Book Review: Thursday’s Child: The Mike Kendrick Story

Mike Kendrick - Thursday's Child - Header

It’s a strange situation to be reading the biography of a man you have met, know and who, through their business actions, has had such a shaping on your entire life and yet be treated to stories and anecdotes that you’ve never heard or realised took place. But that is what exactly happened recently as I read Thursday’s Child: The Mike Kendrick Story.

Mike was an early pioneer and overly enthusiastic hot air balloonist who went on to create the company that would be Virgin Airship & Balloon Company. The business that was responsible for creating, capturing and expanding my love of lighter than air flight into an obsession. Without Mike and his foresight to use balloons as a marketing product, we wouldn’t have had lighter than air craft representing: Choc Dips, Sonic the Hedgehog, or Action Man to name just three.

Thursday's Child - Balloon - Mike Kendrick

The book takes in a time frame that starts long before I was born, progresses into the 1970s when ballooning was more madcap than respectable and when everything was new, innovative and dangerous, before finishing in the late 1980s. And while the majority of the book focuses on Mike’s ballooning exploits, starting as a privateer determined to get involved in this emerging past time and then working through the early days of his commercial ventures, stopping just as he looks to join forces with Sir Richard Branson, there are enough supplementary tales away from ballooning to create a balanced and enjoyable monologue.

However, I found the book very much a tale of two halves. It works in chronological order and starts by describing Mike’s family life growing up, how mental illness shaped his views and passions in life and his early forays into business while living the “lifestyle” available and acceptable in the swinging sixties. And I found them brilliant. Mike’s ability to sell a story and explain reasoned argument in an inviting tone had me completely captured and for large parts of the opening chapters I couldn’t put the book down, I simply kept, turning pages. Usually, ending up chuckling with laughter at Mike, but always through invitation to do so.

Mike Kendrick Boxing Promotor - Thursday's Child

Sadly though, as the book goes on, as Mike grows up and ballooning becomes more dominant in his life, I found my connection to the book breaking. Still enjoyable, I think it may be a case that I am too close to the world he walks and the company he created. That I have heard too many versions of the tales he tells. I have my own views and my own ideas as to what happened or why. And so, when Mike explained an event, or situation which clashed with my existing understanding of what happened, or who was involved and in what capacity, I found it hard to trust. There are times when everything seemed a little too centred around Mike. It was all bit “down to me” when I was expecting to hear of other people’s involvement or authority. I’m not saying that Mike isn’t being truthful to the situation but I felt he was marginally overstepping his role as I understood it.

Even worse for me though, and I hate to say it, was that the longer the book went on, the more a sense of singular arrogance seemed to grow from the style of storytelling presented. It is almost as if this book is trying to convince you that ballooning as we know it today only exists because of Mike and what he did. And while there is a some truth in that statement. You can argue that while Mike showed the way, it was down to the work of others to make the journey.

As I said at the start, most of this book takes place before I was born, and what overlap there is, I recount through the eyes of Mike’s acquaintances not my own. I don’t, however, think that this tale will really appeal to anybody who doesn’t remember or know ballooning from those early days. While entertaining, it’s just a little bit too specialised a setting for a mass audience. And that’s a shame, because the early tales really are worth hearing. Ballooning really was as dangerous as it looked when it first started!

Richard Branson & Mike Kendrick - Thursday's Child

The book finishes around the time Sir Richard Branson arrives in Mike’s professional life, and is left open ended with a promise of further tales filed under “The Branson Years…“. I truly hope that those pages see print, because Thursday’s Child, sets the scene brilliantly, and has left me longing to spend more time remembering those bygone times of old. When ballooning was simpler and cheaper, and Mike ran a magical company from an office in Telford!

 

Posted on by 5WC in Book First Edition

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