Dreams of leaving

The Looked After Kid: memoirs from a children's home

Paolo Hewitt <em>Mainstream Publishing, 208pp

The influential music journalist Paolo Hewitt spent the early years of his life in "care", although, as is so often the case, "care" turned out to mean its exact opposite. Born to a mother held in a psychiatric hospital, Hewitt was, as the law insisted, taken from her on the second day of his life. So began his painful journey of being moved randomly and repeatedly from foster home to foster home. In the end, he simply ceased to remember the names of those with whom he lived.

He experienced, as well as occasional and memorable displays of kindness, a full range of horrors. At one stage, he was fostered by a sadist who beat and brutalised him, keeping him away from school so that there was no escape from her power. Everyone with whom he formed a bond vanished, in one way or another. His name was changed from Paolo to Paulo (at school, he became, cleverly, nastily, Poor Low). His dream of rescue was taken away when he discovered that he had been lied to about the true identity of the man he believed to be his real father.

Hewitt learnt how to hide himself away, how not to care. He learnt how to retreat into a world of pop music, books, clothes and cigarettes. He learnt how to make his knuckles bigger by punching walls.

But this book is not just about his misfortunes. He remained movingly aware of the possibility of self-transformation and a better life ahead. After settling into one loveless home, he writes: "I could still feel the traces of the black cloud in my mind and I knew damn well that life from now on would be rough. But balanced against that was a feeling that I was embarking upon an adventure, the kind you read about in books. Where it would end I didn't know but I imagined it as a story about a child beating all the odds."

Beat the odds he did: Hewitt is now a successful music journalist, a former staff writer on the NME and a close friend of the singer Paul Weller. This is his tenth book, and his experience as a writer is evident. Despite the emotional weight of the subject, The Looked After Kid is a pleasure to read: the story skips along at a good pace, the digressions and ruminations are nicely timed and thoughtful. This is not to say that Hewitt has stayed on the surface of things. On the contrary, he takes an honest look at his own failings - in particular, at his exploitation of his own misfortune and the hurt he passed on. Nor does he present himself as "sorted out", but as someone who was messed up by a rotten start in life. Today, he does his best to keep alive his sense of hope, and in so doing succeeds in fanning the flames of our own. We may even dare to hope that the most unfortunate children in our society will one day receive the kind of care which means exactly that.