Suddenly, in the space of a moment, I realized what it was that I loved about Britain which is to say, all of it After nearly two decades spent on British soil, Bill Bryson bestselling author of The Mother Tongue and Made in America decided to return to the United States I had recently read, Bryson writes, thatmillion Americans believed that they had been abducted by aliens at one time or another, so it was clear that my people needed me But before departing, he set out on a grand farewell tour of the green and kindly island that had so long been his homeVeering from the ludicrous to the endearing and back again, Notes from a Small Island is a delightfully irreverent jaunt around the unparalleled floating nation that has produced zebra crossings, Shakespeare, Twiggie Winkie s Farm, and places with names like Farleigh Wallop and Titsey The result is an uproarious social commentary that conveys the true glory of Britain, from the satiric pen of an unapologetic Anglophile I first read this book back in the late 90s, 20 years ago and thoroughly enjoyed This is my first re read, and it was enjoyable, as good as the first read Hmm, probably not which was a little disappointing , but still fun I shall writethoughts anon but shall leave you with Bill s thought Hae ya nae hook ma dooky Ok, so in the last couple of days I have been thinking about why this was a tad disappointing, and I think it was because it was 20 years old, and it was really of its ti I first read this book back in the late 90s, 20 years ago and thoroughly enjoyed This is my first re read, and it was enjoyable, as good as the first read Hmm, probably not which was a little disappointing , but still fun I shall writethoughts anon but shall leave you with Bill s thought Hae ya nae hook ma dooky Ok, so in the last couple of days I have been thinking about why this was a tad disappointing, and I think it was because it was 20 years old, and it was really of its time It was about Britain 20 years after he had arrived in the UK, but it was also 20 something years old, and that really showed As someone who lived through the 90s, and even the 70s I loved the book originally and laughed my fao, at an American championing and challenging us Brits.Now though this feels a little dated, we have moved on, and some of our cities have been regenerated and some have probably degenerated as well.I have this vague memory that he has written fairly recently a new critique of Britain and I will be interested in reading it as soon as.All of that said, this is outrageously funny, as Bill is very perceptive about us Brits, and most of us like nothingthan people pointing out our quirks in an admiring manner He lived here for 20 years and so was almost an honorary Brit and this comes across in the book, his love of living here, and how much he was going to miss moving back to the States Newsflash I have a new entry into my Top Ten Authors past and present that I would like to invite to a night out at the pub for a session of heavy drinking and tall tales Bill Bryson, with his sly humour and irreverent atitude towards tourism, is a strong contender for the top position right after my first experience of travelling in his company through the twisted back lanes of historical hamlets of his cherished island Being both a personal journal and a travel guide, his Notes have been Newsflash I have a new entry into my Top Ten Authors past and present that I would like to invite to a night out at the pub for a session of heavy drinking and tall tales Bill Bryson, with his sly humour and irreverent atitude towards tourism, is a strong contender for the top position right after my first experience of travelling in his company through the twisted back lanes of historical hamlets of his cherished island Being both a personal journal and a travel guide, his Notes have been voted as the book that best represent Britain to the world I believe the praise is well deserved.The secret of Bill Bryson success is easy to discern from the pages of this journal He fell in love with the island from the first moment he landed in Dover in 1973, and his enthusiasm is as fresh and as catching two decades later as he prepares for a farewell trip before returning to AmericaEverything that lay before me was new and mysterious and exciting in a way you can t imagine England was full of words I d never heard before streaky bacon, short back and sides, Belisha bacon, serviettes, high tea, ice cream cornet I spent a long day wandering aimlessly and happily along residential streets and shopping streets, eavesdropping on conversations at bus stops and street corners, looking with interest in the windows of greengrocers and butchers and fishmongers, reading fly posters and planning applications, quietly absorbingSometimes it takes a long trip away from home or the perspective of a stranger to make you realize the beauty of the land and of the people around you, and Bill Bryson is for me the best kind of guide possible He shares my love for walking, an impulsive nature that can change routes on the spur of a moment, and equal interest in the highbrow amusements of historical monuments or art galleries and the popular amusement parks and drinking pubs, for the statistical trivia and for the scandalous bit of gossip about the local worthiesThere is something awfully exhilarating about riding on the top of a double decker You can see into upstair windows and peer down on the tops of people s heads at bus