Thursday, 20 July 2017

Long Road From Jarrow by Stuart Maconie

Long Road From Jarrow by Stuart Maconie
First published in the UK by Ebury Press today, the 20th July 2017.

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Three and half weeks. Three hundred miles. I saw roaring arterial highway and silent lanes, candlelit cathedrals and angry men in bad pubs. The Britain of 1936 was a land of beef paste sandwiches and drill halls. Now we are nation of vaping and nail salons, pulled pork and salted caramel.
In the autumn of 1936, some 200 men from the Tyneside town of Jarrow marched 300 miles to London in protest against the destruction of their towns and industries. Precisely 80 years on, Stuart Maconie, walks from north to south retracing the route of the emblematic Jarrow Crusade.
Travelling down the country’s spine, Maconie moves through a land that is, in some ways, very much the same as the England of the 30s with its political turbulence, austerity, north/south divide, food banks and of course, football mania. Yet in other ways, it is completely unrecognisable. Maconie visits the great cities as well as the sleepy hamlets, quiet lanes and roaring motorways. He meets those with stories to tell and whose voices build a funny, complex and entertaining tale of Britain, then and now.

Readers of my Stephanie Jane blog will already know of my loves of history and of walking so Stuart Maconie's latest travel memoir, Long Road From Jarrow, was perfect for me! Like many of the people he meets during his solo reenactment of the famous Jarrow March, my knowledge of the original was a little hazy so I was glad to be far better informed on finishing. Maconie is fascinated with our country and the people who have made it their home and his enthusiasm shines through every page making this book an enjoyable and inspirational read.

200 unemployed men and their MP, Ellen Wilkinson, set out on the Jarrow March in October 1936. They walked hundreds of miles to present a petition at Westminster asking for jobs. I was amazed by the varying reactions they provoked at the time. From being officially ignored by the Labour Party to receiving donated boots and clothes in towns through which they passed to becoming the media darlings of the moment, the Marchers have passed into British folklore. Eighty years later, retracing their steps day by day, Maconie wanted to mark the March's generally overlooked anniversary and to discover how different the England of 2016 was. Disconcertingly, to me at least, there are still far too many similarities. The north of England is still far poorer than the south, especially the south-east corner, and the experience and demands of people there are just as easily dismissed by London-centric leaders. Right-wing propaganda and fascism is again on the rise with immigration bearing the brunt of blame and anger as it did in the 1930s.

Against this doom and gloom however, Maconie maintains an upbeat outlook. I like that he generally finds a positive in whatever town he happens to visit. I learned a lot from Long Road From Jarrow and now have several more previously unconsidered towns on my must-visit list! Bedford's Italian community was formerly unknown to me as were the numerous Sikh forge workers that I don't remember getting a mention at the Black Country Living Museum! I feel inspired to go long distance walking too although perhaps using Maconie's hotel overnighting method rather than the Jarrow mens' dossing in church halls.

Long Road From Jarrow is less of a walking book than I had hoped and I would have liked maps showing each day's route, however as a zeitgeist survey of England and as travel inspiration, I highly recommend it.

Etsy Find!
by Stroud Labour Party in
Stroud, England

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Books by Stuart Maconie / Biography and memoir / Books from England

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