Bill Bryson tours Britain in 'The Road To Little Dribbling'

LONDON -- Bill Bryson loves Britain. Really.

The Iowa-born writer, who takes an affectionate if sometimes exasperated look at his adopted country in "The Road to Little Dribbling," cherishes Britain's landscape, its history, its architectural heritage, its people.

See Full Article

He's not so keen on its reality: TV shows, its litter and -- this is a shock -- its beer.

With a touch of embarrassment, Bryson admits that he is no fan of real ale, the cask-conditioned beer that for many is iconically English.

"I would rather have a cold, golden, fizzy glass of lager," he said.

Despite this cultural faux pas, Bryson is Britain's favourite American, a cuddly-curmudgeonly national uncle.

Bryson first wrote about Britain two decades ago in "Notes From a Small Island." At the time, he worried about how British readers would react to an outsider's gentle ribbing. He needn't have feared. In a 2003 poll for World Book Day, "Notes" was voted the book that best represents England.

"I've always argued that the British are very good at laughing at themselves," said Bryson, whose voice retains a Midwestern accent after 40 years in the U.K. "It's one of their cardinal virtues. ... You can tease them remorselessly as long as they know it's done with a certain amount of affection and understanding."

In the new book -- published in the U.S. Tuesday by Doubleday -- humour is tempered by exasperation at modern-day annoyances including rudeness, neglect, smartphone addicts and Z-list celebrities.

That has prompted allegations of grumpiness some in the British press. Daily Mail columnist Janet Street Porter accused Bryson of "simmering anger and patronizing disdain."

Bryson stresses that many of the things that infuriate him are not unique to Britain. Partly it's age. He's 64 now, and says some aspects of popular culture perplex him.

That gives "The Road to Little Dribbling" a slightly melancholy edge, as Bryson meanders from England's south coast to the far north of Scotland. He visits wealthy suburbs, depressed seaside towns, rolling countryside, wild coastlines, famous attractions, quirky museums and crumbling stately homes.

He still finds plenty to like, from quiet eccentrics and unsung heroes to railway viaducts and other triumphs of Victorian engineering. And his quips are still very funny. Bryson describes a gallery's "Keep Calm and Carry On giftware section" -- a reference to the wartime slogan plastered across posters, T-shirts, mugs and tea towels across the land -- and traditional pork pies made from "boiled cartilage and phlegm."

One of his biggest bugbears is the litter that blights Britain's cities and countryside. Bryson spent five years as head of the Campaign to Protect Rural England trying to clean up the trash -- without much success, he says.

It's notable that Britain's other famous anti-litter campaigner is also an American writer. Humorist David Sedaris picked up so much rubbish near his southern England home that the local council named a garbage truck after him.

Bryson, who recently became a British citizen, is grateful to a country that has "been extremely kind to me in ways that are just often kind of ridiculous."

He has been chancellor of Durham University, which now has a Bill Bryson Library, and was made an honorary fellow of the august Royal Society in recognition of his work promoting science in books such as "A Short History of Nearly Everything."

Bryson says Britain today is "a lot better in almost every way" than the country he first visited in the early 1970s: richer, more modern, more diverse.

"But it has lost certain things," he said.

"When I first came here Britain was a much, much poorer country. And yet there was affordable housing for anybody who needed it in council houses, there really were flowers in every roundabout, bandstands with brass bands on Sunday afternoons in the park."

He worries about the U.K.'s industrial decline, writing in the book that "Britain makes Rolls-Royce jet engines and all the little pots of marmalade in the world" -- and not much else.

He hopes Britons appreciate the beauty of their country's landscape, the ingenuity of its people and the richness of its history.

"You could be parachuted blindfolded into this country, and wherever you landed you'd be within three or four or five miles of a wonderful stately home, the birthplaces of three globally significant human beings and all kinds of other things," he said. "It's just so packed with stuff.

"I mean, I come from a state, Iowa, which is the same size as England ... but Iowa has produced almost nobody.

"The most famous Iowan is Herbert Hoover, the guy who gave us the Great Depression."



Advertisements

Latest Entertainment News

  • Nobel laureate Toni Morrison honoured by Authors Guild

    Entertainment CTV News
    NEW YORK - Toni Morrison praised the power of literature and the "community" of writers. James Patterson told some jokes, and even sang. Both received Distinguished Service Awards Wednesday night at the 25th annual Authors Guild dinner gala, held in Manhattan. Source
  • Cosby invoking discussion of racial bias ahead of trial, critics say

    Entertainment CTV News
    PHILADELPHIA - After two years of silence amid an onslaught of sexual assault allegations, comedian Bill Cosby is sending carefully targeted messages about racial bias across the media landscape ahead of his June 5 trial in suburban Philadelphia. Source
  • Sarah Hyland: I'm not anorexic, I'm sick

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    Actress Sarah Hyland has asked for privacy as she battles personal health issues that have been impacting her weight. The Modern Family star has appeared thinner of late, sparking concerns she may be suffering from an eating disorder, but the 26-year-old insists she’s struggling with an illness that has wreaked havoc on her body. Source
  • Chris Cornell’s widow pens heartbreaking letter to late singer

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    Chris Cornell’s widow has poured her heart out to the late rocker in an emotional open letter a week after he committed suicide. The Soundgarden frontman took his own life following a performance in Detroit, Michigan on May 17, and his wife Vicky has subsequently blamed his prescription medication for clouding his judgement, insisting he showed no signs of being suicidal when she spoke to him shortly after the gig. Source
  • 'Game of Thrones' Season 7 trailer debuts

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    HBO's trailer for Game of Thrones Season Seven just dropped. The trailer offers glimpses into the upcoming "Great War" beginning with Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) declaring that "whatever stands in our way, we will defeat it" while Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) boasts that she "was born to rule the Seven Kingdoms. Source
  • Prospective juror gets laughs from comedian-defendant Cosby

    Entertainment CTV News
    PITTSBURGH -- The sex assault case against Bill Cosby turns on serious questions about his actions with women behind closed doors, but the comedian and others unexpectedly fell into laughter Wednesday during questioning of one potential juror. Source
  • Media mogul Jerry Perenchio dies in LA at 86

    Entertainment CTV News
    LOS ANGELES -- Jerry Perenchio was a media mogul, billionaire former owner of Univision and the producer behind a slew of hit shows and sporting events but his house appeared more often on TV than he did. Source
  • 'Wonder Woman' London premiere scrapped after Manchester attack

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    Film bosses at Warner Bros. have scrapped their promotional plans for Wonder Woman in London in the wake of the deadly bomb blast in Manchester that cost 22 people their lives. The Wonder Woman premiere in England’s capital and countless junkets have been cancelled. Source
  • Sandra Bullock's stalker ordered to stay away from her

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    LOS ANGELES — A man who broke into Sandra Bullock’s home in 2014 and forced the Oscar-winning actress to hide in her closet while calling police has been sentenced to continued mental health treatment and probation after pleading no contest to felony stalking and burglary charges. Source
  • Watch: Justin Bieber bungles lyrics to his Spanish hit Despacito

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    Justin Bieber flubbed his way through a club performance of his Luis Fonsi collaboration Despacito on Tuesday after forgetting the lyrics to his Spanish smash. The Baby hitmaker jumped onstage at New York hotspot 1 OAK when the remix track came on, but he struggled to remember any of the words. Source