Radio review: Bitter sweet tale set against a background of 70s pop tunes

Nuala McCann

Broken Greek BBC Sounds

Now and then along comes a memoir that makes you laugh and cry all at once.

BBC Sounds is rocking some great audio books at the moment.

If you need a little cheering up and a dash of 70s music nostalgia then Greek music journalist Pete Paphides serves it up wrapped in old fashioned chip shop paper with a sprinkling of salt and a good dash of vinegar.

This is his memoir of growing up in Birmingham above the chip shop that was run by his Greek parents – she was from Athens and he was from Cyprus.

They never dreamed how things would turn out.

It's a bitter sweet tale of a sensitive child who, for a number of years, would only talk to his immediate family – he developed what the psychologist called selective mutism as a small boy. It was his big brother who found the key to unlocking it for him back then.

It's a story that's full of big hits from the 1970s – Leo Sayer's When I need you spoke to the little boy who was so attached to his mother; Abba's Money, Money, Money had a hint of his parents' constant striving to make a life for their sons in 1970s Birmingham.

An immigrant's lament, says Paphides, “If I were a rich man” repurposed for a post-fairytale world.

He loved Sting ... everyone's favourite compassionate sub teacher, he joked.

There are funny tales about the pull between Greek roots and English life – the story of immigrants with a foot in their past and their culture and another in their present reality.

There are some very funny stories – one involving his father, a chip cutter, a woman's chopped off finger and a bag of frozen scampi.

There are incredibly touching moments where Paphides looks back on his parents and himself at a hospital bed and seeks to understand the relationship between his mother and father better.

And then there's the music – which brings so much flooding back.

“Do you sometimes feel like the music you're hearing is explaining your life to you?” he asks.

As someone from the same era, the answer has to be a big yes. He certainly nails it.

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