stops and when they come up the stairs a moment later you can look at them with a knowing look that says I ve just seen the top of your head and there s the frisson of excitement that comes with careering round a corner or roundabout on the brink of catastrophe You get an entirely fresh perspective on the world Time and time again the words that describe the places, the people, the cuisine and the culture of Britain turn into a song of joy at the chance to witness the marvels of his adopted country Not even the constant bad weather roughly about two thirds of his out of season journey by my count can keep his buoyant mood down forthan one evening Inevitably, the next stop on the railway line or the next hill to be climbed will bring back the cheerful hiker who likes to remind the reader to count his blessings and be happy to be alive, to be healthy and to live in a peaceful period of history that makes lonely travelling an attractive proposition Beyond the headland, the path climbed steeply to Ballard Down, a taxing slog for an old puffed out flubba wubba like me, but worth it for the view, which was sensational like being on top of the world For seven weeks in 1994, Bill Bryson will try to rediscover Britain from the southern Downs to the last desolate northern moors, travelling alone on foot or by public transport, a decision that I will let him explain with his usual mix of militancy and self deprecating humourMotorized vehicles are ugly and dirty and they bring out the worst in people They clutter every kerbside, turn ancient market squares into disorderly jumbles of metal, spawn petrol stations, second hand car lots, Kwik Fit centres and other dispiriting blights They are horrible and awful and I wanted nothing to do with them on this trip And besides, my wife wouldn t let me have the car With great enthusiasm comes also great indignation at the carelessness and disrespect for the heritage of Britain, as witnessesd in the ugliness of modern cement office blocks, proliferation of cars and highways, loss of diversity and globalization, mass tourism and the trivialization of history In a way, Notes from a Small Island is also a snapshot of a world in danger of being swallowed up and zombified into a characterless, generic shopping mallIt gets me a little wild sometimes You have in this country the most comely, the most parklike, the most flawlessly composed countryside the world has ever known, a product of centuries of tireless, instinctive improvement, and you are half a generation from destroying most of it for ever and,What made Weston feel familiar was, of course, that it was just like everywhere else It had Boots and MarksSpencer and Dixons and W H Smith and all the rest of it I realized with a kind of dull ache that there wasn t a single thing here that I hadn t seen a million times already and,it was wonderful to be in a great ecclesiastical structure so little disturbed by shuffling troops of tourists When you consider the hordes that flock to Salisbury, York, Canterbury, Bath and so many other great churches of England, Lincoln s relative obscurity is something of a small miracle Speaking of shopping malls, did you ever go shopping with you better half If so, you will know what the author is talking aboutShopping is not, in my view, something that men and women should do together since all men want to do is buy something noisy like a drill and get it home so they can play with it, whereas women aren t happy until they ve seenor less everything in town and felt at least 1500 different textures I have a small suspicion that Mr Bryson hadon his mind than the perils of shopping with his wife when he decided to travel alone through the island How else can one explain the detailed descriptions of going every night to the pub and sampling the best the Island has to offer in terms of draughts and dark ales and strong spirits After all, a serious tourist guide must study and include details about the nightlife attractions of the places he visits Case in point on his very first day in Britain in 1973, our young author decided to go watch an R rated movie called Suburban Wife Swap in order to improve his language skills and his knowledge of local customs Which is another reason to trust his judgement on worthy travel spotsNow the second rule of excessive drinking the first, of course, is don t take a sudden shine to a woman larger than Hoss Cartwright is never to drink in a place on a steep slope I thought about mentioning some of the places described in the Notes, and what makes them memorable, but there are too many tempting propositions and Bill Bryson does a much better job than me in selling their charms to the readership I confess I have never visited England, and if anybody asks me what is my favorite holiday destination I will still answer without hesitation Paris Even after 15 visits, it is still my first choice for a visit But Bill Bryson s small island is making a compelling case for a revision of my priorities If I were hard pressed to choose only one of the hundreds of interesting places mentioned in the guide, I think I would settle for Liverpool It might not be obvious why, at first or second glance, what Liverpool offersthan the Lake District or the Cotswolds, but I grew up with the tales of Jules Verne and Joseph Conrad, andrecently Douglass Reeman and Patrick O Brian, and I always dreamed that one day I will embark for a voyage around the world s blue lanes Once there was infinite