If You See Anyone Drop a Bit of Litter - Kill 'Em; Joe Riley Meets Celebrity Traveller Bill Bryson Back in His Favourite UK City

Article excerpt

Byline: Joe Riley

MERICAN Bill Bryson may be the most famous travel writer in the world.

But he's also infamous in these parts - for noting in his million-selling UK book, Notes From A Small Island that Liverpool 'was celebrating a festival of litter'.

Sometimes the truth hurts, especially when aided by Bryson's very personal take on the world and life in general.

Yesterday he returned as a prophet honoured, not in his own country, but in the England he has since adopted as home.

The son of Iowa became an honorary fellow of John Moores University, advising the students: 'Enjoy life. Really enjoy it. You live in a rich country, and you will never have George Bush as president.'

And as soon as the laughter had died down in the Anglican cathedral, he dropped another tip: 'If you see anyone dropping litter - kill 'em.'

This appeared to be the final word on THAT subject - first aired more than a decade ago when Bryson also noted that Liverpool 'seemed to have more of a past than a future'. At the post-grad shindig he told me: 'I'm really disappointed. I haven't seen a single piece of litter anywhere. The city is looking extremely clean.'

The ever-present twinkle in the eye betrayed Bryson's re-evaluation of Liverpool.

Now he says it is his favourite British city.

' It's the characters, the people,' he says.

'I have been coming here for 30 years, first as a backpacker in the 70s. In America we knew it as the home of the Beatles, of course.

'But I have been back many times since, including in some pretty bad times and not just to write the travel book.

'The place has been transformed. Look at all the cranes filling the sky.

'Like Newcastle and Glasgow, and several other places, Liverpool has managed to reinvent itself - perhaps more so than any other place.

'It is full of new architecture. There is a new sense of vibrancy The good news, not least for BB himself, is that this most astute of geographical assessors can still travel incognito.

While other less experienced mortals send postcards, Bryson polishes off another tome.

' It's a natural reaction for anyone to assess a place and decide whether you like it or not' One of the things I enjoy having reached at my time of life (he's 53) is that I am coming back to locations I have known, and that makes for extra interest.

'But I do still manage to go to places just to enjoy them, and not to write. …