for anyone who wants to know just how souless the early '70's really were.
Kris Gray has produced a searingly honest account of Borstal life at the time....often with wit and pathos at the same time.
Well done for a first novel......I can see a great comedic television adaptation on the horizon.
Go buy this book.
Comparisons with Kris Gray's "TWO'S UP" (No not a sexual Cockney-ism) and the 70's cult classic "Scum" are probably inevitable. After all both are set in a bleak, broken and washed out 1970's London, and both deal with
the country's then (one hopes) brutal Borstal system for young offenders.
However that's where the similarities end. Gray's True Life tale of the ups and eventual downs of a misguided
life of teenage drug crime is both witty and gritty.
Gray's chatty style of delivery is perfect for recounting and re-creating this cautionary story of incarceration,
and violent intimidation with a claustrophobic realism and a good sense of humor.
Basically if "Two's Up" had been up for grabs as a screen play back in 1977 (the year Scum was originally conceived)
I'll wager an ounce of smuggled Old Holborn that the cinematic out come would have been very different.
A Unputdownable page turner.