My current favourite TV funny man writes about England and her people but of course what makes this book unique is that Mr O’Briain is writing as an Irishman.
I’ll say from the off that unlike my last read, Craig Fergusons biography, this has not diminished my liking of the author; in fact, now I realise he is clever, intelligent and interesting as well as comical.
The book was written whilst Dara was on a UK tour so on each stop, he writes about the town, the people and funniest of all the things the audience say. Dara is very much from the ‘interact with the crowd’ school of stand-up comedy, a talent in itself as he then has to think on his feet when coming up with witty come backs. Many jokes are included throughout the book and it’s not always a case of #youhadtobethere
Obviously he has excellent knowledge of all the theatres (loves the Hippodrome in Birmingham amongst many others) but also where to go before and after a gig, where to eat, where to drink, where to shop, where the fun time-filling activities are and the difficulties in convincing pizza delivery guys that you will meet, and therefore pay them at the back of the theatre. Honestly.
He especially notes the fudge in seaside towns as all of them say ‘the best in the country’. And he doesn’t even like the stuff but does point out that fudge isn’t even British but invented in Poughkeepsie, New York in 1886, although ironically, I have never seen it there.
Dara desperately wants to visit all the exciting places he sees on tourist signs but never has the time stop and experience them. Billing Aquadrome appears to be of particular interest, mainly because of the ‘r’ in the name.
I love his description of Brighton as a dysfunctional family in the nicest possible way; its an easy train ride to London means it thrives with the commuters who earn big bucks in the big city to spend back on the coast but who are in turn frowned upon by those who stay local yet need the commuters spending power.
I will take issue of his opinion that nowhere else could possibly put on the spectacular Christmas parade that Swansea does. He is of course wrong as my home town, Bedford (and I imagine many others) hosts a pre-Christmas parade that used to make this my favourite day of the year there; the parade is led by Santa Claus coming to town, taking everyone to the gorgeous riverside where the Christmas lights are turned on after a fantastic firework display.
The other aspect of this book that I love is the history lesson; here is an Irish comedian, touring my country, researching statistics and then coming back to me with his reports. He starts with the Victorians having invented everything and I do always say they invented Christmas (as we know it).
He talks about him and his driver/buddy always listening to Radio 5 on their long car journeys but in particular about how this book started because of a particularly interesting late night phone-in about England being placed in the top 10 best countries to live in an international poll and how the callers were disbelieving of this fact.
There are many statistics; how Britain, especially Birmingham is obsessed with porn in that Birmingham City Football Club is owned by two porn magnates (although David Gold and David Sullivan have moved onto West Ham now) and our 2nd city has more lap dancing clubs than anywhere else. Dara’s reasoning is that the city holds 40% of the country’s conferences and events.
He also says this puts paid to the old truism that the English aren’t interested in sex (for crying out loud!) and are a little embarrassed by it. There’s also an interesting bit about where the phrase ‘Lie back and think of England’ – too long to go into here suffice to say it was a quote from Lady Alice Hillingdon who at the age of 55 in 1912 was commenting that her husband now only called upon her twice a week. That’s twice a week at 55.
The book is smattered with historical facts which I’m pretty confident that the author has researched so I haven’t checked.
There are also illuminating statements including Britain (not England) is the 4th largest English speaking nation in the world, after USA, India and Nigeria. This is in a chapter entitled ‘You’re About Fifth’ in which he brings up the subject that Britain tends to be fourth or fifth in most things.
Dara also talks of the big drinking reputations of the British and the Irish but really, there is a laugh out loud moment at the turn of almost every page.
On rare occasions do I borrow I book and then wish I had bought is but I sure want to own this one.
Or I could have just used @StuartMaconie‘s review, ‘Dara is as clever as he is funny and he writes superbly well’