Slutch, Glorious Slutch
Joshua Kohlmann's Review of Six Steps from Wigan Pier
On the back cover of Six Steps From Wigan Pier, we are promised “a collection of tales, all connected in some way with Wigan”. Using Karinthy’s well known “six degrees of separation” as a framework to unite 34 seemingly disparate chapters, author John Sharrock Taylor weaves an enjoyable tapestry of stories, anecdotes and reminiscences drawn from this grand old Lancashire town.
And eminently readable stories they are too: some true, some embellished, others obvious flights of whimsy. In these pages we are regaled with tales of friendship, courage, love, loss, betrayal and heroism, all confidently related with John’s trademark warmth and wit. Whether funny, poignant, ribald, tragic or inspiring, all are compellingly told.
Six Steps From Wigan Pier is populated by a rich cast of characters all connected – directly or in, as Alan Jay Lerner might put it – with Wigan’s history. Here are A-list celebrities (Ian McKellen and George Formby), luminaries who should be better known (singers Eva Turner, Tom Burke and Margery Booth) and pivotal figures in larger-scale events (Corporal Jack Cockrell in World War I and Colonel Daniel Axtell in the Civil War), together with some clearly cherished personalities from John’s own past. In this truly democratic collection, no one individual’s story is greater or lesser than any other’s, as actors and singers stand shoulder to shoulder with bus drivers and bottom knockers, whilst teachers, lawyers, wags, rogues and assorted eccentrics from the meat pie capital of the North proudly take their places in between.
A former English teacher and school headmaster, John recounts this delicious hotpot of narratives in an elegant style, savouring the pleasure of every phrase with a love of irony and a genuine relish of language, whether he is expostulating on the use and abuse of English grammar or gleefully dissecting Lanky (especially Wigan) dialect. Both are entertainingly examined in a recalled encounter with the author’s aptly named cousin Lavinia:
‘And say “mud” and then savour that lovely Wigan word “slutch”.’
‘I’ll do no such thing.’
Happily for the reader, John Sharrock Taylor will – and does; and the result is a delightful homage to Lancashire life that deserves pride of place on anyone’s bookshelf between Dave Dutton’s Completely Lanky and the immortal verses of Marriot Edgar.
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