His bombastic dad thought he was weak and unmanly; his reserved mum pushed him towards books. In this extract from his new memoir, the author reveals how he escaped the parent trap

I am born. It is August 1942. My father steps out of his barracks in north Wales, puts out his hand and feels no rain, looks up and sees no bombs, hopes the quiet sky augurs well for my mother who is due to give birth to me any minute, indeed might already have done so, and hops on to a train. I think he will be pleased to discover I am a boy. Many years later he buys me boxing gloves and he may already be imagining going a few rounds with me as he settles back in the compartment and goes to sleep. For an active man he sleeps a lot. I will inherit this gene from him. Alas, not the boxing gene as well. It’s a bit early to be confessing I was a disappointment to him. But I can’t introduce him without also introducing the remorse in which I clothe every memory and thought of him. “I’m sorry, Dad, I wasn’t the boy you’d have picked had you been offered an assortment.”

My mother must have been pleased to see him. I’d given her a rough few hours. I see him coming into the ward carrying a bunch of flowers in one of those claw-hammer hands of his. He’d clipped his moustache and was wearing his red regimental beret at a jaunty angle.

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