Long Road From Jarrow by Stuart Maconie

Review published on August 31, 2017.

The blurb on the inside cover says it all: ‘Three and a half weeks. Three hundred miles. I saw roaring arterial highways and silent lanes, candlelit cathedrals and angry men in bad pubs. The Britain of 1936 would have been a land of beef paste sandwiches and drill halls. Now we are a nation of vaping and nail salons, pulled pork and salted caramel.’

Eighty years on from the original Jarrow March, Stuart Maconie followed the route of the 200 marchers to find out what has changed in Britain. It was such an iconic event that it has produced myths and stories much like those of King Arthur and Robin Hood. Claims that the marchers visited a particular place and witnesses whose descendants have heard the stories were quick to help Stuart separate fact from fiction.

Stuart is a very engaging writer. He has a great sense of humour and a willingness to embrace people and causes without being judgemental. I found myself chuckling – heartily, ruefully, ironically – throughout his journey. There is a lot about food and drink. I particularly liked the parts about the Sikh kitchen in Leeds and Wetherspoons in Harrogate with its rich mix of social stereotypes. Art and culture are explored, politics and religion are discussed, and the priceless asides make the book very readable.

I cannot think of another writer who could include Tom Hanks’ films, the Mayor of Barnsley’s sunbed, the latest way to estimate crowd size (by the number of mobile phones in use! Who knew!) and the Pitmen Painters of Ashington, as well as Donald Trump and Brexit. He makes his points well, but leaves us to make up our own minds.

The book is dedicated to Tracy Brabin and the late Jo Cox, two of many in this country who have shown that we can all make a difference. If you enjoy sharp wit, erudition worn lightly and an eye for detail, you will love this book.

Dorothy Anderson 5/5

Long Road From Jarrow by Stuart Maconie
Ebury Press 9781785030536 hbk July 2017

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