I recently had the immense pleasure of being sent a copy of Flying Cats and Flip Flops by Paul Johnson, and I could just tell straight off from the blurb that this was going to be one fantastically intriguing read!
Terry has a plan. Enough is enough.
Leaving a note for his domineering kleptomaniac wife, he swaps his humdrum council house existence for a new life in Africa. He craves excitement and adventure and finds both in equal measure. Determined to know the real side of Kenya, Terry gets involved in many bizarre and dangerous situations, and it isn’t long before a new career beckons him, as a drug smuggler.
He’s a natural. Razor sharp instinct with a ballsy attitude – until he’s caught with three kilos at Nairobi Airport. Sentenced – he is the only white sixty year old in a prison with one of the worst human rights records in the world. He battles to survive the brutality and overcrowded conditions of a jail controlled by a corrupt regime – unaware his biggest challenge is waiting for him in England.
Flying Cats and Flip Flops is a true story of one mans obsession to live his dream – but at a cost.
The book is written by Paul Johnson, and is a wonderfully frank, entertaining and insightful look back at the eight years missed between father (Terry) and son (Paul).
As a bit of background, Paul Johnson was involved in a car accident and suffered a detached retina, effectively, instantly blinding him. Once a week, Paul Johnson would be taken by his wife to visit his Dad, Terry, who would tell him stories relating to his missing years, leading to a promise from Paul Johnson that he would write all of these down as soon as he got his sight back.
In 2010, the sight in the right eye of Paul Johnson was saved (hurrah!), and accordingly this book has been written and subsequently published. It is written from the point of view of Terry, and it is fantastic to know that this is a son passing on the story of his father, and the tone in which it is done is so endearing!
Flying Cats and Flip Flops is a book that I found incredibly easy to get lost in! I read it within 48 hours, which is unusual for me, as I simply just couldn’t put it down. The descriptions in the book are so vivid that at times, you really do feel like you are right there in Kenya with Terry. At times, you read on with a sense of incredulous disbelief, and to that end, I’d say it is a little bit like a real life version of Yann Martel’s ‘Life of Pi’ – a similar extraordinary tale, only this time, actually based on a real life adventure!
I feel that I’ve learnt so much more about Kenya, than I ever could have from a travel guide or reading online, and I really liked the contrast between an initial life of luxury in Kenya, where money was tossed around, against the harsh realities of real life in Plymouth. You wouldn’t think it, but at times you have to wonder which prison was worse – that of Kenya or Plymouth. One thing that this book never lacks, however, is a touching sentiment, and even in the most gritty of situations, you fully empathise with the story and never waiver from your support of Terry and his actions. Come the final twist at the end of the book, you really find yourself feeling rather hollow, which I imagine is not a patch on how hollow Terry must have felt at the time.
Of course, this is a real life experience, which potentially makes it very difficult to review – who would I be to tell someone that their experiences were not valid or uninteresting?! Fortunately, this couldn’t be further from the truth in this book, and I only wish there were opportunity for a sequel – perhaps we could all have a whip-round and see if we can send Terry off to China or similar! 😉 The writing style is so engaging and frank, and there is an over-arching sense of non-judgement about it. It neither seeks to apologise for or explain away difficult issues, and for that I really respect it!
That all this adventure can happen to just one person, based on a lucky break from a Spot-The-Ball competition, and at that time of life, must surely be an inspiration for everyone – you’re never too old to have an adventure, and if you seize every opportunity that presents you, you will surely end up with a far greater wealth of life experience behind you!
Most older people tend to trot out old war stories, and tales of the recession of the 1980s, however how cool must it be to have an older family member who can sit you down and tell you all these stories?!
If your relative’s stories are a bit of a dud in comparison (or even if they’re not!) then you should totally pick up a copy of Flying Cats and Flip Flops from Amazon in both Paperback and Kindle formats..
NB – The author has also advised me that they are holding a charity event in March 2013, to raise monies for the RNIB (Royal National Institute for the Blind) and Moorfields Eye Hospital (whose expertise helped Paul Johnson get his sight in his right eye back).
As I see it – without their sterling work, it’s rather likely that Terry’s magnificent stories would not have made it out to a wider audience, so I do hope that readers would consider making a small donation to either organisation via: RNIB | Moorfields Eye Hospital. Thanks!!