romance in the sea, and the Merseyside Maritime Museum captures every bit of it J B Priestley called them the greatest constructions of the modern world, our equivalent of cathedrals, and he was absolutely right I was appalled to think that never in my life would I have an opportunity to stride down a gangplank in a panama hat and a white suit and go looking for a bar with a revolving ceiling fan How crushingly unfair life can sometimes be The rest of my review is a series of footnotes and little details that reinforce the good impression and the fun I had on my travels with this incredible guide Do you know what the most important quality of a tourist is CuriosityWhy do they call it a grapefruit Why do the British call them jumpers Why do they call them milk floats They don t float at all Why do we foot a bill rather than, say, head it Why do we say that our nose is running Mine slides Who ate the first oyster and how on earth did anyone ever figure out that ambergris would make an excellent fixative for perfumes Do you know how to prepare for your trip Read as much as you can about the places you are going to see and write aboutI spent a little time watching the scenery, then pulled out my copy of Kingdom by the Sea to see if Paul Theroux had said anything about the vicinity that I might steal or modify to my own purposes what sort of equipment you need for your trip The fun begins well in advance of the actual departureI can spend hours looking at rucksacks, kneesocks, compasses and survival rations, then go to another shop and look at precisely the same things all over againI wonder what his wife thought about men and their shopping habits now Are you worried the locals and the other tourists will laugh at you It s better to be ready for anything than wet and cold, so relax, and enjoy the viewI remember when I first came to Britain wandering into a bookstore and being surprised to find a whole section dedicated to Walking Guides This struck me as faintly bizarre and comical where I came from people did not as a rule require written instructions to achieve locomotion but then gradually I learned that there are, in fact, two kinds of walking in Britain, namely the everyday kind that gets you to the pub and, all being well, back home again, and theearnest type that involves stout boots, Ordnance Survey maps in plastic pouches, rucksacks with sandwiches and flasks of tea, and, in its terminal phase, the wearing of khaki shorts in inappropriate weather Is it worth your time and effortAnd then, just as I was about to lie down and call for a stretcher, we crested a final rise and found ourselves abruptly, magically, on top of the earth, on a platform in the sky, amid an ocean of swelling summits I had never seen anything half so beautiful before Fuck me, I said in a moment of special eloquence and realized I was hooked Why would you go to a place on the map that everybody seems to run away from view spoiler you might learn some dirty war songsThis fucking town s a fucking cussNo fucking trams, no fucking bus,Nobody cares for fucking usIn fucking HalkirkNo fucking sport, no fucking games.No fucking fun The fucking damesWon t even give their fucking namesIn fucking Halkirkhide spoiler When is the journey ended when you have seen everything the world has to show you In other words, neverand returned to the station feeling simultaneously impressed and desolate at just how much there was to see in this little country and what folly it had been to suppose that I might see anythingthan a fraction of it in seven flying weeks The good news is that Bill Bryson has already written a sequelThe Road to Little Dribblingand that I have already ordered twoof his other books the one on hiking through the Appallachians, and the one on popular science I must thank all my friends here on Goodreads who recommended this author to me Little Dribbling, here I come about that Top Ten Fantasy Drinking Buddies, my list right now looks like this 1 Sir Terry Pratchett2 Spider G Robinson3 Bill Bryson4 Connie Willis5 Bohumil Hrabal6 Douglas Adams7 Carl Hiaasen8 Tom Robbins9 Thomas Pynchon10 James CrumleyIt s a work in progress After 20 years in England, Bill Bryson decided to tour Britain in 1995 by public transport over 6 weeks and write a book about it.HUMOURThere are snippets of humour and insight a young man withon his mind than in it carpet with the sort of pattern you get when you rub your eyes too hard They were having a festival of litter citizens had taken time off from their busy schedules to add crisp packets, empty cigarette boxes and carrier bags to the otherwise bland and neglected land After 20 years in England, Bill Bryson decided to tour Britain in 1995 by public transport over 6 weeks and write a book about it.HUMOURThere are snippets of humour and insight a young man withon his mind than in it carpet with the sort of pattern you get when you rub your eyes too hard They were having a festival of litter citizens had taken time off from their busy schedules to add crisp packets, empty cigarette boxes and carrier bags to the otherwise bland and neglected landscape However the last, of Liverpool reminds me of Wodehouse s snappier Whit Monday, which to so many means merely oneopportunity of strewin Beauty Spots with paper bags in A Day With the Swattes.There s an amusing anecdote of him asking for directions having forgotten he was wearing pants on his head But as the book progresses, they become fewer as the amount