Twenty years ago, Bill Bryson walked through, over and sometimes under various parts of the UK. The result was the delightful Notes from a Small Island, which is recommended by me for anyone wanting to visit the UK. Anyone living in the UK, for that matter.
His publisher noticed the anniversary and suggested Bill make a few pounds by doing essentially the same book. Except this time, Bill is twenty years older and a lot more bitter. The country he regards as his home is falling apart as he looks, the consequence of a policy of permanent austerity.
Bryson manages to wring some humour from this as well though, some laugh out loud moments among the distaste at litter and poor punctuation. (It's a bug of mine as well. I've spotted typos in BBC news articles, people who should really know better.)
The longer the book goes on, the more annoyed Bryson seems to become with the whole enterprise. His language increasingly drops to gutter level as he approaches Scotland and the end of his travels. Speaking of which, he spends half of the book south of the Midlands and only a page or two in Scotland - so much for exploring the country.
At the end of the book, Bryson makes some comments about immigrants being potentially kicked out of the country. It was an odd ramble: all the people he mentions are American. So is my wife. We live in the UK and she's an immigrant too…but she has a document called a permanent leave to remain which means she can't be kicked out. I'm sure the people Bryson mentions do as well.
Spending time with Bryson is like spending time with a grumpy and increasingly miserable old uncle. One who is constantly saying, "Back in my day…". He's devoted to an idyllic England from 1955 that I'm not sure ever existed. More worrying is his tendency to repeat anecdotes he's already given in Notes from... as though they were new.
It's curious he arrived in the UK in the 1970s when we had the worst economy for a generation and such intense deprivation, yet he sees it all through rose-tinted glasses as a country of wonder.
In many ways (as Bryson notes), the UK is a beautiful place to live, with so many hidden corners that you'll never see them all. It's just a shame the miserable old git standing with you won't shut up about how much better it used to be.