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   Osborne Clayton writes about Six Steps from Wigan Pier

Let's get something straight from the start. If you are expecting a real bag of sweets to arrive with this book you may be disappointed (or relieved, like my cousin Alice, who worries about those tetchy US customs officers). The Mint Balls that roll through Six Steps from Wigan Pier are literary bonbons, metaphors for a host of quirky little tales.

 

The book is based on the idea that none of us is more than six degrees of separation from anyone else on the planet. This gives the author a perfect excuse for telling stories. Often, as in Dandling Gandalf, the connection is himself or his family (His wife’s aunty used to bounce Sir Ian McKellen on her knee when he was nobbut a babby). And while we do get a couple of such ‘celebritees’, albeit with a new slant, most of these anecdotes have never been told before.

This is a big Christmas pudding of a book. Each of the stories, both true and of the shaggy dog variety, can stand alone, so you can push in your thumb at any point and pull out a plum. Not that most of it IS about Christmas, it's not, though we do get carol singing in Delhi with Ebenezer Patel, New Year in El Salvador with machine gun and tank and Christmas Eve in Wigan with some desperate sex in the snow. Six Steps from Wigan Pier would make a good stocking filler but in fact it's a book for all seasons, as Napoleon Bonaparte rubs shoulders with Dave Whelan and Dan Quayle, and Wembley cup finals jostle for attention with courtroom dramas, a shipwreck, a Tyburn execution, an exploding bus driver and a barman's bottom knocker.

This is the author's third Wigan-connected book and while some of his stories begin and end within a cock stride of the Pier, others take the reader to Gallipoli, the Deep South of the USA during the civil rights conflicts of the 1950s and the war torn jungles of Latin America of the early 1990s. Humour, whether broad or slyly ironic, is seldom absent.

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What does Gandalf have in common with George Formby, Oliver Cromwell and a girl who sang for Hitler with military secrets hidden in her knickers? The answer is Wigan. When my son Richard mentioned the theory that each one of us is no more than six ‘steps’ from any other person on the face of the planet I realised that I’d stumbled upon a wonderful framework for one of my favourite activities: telling tales.

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Wigan is a rich source of pies, tripe, cowheels, coal, cotton, culture and, above all, stories. Some of the tales in this book connect with me or my family. All of them connect in some way with Wigan, and while a few start and finish within a cock-stride of the Pier, others will take us as far afield as Gallipoli, the Deep South of the USA and the humid jungles of Central America in two bloody civil wars.

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What would a Wigan book be without the Latics and the Warriors? But who now recalls that Puccini’s greatest Turandot is buried just outside the town?

 

And who knew that Alf Haselden, Wigan collier and Henry Ford’s right-hand man in Europe, lost his chance of a knighthood when a deserted wife exacted a tragic revenge on Blackpool sands? 

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