My grateful thanks to Georgina Wiseman at Austin Macauley for my copy of Long Journey to Jimbopo by James Lettice in return for an honest review.
Long Journey to Jimbopo was published on 30th June 2017 and is available for purchase here.
Long Journey to Jimbopo
James Lettice was born in Wigan in 1940, a wartime baby. His cheery autobiography takes us through his short but eventful army career. A young man with a spectacular talent for getting into trouble, James’ senior officers couldn’t decide whether he was a leader or a follower and soon his name went before him as he made his mark on friends, colleagues and officers. His many escapades during his time as a ‘bad soldier’ make for lively reading, including numerous spells in jail, being ordered to ‘thumb a lift’ to Borneo, causing competitive bed-wetting and picking up ladyboys in Malaya.
Eventually the army had enough of him and sent James and his drink problem home, where he met Jaci and started a family before reaching rock bottom.
Much later in life, after a wake-up call, he began to write poems, some of which feature in this very enjoyable book.
My Review of Long Journey to Jimbopo
With a talent for getting into trouble born of too much fondness for drink, James Lettice has to learn some hard life lessons.
Let me say at the outset that Long Journey to Jimbopo is by no means a literary masterpiece of perfectly honed prose. There’s too liberal a use of exclamation marks and the F-word for that. It is, however, a colloquial, charming and brutally honest memoir that reveals a man much more sinned against than sinning.
As I read I became absolutely sure that James Lettice was a man with whom I’d get along brilliantly. He’s aware of his flaws, he’s self-deprecating and he is only too aware of the need to make the most of life and be grateful for his blessings. I think I enjoyed Long Journey to Jimbopo so much because James reminded me of some of the rogues I’ve taught in the past who ended up on a downward spiral as a result of life’s chance, not their intrinsic personality. I have also lost a person close to me through alcoholism and know what a grip drink can have on the individual so that James gained my empathy too.
There are some eyebrow raising adventures to enjoy as we read about life in the army and I can only hope procedures have changed somewhat now. It’s amazing what entertainment can be had with a cone of paper and a flame!
Whilst I enjoyed the prose section of Long Journey to Jimbopo very much, it was the poetry at the end that touched me most. I appreciated the irony and combative imagery of John Barleycorn the Thief, and thought that Listen, in particular, had a strong message for us all. I found the colloquial language and history behind Grandma Phoebe Jane very touching and would definitely say don’t read the poems before reading the memoir as they have much greater poignancy if you know the stories and life behind them. There’s also great sensitivity in the nature poems that belies the coarse mouthed drunkard of the army years.
Long Journey to Jimbopo is an unusual book that I very much enjoyed. I think its significance and messages will touch different readers in many ways, depending on their own life experiences. The meaning of the title only becomes clear at the very end of the prose section of the book and it was indeed a long journey for a man so consumed by alcohol and one that I am glad to have read about.
About James Lettice
After being discharged from the army James was employed in numerous jobs: Meat porter, window cleaner, Blackpool Pleasure Beach, biscuit factory, to name a few. Eventually at the age of 36 he got a job at the magistrate’s courts. Drink blighted his life for a good number of years.
In desperation at the age of 38 he managed to stop drinking with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous and a man called Tony and he says words cannot express his gratitude to Tony.
Eventually James started to write poetry, life-in-rhyme. He enjoys sharing his work as a speaker poet and says he could never have dreamed that one day he would become a published author at the age of 76.
You can see James Lettice performing his poem Listen featured in Long Journey to Jimbopo here.