This memoir is one of little vignettes set in different times and places as Burns’s life took him around the world. At times the stories are very ‘familiar’ to one of my age and relative privilege, as we baby-boomers have seen the world open out under the blast of the airline jet engine. However, they should appeal to a much wider audience. Burns is good at drawing one into his observations of times and places, now changed or changing, so helping one appreciate the ups and downs of living his sort of middle-class, often-relocated, lifestyle.
Nowadays, travel seems to be ever more routine and ever less exotic, and of course it never has been all fun. Burns spares us from many of the mundane difficulties, the personal psychology, of constantly moving a family from one short foreign posting to another, a burden that anyway regularly falls heaviest on partners and young families.
This is a book of twenty random assembled short stories taken from a full and industrious life, that began with a childhood centred in Rotherham, England, and eventually encompassed locations as scattered as Buenos Aires, Ann Arbor and Guangzhou.
Increasingly, as the world shrinks, the world-wide business career is conducted from one, tacky, noisy, communal space, in Milton Keynes, or Santa Clara, and/or from the home-based ‘office’. Foreign postings may well be becoming a thing of the past for all but the most select of ‘business’ managers. There will always be economic migrants, but probably these will decreasingly be those in the cadre structure of international firms that once relocated so very often. The experience of this businessman posted so far and wide may well soon read like distant history, even if politics and strife should allow us to continue our addiction to distant ‘package’ holiday travel.
If you like memoir and particularly short, pithy stories snapped from personal histories, you should love this book. Patrick Burns has had a life full of interesting anecdotal incidents, which he has penned in this entertaining and personally modest script. One feels that he never strays from simple, honest, unexaggerated truth and thus created these edifying glimpses into his personal history. This isn’t autobiography designed, and so often failing, to be awe-inspiring; this isn’t look at me, aren’t I special, this is look at the special, often extraordinary people, I have been lucky enough to journey with. This book is one of those rare memoirs that easily holds my rapt attention.