of repetitious moaning increases For a self confessed Anglophile, he often seems to dislike the place, though the weather gets off surprisingly lightly, especially given that he made the trip in late autumn.BRYSON HERUMPHINGThe lack of trains in remote areas is a particular bugbear, but what I don t understand is his outraged surprise he d lived in and travelled around the country for 20 years He argues that they shouldn t have to be profitable because traffic lights, drains and parks don t And at a practical level, he often changes his mind about where he s going once he s on the station platform or even on the train itself i.e after he should have bought a ticket , yet he never mentions encountering any problems with ticket collectors etc Modern architecture and urban planning are his other pet hates He bemoans the homogeneity of high streets full of chains rather than family shops , yet is annoyed at the lack of 24 hour opening and gives Marks and Spencer so many favourable mentions, I wondered if they sponsored him in some way.ME HERUMPHINGReaders are treated to endless descriptions of hotels and stations, but without enough comment about actual people with a few notable exceptions Mrs Smegma, a lunatic in Weston, and an ancient train buff , which makes it increasingly dull Mind you, the way he chose his wife is described in very detached terms, so maybe he s just not really a people person On the other hand, he occasionally throws in gratuitous expletives, which I don t find offensive, but they don t fit the general style of the book.Bryson claims an oddity of Manchester is that it has no motif It s not a city I know well, but it has had The Manchester Bee forthan a century However, the worst offence is the lack of index or map both of which should be essential in any travel book an index for any non fiction book Overseas readers might also appreciate a glossary, as it s clearly written for an audience who, if not English, are at least familiar with the country.THE GOOD BITSBut there are plus sides, and Bryson is at his best when he goes off at a tangent and riffs on some unexpected topic He explains why the British would have coped well under Communism good at queuing, tolerant of dictatorships cf Mrs Thatcher and boring food He throws in potted history about the founder of Sainsbury and his mansion but doesn t bother to find out why it was left to rot and the fact that the bicycle pedal was invented in Scotland He points out that the US has no equivalent of taking the piss and that while US soaps are about glamorous people who can t act, British ones are the opposite Rather than extolling the innovation of the tube map which isn t in the book , he suggest tricks to play on tourists e.g by getting the tube from Bank to Mansion House 1 change, 6 stops to end up 200 yards from where they started Best of all, he delights in words the odd and romantic place names, the differences in usage between the US and Britain and the florid language of menus He ponders replying in kind and requesting a lustre of water freshly drawn from the house tap and presented au nature in a cylinder of glass CURATEOverall, it s like the famous curate s egg parts of it are excellent I think there s a good book struggling to get out, but it needed a decent editor to make that happen Taking a trip with Bill Bryson is always a crap shoot Am I getting the funny self effacing Bill Am I getting bilious Bill Am I getting drunken Bill on a murderous rampage Okay, that last one, sadly, was never published.Here, Bill wants to get a last look at Great Britain before he moves back to the good ol U.S of A., so he schleps around that island nation taking in the sights As someone who has been to those environs or thereabouts a few times, Mr Bryson gets it right and then some Plu Taking a trip with Bill Bryson is always a crap shoot Am I getting the funny self effacing Bill Am I getting bilious Bill Am I getting drunken Bill on a murderous rampage Okay, that last one, sadly, was never published.Here, Bill wants to get a last look at Great Britain before he moves back to the good ol U.S of A., so he schleps around that island nation taking in the sights As someone who has been to those environs or thereabouts a few times, Mr Bryson gets it right and then some Plus, I laughed out loud on a number of occasions Good on you, Bill This is my fifth Bryson book and his approach mood is generally all over the place, depending upon the subject of his writing or the type of medication he was currently taking, I suppose.The crotchety scale looks kind of like this with the books listed from most cantankerous to least tetchy 1 The Lost Continent Travels in Small Town America2 Neither Here nor There Travels in Europe3 In a Sunburned County4 Notes from a Small Island5 A Walk in the WoodsThe laughs are inversely proportional to the median or mode or something, as well.Some of these books I haven t read in a while so the Irritable o meter TM might be a tad off and your mileage may vary, so bite me or something.This one was a read with my favorite buddy reader of non fiction and someone who is in the top five people I d go on some sort of spree with, Le Trish.https www.goodreads.com review show Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson is an ode to Britain, lovingly written by an American who lived there for almost twenty years and wanted to revisit it before departing for his home country I have especially enjoyed the audio version If