'Blackpool's illuminations are nothing if not splendid, and they are not splendid.'
Bill Bryson first visited the UK in 1973, and fell in love with this enigmatic nation filled with novelties such as Scotch eggs, bank holidays and L-plates. After two decades, he decided to return to the US, but first he set off on a last tour of England, Wales and Scotland via public transport. The resulting journey is immortalised in Notes from a Small Island, an inimitable travel book by Britain’s funniest adopted son.
Bryson’s mission takes him past verdant landscapes (‘You could be excused for thinking that the principal industry of Britain was the manufacture of chlorophyll’), to the Museum of Various Things Involving Celluloid in Bradford, and on a train journey to Llandudno, where he shares a railway carriage with ‘not just a train-spotter, but a train-talker, a far more dangerous condition’. En route, he takes stock of a remarkable place: ‘What other country, after all, could possibly have come up with place names like Tooting Bec and Farleigh Wallop, or a game like cricket that goes on for three days and never seems to start? … What other nation in the world could possibly have given us William Shakespeare, pork pies, Christopher Wren, Windsor Great Park, the Open University, Gardeners’ Question Time, and the chocolate digestive biscuit?’
Bryson’s anglophilia does not blind him to the vagaries of a system where a railway return costs £4.40 while a single costs £8.80, or to the modern buildings that blight Oxford. His book is at once a eulogy and a plea for the preservation of the beauties of Britain, whether found in village, city or on hillside. This Folio Society edition is illustrated with contemporary photographs, including iconic images by Magnum photographer Martin Parr. Mixing personal anecdote, intriguing history and startling facts, Notes from a Small Island is an inimitable book by one of the most popular - and funniest - writers working today.