Anyone who thinks that a stable and loving family background is the key to a happy life had better read this book; for its protagonist, now 80 years old, was rejected as a baby by his unmarried mother, looked after by a doting and doted-on grandmother until he was four, and then, inexplicably (given that he had various relations who could have cared for him), consigned to an orphanage of Dickensian grimness from which he was finally discharged at the age of 14 with nothing but a Bible, a new suit, and a ten-shilling note. Yet Peter Paterson’s fascinating memoir shows him to have led a life of almost unnatural contentment. He has spent nearly 60 years of it in journalism, having drifted into it by accident and considered himself ever since the luckiest man alive.
There have been misfortunes and setbacks along the way — for example, his sacking in the 1970s as The Spectator’s political columnist for a lack of right-wing cojones, the failure of his cherished plan to start a new national newspaper free from the crippling ‘Spanish practices’ of the print unions, and his near-miraculous survival of the 1975 Moorgate underground train crash in which 43 people died — but none of these things affected his morale. ‘I do not experience anxiety or depression,’ he states categorically at one point; though he does, at the end of the book, confess to being ‘plunged into a state of misery’ by the financial crisis of the British press today.
Paterson’s emotional resilience is remarkable, as is his determination to see only the best in everyone and everything. Even of Spurgeon’s Orphans Home, where he was knifed and beaten and bullied and had his mouth washed out with soap, he writes with almost spooky generosity. He says he now believes that he was ‘foolish, ungrateful, unfair and snobbish’ to have resented his treatment there.