you do not like curmudgeons, this will not be the book for you Bryson, with tongue firmly planted in cheek, will take you on a tour of all things great and not so great His grumpiness, sometimes endearing, sometimes not, will accompany the reader whil Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson is an ode to Britain, lovingly written by an American who lived there for almost twenty years and wanted to revisit it before departing for his home country I have especially enjoyed the audio version If you do not like curmudgeons, this will not be the book for you Bryson, with tongue firmly planted in cheek, will take you on a tour of all things great and not so great His grumpiness, sometimes endearing, sometimes not, will accompany the reader while visiting the UK, from countryside to big cities, to small villages His love of this country is visible in both his criticism and his praise of it I thoroughly enjoyed this book and it made me wish I was there Highly recommended Britain viewed through an American s eyes.Although both the British and American speak English, their words and cultures are hilariously different A quick look at the local magazines at a boarding houseI d intended to turn in early, but on the way to my room I noticed a door marked RESIDENTS LOUNGE and put my head in It was a large parlour, with easy chairs and a settee, all with starched antimacassars a bookcase with a modest selection of jigsaw puzzles and paperback books an occasional tab Britain viewed through an American s eyes.Although both the British and American speak English, their words and cultures are hilariously different A quick look at the local magazines at a boarding houseI d intended to turn in early, but on the way to my room I noticed a door marked RESIDENTS LOUNGE and put my head in It was a large parlour, with easy chairs and a settee, all with starched antimacassars a bookcase with a modest selection of jigsaw puzzles and paperback books an occasional table with some well thumbed magazines and a large colour television I switched on the TV and looked through the magazines while I waited for it to warm up They were all women s magazines, but they weren t like the magazines my mother and sister read The articles in my mother s and sister s magazines were always about sex and personal gratification They had titles like Eat Your Way to Multiple Orgasms , Office Sex How to Get It , Tahiti The Hot New Place for Sex and Those Shrinking Rainforests Are They Any Good for Sex The British magazines addressedmodest aspirations They had titles like Knit Your Own Twinset , Money Saving Button Offer , Make This Super Knitted Soap Saver and Summer s Here It s Time for Mayonnaise Fun at the Hazlitt hotelHazlitt s is a nice hotel, but the thing I like about it is that it doesn t act like a hotel It s been there for years, and the staff are friendly always a novelty in a big city hotel but they do manage to give the slight impression that they haven t been doing this for very long Tell them that you have a reservation and want to check in and they get a kind of panicked look and begin a perplexed search through drawers for registration cards and room keys It s really quite charming And the delightful girls who clean the rooms which, let me say, are always spotless and exceedingly comfortable seldom seem to have what might be called a total command of English, so that when you ask them for a bar of soap or something, you see that they are watching your mouth closely and then, pretty generally, they return after a bit with a hopeful look bearing a pot plant or a commode or something that is manifestly not soap It s a wonderful place I wouldn t go anywhere else Communism British styleIt has long seemed to me unfortunate and I m taking the global view here that such an important experiment in social organization was left to the Russians when the British would have managed it so much better All those things that are necessary to the successful implementation of a rigorous socialist system are, after all, second nature to the British For a start, they like going without They are great at pulling together, particularly in the face of adversity, for a perceived common good They will queue patiently for indefinite periods and accept with rare fortitude the imposition of rationing, bland diets and sudden inconvenient shortages of staple goods, as anyone who has ever looked for bread at a supermarket on a Saturday afternoon will know They are comfortable with faceless bureaucracies and, as Mrs Thatcher proved, tolerant of dictatorships They will wait uncomplainingly for years for an operation or the delivery of a household appliance They have a natural gift for making excellent jokes about authority without seriously challenging it, and they derive universal satisfaction from the sight of the rich and powerful brought low Most of those above the age of twenty five already dress like East Germans The conditions, in a word, are right.Please understand I m not saying that Britain would have been a happier, better place under Communism, merely that the British would have done it properly They would have taken it in their stride, with good heart, and without excessive cheating Appreciating life British styleI used to be puzzled by the curious British attitude to pleasure, and that tireless, dogged optimism of theirs that allowed them to attach an upbeat turn of phrase to the direst inadequacies well, it makes a change , mustn t