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

  • Forbes ranks highest-paid YouTube personalities of 2016

    Entertainment CTV News
    Swedish gamer "PewDiePie" tops Forbes' list of the highest-paid YouTube stars, having raked in an estimated US$15 million for 12 months ending June 2016. With nearly 50 million subscribers, 26-year-old Felix Kjellberg handily tops the list which also includes a rapper, prankster, "nerdy baker" and more gamers. Source
  • Drake, Justin Bieber up for best album Grammy

    Entertainment CTV News
    NEW YORK -- The Grammy Awards are sipping all of Beyonce's lemonade. The pop star is the leader of the 2017 Grammys with nine nominations, including bids for album of the year with "Lemonade," and song and record of the year with "Formation. Source
  • Publication halted for provocative children's books parody

    Entertainment CTV News
    NEW YORK -- Publication has been halted for a provocative satire of children's stories, "Bad Little Children's Books," which had been criticized by online commenters for poor taste and reinforcing racial and cultural stereotypes. Released in September by Abrams and written by Arthur C. Source
  • Adele, Beyoncé, Bieber and Drake to vie for Grammy Awards

    Entertainment CBC News
    Singers Adele and Beyoncé, as well as Canadians Justin Bieber and Drake are among the nominees for the 59th annual Grammy Awards. Meghan Trainor, the 2016 best new artist Grammy winner, appeared on CBSThis Morning in New York today to help unveil the nominees in the four general field categories. Source
  • Mel Harris: 'thirtysomething' stars remain 'close' friends

    Entertainment CTV News
    NEW YORK -- Almost 30 years since "thirtysomething" went off the air, the now 50-something cast of the drama about a group of American baby boomers remain friends. Mel Harris, who played Hope Steadman on the show, says she and cast mates Ken Olin, Timothy Busfield, Patricia Wettig, Polly Draper, Melanie Mayron and Peter Horton bonded while making the show, which aired on ABC from 1987 through 1991. Source
  • Dunham and Coates, mutual admirers, talk writing and Trump

    Entertainment CTV News
    NEW YORK -- "Girls" creator Lena Dunham and author-essayist Ta-Nehisi Coates, strangers until Monday night, found they had a lot in common. Especially when the subject was the upcoming presidency of Donald Trump. "If what has to happen is that I get metaphorically strung up by my toes because I think we were all born equal and beautiful, then that's just what's going to happen," Dunham said. Source
  • Sarah McLachlan on new Christmas album, her unusual pick for favourite song

    Entertainment CTV News
    No time of year gets Sarah McLachlan's heart pumping with anticipation quite like Christmas. The angelic-voiced pop singer says she's a huge fan of the yuletide season, which is one reason why this year she recorded her second festive album, "Wonderland. Source
  • 'She just soared': Canadian woman models in Victoria's Secret Fashion Show

    Entertainment CTV News
    They're touted as the most beautiful women in the world – and this year, one of them is Canadian. Ottawa-raised model Herieth Paul walked the runway at the 2016 Victoria's Secret Fashion Show, as the only Canadian beauty in the much-hyped pop culture event. Source
  • Poland's top court upholds refusal to extradite Polanski

    Entertainment CTV News
    WARSAW, Poland -- Poland's Supreme Court has upheld a refusal to have filmmaker Roman Polanski extradited to the U.S. if he enters Poland. Polanski is wanted in the U.S. in a case involving sex with a minor, which has haunted him for almost 40 years. Source
  • 'The Great Wall' role never intended for Asian actor: Matt Damon

    Entertainment CTV News
    BEIJING - Matt Damon said Tuesday that his role in the new China-Hollywood production "The Great Wall" was always intended to be European, responding to criticism that an Asian actor should have been picked for the part. Source