Book – Notes from a small Island by Bill Bryson

I’ve been warned about reading too much Bryson. Whereas I found his memoir of growing up in middle America enchanting, this one about arriving in Britain is frustrating, entertaining and funny in almost equal measures.

I nearly gave up reading a few times but I’m not quitter; I have to keep reminding myself that he had the same level of derogatory comments about his homeland as he does about the UK, it’s not personal. Plus things have changed since 1993.

So that’s the review, here are some interesting points:I love the details about the cost of things in 1973; the pound was $2.46, average weekly take home pay was £30.11 and a colour TV £300. The last one probably hasn’t changed much.

I’m so glad that Bryson thinks as less of BT as I do. Not sure I’d have everyone who works there killed but I’d certainly get rid of the organisation.

Bryson moans about there being nothing to do in Dover (obviously) and yet just stays a few days where he enters the country, but he was young and naive then.

London is big. Yes it does appear to start at Gatwick and end just below Luton.

Possibly my favourite quote about the London underground: ‘That isn’t a city up there; it’s a Jane Austin novel’.

Yes there is no hill or indeed Tower strictly speaking at ‘Tower Hill’ but once upon a time, maybe there was and that’s the beauty of naming places after history, we still remember.

Yes I understand Bryson’s view when talking about ‘an ugly building competition’ and it would be lovely to keep all the buildings from hundreds of years ago but it’s not always possible; sometimes due to lack of upkeep but also I think London needs to have a skyline befitting its status as one the world’s leading finance centres. I feel we have the best of both worlds.

Having spent more than a decade in publishing myself, some of it in Fleet Street, I love the description of printers in the 1980s; over staffed, over paid and underworked. Of course the industry is now all but extinct due to the advanced technology.

Don’t f*** with English puddings. Fair enuff

Mr Bryson, England isn’t the only place in the world that has fog; it’s in other counties too, including America

In England, ‘ladies wait until all the shopping is bagged up before getting out their purses at the supermarket’? Not me, I think he’s talking about older people generally, bless them, not women specifically.

University Challenge – UK v USA? Interesting idea.

Bemoaning the fact that he can’t get a direct train where he wants i.e. Oxford to Cambridge. Well we can’t build a line between every city – do they have that in America? 

With Milton Keynes, my most despised place on the planet, Bryson can do his worst. All he really came up with is its ‘Built like an American mall’. He moaned that he couldn’t find the shopping area from the train station but all he needed to do is ask; it’s just 15 minutes walk after all. Aren’t all train stations built away from town centres, on account of the noise and the big long track that needs to be laid down?

There are constant references to bad food and the rain. On the former you get what you pay for my friend, England is closest to France and we’ve had French cooking (since, joined by just about every other nation) from when you still thought a McDonalds meal was healthy.

On the rain, ever been to Scotland? Or Ireland? Or northern Europe or Boston in fact?

Birmingham: there isn’t a landmark that you can identify Birmingham with. Firstly, does there have to be and secondly, ever seen the Rotunda? Or the Alpha Tower or since the book, the new Bull Ring centre with its iconic Selfridges building for that matter, amongst others. You can go off someone.

Apparently there is not an equivalent American phrase for ‘taking the pi**’, yes there is, ‘yanking your chain’.

There is a constant moan about the lack of trains everywhere he wanted to go, including the remotest parts of Scotland where we think it’s quaint they only have two trains per week. But that’s why we have a motorway system, so we have the option to drive if there isn’t a convenient train service.

I love that he says that bank cashiers open two at a time, expect when it’s busy. They only open one. Hilariously true!

Finally I love that he feels that the Brits always find humour in every situation, perhaps contradicting what he and a few Americans I know, thought originally.

6½/10 Smile factor 7½/10


One thought on “Book – Notes from a small Island by Bill Bryson

  1. I tried reading it a while back after a friend suggested it but never really got on with it – it was a library copy I think so it’s not like I can try again just at the moment lol.

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