grumble , you could do worse , it s not much, but it s cheap and cheerful , it was quite nice really but gradually I came round to their way of thinking and my life has never been happier I remember finding myself sitting in damp clothes in a cold cafe on a dreary seaside promenade and being presented with a cup of tea and a teacake and going Ooh, lovely , and I knew then that the process had started Before long I came to regard all kinds of activities asking fortoast in a hotel, buying wool rich socks at Marks Spencer, getting two pairs of trousers when I only really needed one as something daring, very nearly illicit My life became immensely richer The unbelievable building of StonehengeI was particularly interested in the Stonehenge Gallery because I was going there on the morrow, so I read all the instructive labels attentively I know this goes without saying, but it really was the most incredible accomplishment It took 500 men just to pull each sarsen, plus 100to dash around positioning the rollers Just think about it for a minute Can you imagine trying to talk 600 people into helping you drag a fifty ton stone eighteen miles across the countryside, muscle it into an upright position and then saying, Right, lads Another twenty like that, plus some lintels and maybe a couple of dozen nice bluestones from Wales, and we can party Whoever was the person behind Stonehenge was one dickens of a motivator, I ll tell you that Bill discovers the actual floor of an ancient Roman houseI knew that I was in the villa In one of the relict chambers, the floor had been carefully covered with plastic fertilizer bags weighted with stones at each corner This is what I had come to see I had been told about this by a friend but had never really believed it For underneath those bags was a virtually complete Roman mosaic, about five feet square, exquisitely patterned and flawlessly preserved but for a tiny bit of fracturing around the edges.I cannot tell you how odd it felt to be standing in a forgotten wood in what had once been, in an inconceivably distant past, the home of a Roman family, looking at a mosaic laid at least 1,600 years ago when this was an open sunny space, long before this ancient wood grew up around it It is one thing to see these things in museums, quite another to come upon one on the spot where it was laid I have no idea why it hadn t been gathered up and taken away to some place like the Corinium Museum I presume it is a terrible oversight, but I am so grateful to have had the chance to see it I sat for a long time on a stone, riveted with wonder and admiration I don t know what seized me , the thought that people in togas had once stood on this floor chatting in vernacular Latin or that it was still here, flawless and undisturbed, amid this tangle of growth What RubbishI took a train to Liverpool They were having a featival of litter when I arrived Citizens had taken time off from their busy activities to add crisp packets, empty cigarette boxes and carrier bags to the otherwise bland and neglected landscape They fluttered gaily in the bushes and brought colour and texture to pavements and gutters And to think that elsewhere we stick these objects in rubbish bags Animals needprotection than childrenDid you know that the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children was formed sixty years after the founding of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and as an offshoot of it Did you know that in 1994 Britain voted for a European Union directive requiring statutory rest periods for transported animals, but against statutory rest periods for factory workers How s the weather It s a weather forecast from the Western Daily Mail and it says, in toto Outlook Dry and warm, but cooler with some rain There you have in a single pithy sentence the English weather captured to perfection dry but rainy with some warm cool spells The Western Daily Mail could run that forecast every day for all I know, it may and scarcely ever be wrong Art for Art s sakein one of the salons I noticed that there was a man, accompanied by a boy of about thirteen, who didn t need the labels at all.They were from what I suspect the Queen Mother would call the lower orders Everything about them murmured poorness and material want poor diet, poor income, poor dentistry, poor prospects, even poor laundering but the man was describing the pictures with a fondness and familiarity that were truly heartwarming and the boy was raptly attentive to his every word Now this is a later Goya, you see, he was saying in a quiet voice Just look at how controlled those brush strokes are a complete change in style from his earlier work D ye remember how I told you that Goya didn t paint a single great picture till he was nearly fifty Well, this is a great picture He wasn t showing off, you understand he was sharing.I have often been struck in Britain by this sort of thing by how mysteriously well educated people from unprivileged backgrounds so often are, how the most unlikely people will tell you plant names in Latin or turn out to be experts on the politics of ancient Thrace or irrigation techniques at Glanum In a pub in Glasgow unable to speak the local dialectThe barman appeared, looking unhappy and wiping his hands on a tea towel Fuckin muckle fucket in the fuckin muckle, he said to the two men, and then to me in a weary voice Ah hae the noo I couldn t tell if it was a question or a statement A pint of Tennent s, please, I