Saturday 20 July 2019

Little Dribbling

Hey lads, I finished another book. Bill Bryson's The Road to Little Dribbling More Notes From a Small Island [reviewed] which might be called Vignettes of Britain Vol II because it records a ramble 20 years after he published Notes From A Small Island. I've cited Bryson numerous times frequently to say that his Lost Continent is his original and best book. The world moves on with frightening speed and we have to hold on or fall off. In 1995, when Notes was published, I didn't own a mobile phone, climate change wasn't a thing, the Green Party was non-existent, China's economy was smaller than Brazil's. Many of the changes  between 1995 and 2015 to which Bryson reacts are for the worse.  A lot of butchers, bookshops, ironmongers in villages have been driven out of business by big box stores on the periphery of cities. Public services: transport, libraries, amenities, hospitals, schools have declined in quality in a relentless unwillingness to take taxes and pay for them. That's because he's a bit of a curmudgeon harrrumphing about the good old days of Britain in the 1970s when he first set foot in Europe on a gap year that became a life-time. I was there, though, and there was much not to love about England 1973 and I left for Dublin and a better life that October. But I will agree that 20 years of continued worship of the growth economy and a callous indifference to the dispossessed have not made Britain or Ireland better places to live for the majority of the population. Smart-phone eye-candy, frozen pineapple pizza, and dozens of pairs of uncomfortable shoes are irrelevant to well-being however you measure that.

The good thing about Bryson's books is that they are well-written and genuinely funny in parts, but they are also insightful, wide-ranging and fact-checked. If people read his books (and lots do) then they are better informed and tilted towards the good side of a well-run caring society. The down-side is that some really frightening changes in the state of the world are dug up, exposed to light, scare the bejaysus out of the reader; but then the narrative zooms off to the next chapter with an acerbic comment and we're back to hilarious take-downs random pompous or inefficient people in tourism or service.
  • Sellafield has discharged more unaccounted nuclear waste than all the rest of the EU and contains the two most glowy buildings in Europe. 
  • In 1950 Grimbsy landed 100,000 tonnes of cod. In 2015, 300 tonnes. That's a consequence of rapacious, unregulated destruction of underwater habitat in pursuit of fish-fingers. If only every fish caught had been used to feed people. In fact, thousands of tonnes of 'by-catch' just fed gannets and bacteria.
I used to read a lot of travel books; especially those that were funny, stoic and self-deprecating. But I'm not such a fan anymore. If you fillet out and discard the log-book entries of where the author went and how difficult it was to buy tickets, then you're left with not very much: met this bloke walking his dog who said . . .
But, if you like that sort of thing you could, with advantage, check out of the library:
  • Peter Fleming (brother of Ian "Bond" Fleming): Brazilian Adventure (1933)  or One's Company (1934)
  • Eric Newby: A Short Walk in the Hindi Kush (1958) or The Last Grain Race (1956)
  • Ivan Sanderson: Animal Treasure (1937)
  • Patrick Leigh Fermor: A Time of Gifts (1977) or Between the Woods and the Water (1986)

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