Sunday, February 7, 2016

The Road To Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson

Bill Bryson is known for his travel books.  Probably the one that most people remember is Notes From A Small Island, which was his impressions of his adopted homeland, Great Britain.  It was released in 2001.  Twenty-five years later, his family is grown and he is a famous author.  He still lives in England and decided to revisit places he saw then and visit new ones to get a sense of what has changed.

He visits the entirety of the island, from the big cities to the small villages, from the remote north to the little coastal towns to the more populous southern areas.  What he finds is that many things have remained the same while overall the country has gotten poorer, less well-educated and has less interest in the historical places that surround them.  Many of the former tourist areas are now struggling as people can just as inexpensively visit overseas.  Much of the industry has also closed, fleeing for cheaper areas in which to operate.  The population has changed with more immigrants than when he arrived, himself an immigrant as he points out.

What bothers him?  The historical areas that don't get the attention they should or the funding to remain available to the public.  The trashing of the common areas as common politeness seems to diminish.  The areas that are harder rather than easier to travel to as train and bus lines close due to lack of profits.  The closing of village shops as large superstores move in, often to move out again a few years later, leaving the area destitute of shopping choices.  The towns that now feel dangerous at night as gangs have taken over.

What does he like?  The absolute natural beauty of the land.  The amazing number of historical places that England and the other areas have, many of which are forgotten and unvisited.  The amazing higher education system, where England has 1% of the world's population and 11% of the world's most highly ranked universities.  The sheer fortitude and perseverance of the British people, pleased with what they have and disinclined to grumble about what life hands them.

Bryson has written about many places over the years.  He and Paul Theroux are my two favorite travel writers and I've read almost everything they have written.  Both are revisiting places as they get older, Bryson with Britain and Theroux with Africa.  Both seem discouraged at how their favorite places have changed, and how the world seems poorer and more difficult than it did years ago.  The interesting thing is how much of this is due to natural aging and the loss of optimism the young have, and how much is verifiable fact.  Bryson fans will enjoy this book and those new to him will probably seek out his other books as he is addictive.  This book is recommended to readers of travel writing and those interested in visiting England.


Wendy Unsworth said...

An interesting and insightful review. I have lived and travelled quite extensively in Britain and Africa and I tend to have that same sense that much is being lost from the traditional lifestyles of people in two very different parts of the world.
I am old enough to remember cycle rides through quiet country villages near my home in northern England; being allowed out on the road at quite a young age with lunch in my saddle bag, the only instruction to be home by six. This was long before the invention of mobile phones, of course, so no way for parents and children to be in touch. Road traffic was vastly lower in those days; in our street of, maybe, a hundred houses only a few families owned a car. Village shops and schools and outlying farms still provided a viable living for many people to live and work within their communities before the great age of commuting really kicked in.
And there is a parallel with the places I knew later and so well in the Central Africa of the early eighties. Village life was, I believe, still valued though many were already being forced through environmental and economic changes to move into the towns for work.
However it is interesting to consider how the younger generations, who do not remember 'the way things were', regard their modern lives. What is today is their reality and the rest in history! Maybe we are just talking here of the process of ageing which gives us the ability to look back and reflect, but nether can we forget that each generation Is responsible for the impact they make - both good and bad!

Sandie said...

I agree, Wendy. I think of the difference between the way I grew up and the more circumscribed lives of our own children and grandchildren. We left the house in the morning and spent our days playing at the river or in the woods. Our parents would have had no way to find us in an emergency nor did they expect to. If they needed us or supper was waiting, they came outside and honked the car horn. We were expected to show up at that signal.

Now kids have many exciting experiences we never did. My children went overseas, attended summer camps at universities and participated in organized sports and performed at parades and on tv. They range far and wide on the Internet but it is all just so different than what we had.

Both Bryson and Theroux seem world weary. It was particularly upsetting to read how Theroux was so disappointed and disheartened by the Africa he saw the last time he went, comparing it to the one he thought was so full of optimism when he was there as a young man.