said hopefully.He made an impatient noise, as if I were avoiding his question Hae ya nae hook ma dooky I m sorry Ah hae the noo, said the first customer, who apparently saw himself as my interpreter.I stood for some moments with my mouth open, trying to imagine what they were saying to me, wondering what mad impulse had bidden me to enter a pub in a district like this, and said in a quiet voice Just a pint of Tennent s, I think The barman sighed heavily and got me a pint A minute later, I realized that what they were saying to me was that this was the worst pub in the world in which to order lager since all I would get was a glass of warm soap suds, dispensed from a gasping, reluctant tap, and that really I should flee with my life while I could I drank two sips of this interesting concoction, and, making as if I were going to the Gents , slipped out a side door Britain an amazing countryWhat other country, after all, could possibly have come up with place names like Tooting Bee and Farleigh Wallop, or a game like cricket that goes on for three days and never seems to start Who else would think it not the least odd to make their judges wear little mops on their heads, compel the Lord Chancellor to sit on something called the Woolsack, or take pride in a naval hero whose dying wish was to be kissed by a fellow named Hardy Please, Hardy, full on the lips, with just a bit of tongue What other nation in the world could possibly have given us William Shakespeare, pork pies, Christopher Wren, Windsor Great Park, the Open University, Gardeners Question Time and the chocolate digestive biscuit None, of course.How easily we lose sight of all this What an enigma Britain will seem to historians when they look back on the second half of the twentieth century Here is a country that fought and won a noble war, dismantled a mighty empire in a generally benign and enlightened way, created a far seeing welfare state in short, did nearly everything right and then spent the rest of the century looking on itself as a chronic failure The fact is that this is still the best place in the world for most things to post a letter, go for a walk, watch television, buy a book, venture out for a drink, go toa museum, use the bank, get lost, seek help, or stand on a hillside and take in a view.We may never go to Britain, but we can thank Bill Bryson for bringing Britain to us.Enjoy Ambling know it all wanders around the UK, complaining about architecture, getting drunk, finding delight in little, and generally having a hard time deciding where to eat always Indian or Chinese in the end It paints a pretty depressing picture of the UK, when I think his intention was the opposite Plus, I really liked his book about traveling through continental Europe, so I don t know what happened here Also thought the scene where he tells us how fat people eat was insulting, to, well, Ambling know it all wanders around the UK, complaining about architecture, getting drunk, finding delight in little, and generally having a hard time deciding where to eat always Indian or Chinese in the end It paints a pretty depressing picture of the UK, when I think his intention was the opposite Plus, I really liked his book about traveling through continental Europe, so I don t know what happened here Also thought the scene where he tells us how fat people eat was insulting, to, well, fat people He also takes a few cracks at the elderly because he says they like to complain but pot, kettle, black He really comes across as a curmudgeon in this one, but I kept reading because at least I was learning a little bit about Britain A very little bit I wanted to smack him after he refuses to pay 14.50 for a hotel breakfast, then can t find anywhere in town to eat, then starving, staggers into a McDonald s and proceeds to go off on a poor minimum wage employee when he asks if he d like to add an apple turnover to his order It s McDonald s, Bill That s what they do This book combines several of my favorite things travelogues, England, and the charm of Bill Bryson.It is the book version of comfort food.So you can understand why I instinctively reached for this audiobook on the the first day of my new job I wanted something comforting And humorous And British.I was instantly gratified Bryson begins his book about touring England by describing how intensely Brits will argue about distance and driving routes If you mention in the pub that you intend to d This book combines several of my favorite things travelogues, England, and the charm of Bill Bryson.It is the book version of comfort food.So you can understand why I instinctively reached for this audiobook on the the first day of my new job I wanted something comforting And humorous And British.I was instantly gratified Bryson begins his book about touring England by describing how intensely Brits will argue about distance and driving routes If you mention in the pub that you intend to drive from, say, Surrey to Cornwall, a distance that most Americans would happily go to get a taco, your companions will puff their cheeks, look knowingly at each other, and blow out air as if to say, Well, now, that s a bit of a tall order, and then they ll launch into a lively and protracted discussion of whether it s better to take the A30 to Stockbridge and then the A303 to Ilchester, or the A361 to Glastonbury via Shepton Mallet Within minutes the conversation will plunge off into a level of detail that leaves you, as a foreigner, swiveling