The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain
© 2015 Bill Bryson
“When people asked me where I was bound, I could gaze toward the northern horizon with a set expression and say ‘Cape Wrath, God willing’. I imagined my listeners giving a low whistle of admiration and reply ‘Gosh, that’s a long way.’ I would nod in grim acknowledgment. ‘Not even sure if there’s a tearoom,’ I would add.”
Bill Bryson is turning into a cranky old man, evidenced by his ramblings on The Road to Little Dribbling. Bryson’s mark is funny travelogues, a recording of the people and places he visits as he wanders through Australia or the Appalachian trail, supported by errant reminiscences that such sights inspire. At the outset of Road to Little Dribbling, Bryson is about to take the British citizenship test after having lived in England for several decades. (He encountered a stray English rose, and married her.) Rendered nostalgic by the prospect of finally making his relationship with Britain formal, Bryson decides to take a tour of the isle, traveling from Bognor Regis to Cape Wrath, the longest NS axis he could figure. While he earnestly does not want to repeat his journey in Notes from a Small Island, in which he repeated the journey he made the first time he ever traveled to Britain (Bill is evidently short for Bilbo) — the title of it comes up a lot, like the expression “Back in my day” in the mouth of a marooned resident of a nursing home.
The book is taken up with him riding trains, suffering car rentals, and going on long walks, musing and having interactions with people that typically end in him thinking nasty things about them. Herein lies the big splotch on this book: either I never picked up on it before, or Bryson is growing increasingly nasty with age, because he’s constantly contemplating the murder or convenient death of people. They don’t even have to be people who are failing to deliver customer service; they can be politicians he’s heard wicked things about on the telly. What he finds is is that while there are many signs of things going downhill — old women stiffing on tips, train routes being neglected, American-style sprawl, buildings literally falling into the sea because of coastal erosion that is surely the government’s fault, somehow — Britain has mostly remained a charming place. (Except for Scotland, which has gotten too weirdly nationalistic for his culinary taste.)
The Road to Little Dribbling is riven with cranky potholes, more crabby than funny. I’ve read quite a few of Bryson’s travel tales, and this will rank last among them.