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

  • Canadian screen stars want code of conduct to deal with sexual harassment

    Entertainment CBC News
    Groups representing actors, directors and others in Canada's film and television industry say a code of conduct will be one of several steps toward tackling sexual harassment in the industry. More than a dozen organizations convened a closed-door meeting on Thursday in Toronto to discuss what can be done to curb the problem. Source
  • Pioneering jazz singer Jon Hendricks dies at 96

    Entertainment CTV News
    TOLEDO, Ohio -- Jon Hendricks, the pioneering jazz singer and lyricist who with the trio Lambert, Hendricks & Ross popularized the "vocalese" singing style in which words were added to instrumental songs, has died. He was 96. Source
  • Jann Arden's new book explores journey on the 'hideous road of Alzheimer's'

    Entertainment CTV News
    When Jann Arden first wrote on Facebook about mother's experience with Alzheimer's, she didn't expect it might lead to her next book. She was venting her frustration and fear as her mother Joan’s memory worsened and personality changed. Source
  • Second City launches improv class specifically for teenage girls

    Entertainment CTV News
    TORONTO -- Comedian Stacey McGunnigle says it's hard to be confident when you're a teenage girl. "You're so concerned about what people think," she says, recalling how self-conscious and awkward she felt as a teenager. Source
  • Sister of murdered Inuk woman 'turns pain into positive action' with opera project

    Entertainment CBC News
    It has been three weeks since Inuk artist Delilah Saunders and her family testified at the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls at Membertou First Nation in Nova Scotia. Now, Saunders says she's "turning her pain into positive action," collaborating with a Labrador City composer on a chamber opera. Source
  • Innovative jazz producer George Avakian dies at 98

    Entertainment CTV News
    NEW YORK -- George Avakian, a Russian-born jazz scholar and architect of the American music industry who produced essential recordings by Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis and other stars has died at age 98. Avakian's daughter, Anahid Avakian Gregg, confirmed that her father died Wednesday morning at his home in Manhattan. Source
  • CMHR faces calls to remove Myanmar leader Suu Kyi from exhibit

    Entertainment CBC News
    The Canadian Museum for Human Rights is looking at whether Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi should be removed from its exhibitions amid widespread allegations of human rights violations against Rohingya Muslims in the predominantly Buddhist nation she leads. Source
  • Hollywood stars on the defensive as scandals prompt tough questions

    Entertainment CBC News
    Appearing on the red carpet was once a sign of prestige and glamour, but for many in Hollywood the old self-promotional standby is now a battleground better avoided than pranced upon. Normally at this time of year, the entertainment industry is gearing up for another awards season. Source
  • Gary Oldman gets Oscar buzz for portrayal of Winston Churchill

    Entertainment CTV News
    TORONTO -- It's a long distance from Sid Vicious to Winston Churchill, and a greater leap, still, from Dracula to "Darkest Hour." Gary Oldman, character-actor maverick, has taken up perhaps his biggest -- and most buttoned-down -- challenge. Source
  • Lawren Harris painting Mountains East of Maligne Lake fetches $3M at auction

    Entertainment CBC News
    Mountains East of Maligne Lake, a 1925 Rocky Mountains canvas by Group of Seven co-founder Lawren Harris, fetched $2.5 million in Toronto on Wednesday. The bidding war for the painting took place at Heffel's annual fall auction of Canadian art, held Wednesday evening at Toronto's Design Exchange. Source