your head in quiet wonderment Give two ormen in a pub the names of any two places in Britain and they can happily fill hours Wherever it is you want to go, the consensus is generally that it s just about possible as long as you scrupulously avoid Okehampton, the North Circular in London, and the Severn Bridge westbound between the hours of 3 p.m on Friday and 10 a.m on Monday, except bank holidays when you shouldn t go anywhere at all The whole book was immensely enjoyable The plan was for Bryson to take a last tour of England before he and his family moved to America for a few years Bryson is from the States, but his wife is British He was going to travel mostly by public transportation, because his wife wouldn t let him have the car HA There did not seem to be a logic to his journey instead he went hither and thither as he desired, sometimes jumping on a bus or train if it happened to arrive while he was standing there A few times he broke down and rented a car or took a cab, but he always gave a good reason.As someone who has not visited England inthan 15 years and what a sad realization it was to do the math , I could only relate to a few stops on his journey But I still loved his meanderings and his musings And I will continue to findBill Bryson audiobooks because they are just so delightful.Update July 2016 This was a delightful re read I had the good fortune to visit England earlier this summer so it s no longer been 15 years since I ve been there and decided to listen to Bryson s audiobook again It was great to have a better understanding of where he visited, and to enjoy his amusing stories When I have some time I ll addto the Favorite Quotes section, because there are lots of fun ones Highly recommended to fans of travelogues and or England.First Read August 2014Second Read July 2016Favorite Quotes I can never understand why Londoners fail to see that they live in the most wonderful city in the world It is, if you ask me, farbeautiful and interesting than Paris andlively than anywhere but New York and even New York can t touch it in lots of important ways It hashistory, finer parks, a livelier andvaried press, better theaters,numerous orchestras and museums, leafier squares, safer streets, andcourteous inhabitants than any other large city in the world I spent two days driving through the Cotswolds and didn t like it at all not because the Cotswolds were unlovely but because the car was You are so sealed off from the world in a moving vehicle, and the pace is all wrong I had grown used to moving about at walking speed or at least British Rail speed, which is often of course much the same thing I have a small, tattered clipping that I sometimes carry with me and pull out for purposes of private amusement It s a weather forecast from the Western Daily Mail and it says, in toto, Outlook Dry and warm, but cooler and with some rain There you have in a single pithy sentence the English weather captured to perfection dry but rainy with some warm cool spells The Western Daily Mail could run that forecast every day for all I know, it may and scarcely ever be wrong It took me forever to read this because I was constantly picking it up and putting it down, not because I wasn t enjoying it, but because it s one of those books where it works to read it in this way, and I read so many other books during the times I took breaks from reading this book.Sometimes I just don t like Bill Bryson as a man There s a smattering of things he writes that are cruel, crass, and otherwise makes him unappealing to me, and he sure drinks a lot of beer, but the nasty material It took me forever to read this because I was constantly picking it up and putting it down, not because I wasn t enjoying it, but because it s one of those books where it works to read it in this way, and I read so many other books during the times I took breaks from reading this book.Sometimes I just don t like Bill Bryson as a man There s a smattering of things he writes that are cruel, crass, and otherwise makes him unappealing to me, and he sure drinks a lot of beer, but the nasty material is a tiny minority of the book s content He s basically a likeable and interesting guy who is an explorer, much of it done via walking, and he has a refreshing sense of what constitutes adventure.He s a skilled writer He s very, very funny I laughed out loud and chuckled many times.I ve always wanted to go to Britain so for me this was a bit of armchair traveling Unfortunately, much of this book made me wish I d visited the place and most other places at least a few decades ago Bryson makes clear the homogenization that s taken place at various British locales, and this book was written 15 years ago so who knows what he d say now I d still love to go but I d skip some of his destinations He also writes much about the history of his destinations and I found most of the information fascinating.One thing that tickled my funny bone is that when he was in one small English town, he saw the old This is Cinerama movie, a movie I remember from my childhood, and brought me right back to the United States of America I hadn t realized the movie was already old the first time that I saw it, but I do remember loving that film and other Cinerama movies.There s a glossary of English vs American English words in the back of the book Given that I m a bit of an Anglophile, I already knew the definition of most of the words, but having it in the book was a fun touch