What I Love about Britain; Forget Our Third World NHS, Ramshackle Railways and Crime Ridden Streets. One Man Still Believes This Nation Is the Greatest ... and He's American /as Bill Bryson Is Voted the Author Who Best Captures the Mood of This Country

By Bryson, William | Daily Mail (London), March 8, 2003 | Go to article overview

What I Love about Britain; Forget Our Third World NHS, Ramshackle Railways and Crime Ridden Streets. One Man Still Believes This Nation Is the Greatest ... and He's American /as Bill Bryson Is Voted the Author Who Best Captures the Mood of This Country


Bryson, William, Daily Mail (London)


Byline: BILL BRYSON

A SURVEY to decide which book best evokes the spirit of modern Britain voted Bill Bryson's Notes From A Small Island the winner. Here we present a selection of the American's wry and poignant musings on some familiar British institutions.

On our weather

I HAVE a small, tattered clipping that I sometimes carry with me for the purposes of private amusement. It's a weather forecast from a regional paper and it says, in toto: 'Outlook: dry and warm, but cooler with some rain.'

There you have in a single pithy sentence the British weather captured to perfection.

The paper could run that forecast every day for a year and scarcely ever be wrong.

To an outsider the most striking thing about the British weather is that there isn't very much of it. All those phenomena that elsewhere give nature an edge of excitement, unpredictability and danger - tornadoes, monsoons, raging blizzards, run-for-your-life hailstorms - are almost wholly unknown in the British Isles, and this is just fine by me.

On our island spirit

I KNOW you are all aware, in an abstract sort of way, that there is a substantial landmass called Europe nearby and that from time to time it is necessary to go over there and give old Jerry a drubbing or have a holiday on the Med, but it's not near in any meaningful sense in the way that, say, Disney World is.

On the Scots

I have the greatest fondness and admiration for Scotland and her cherry-cheeked people. Among much else we owe the Scots are whisky, raincoats, rubber wellies, the bicycle pedal, the telephone, the tarmac, penicillin and an understanding of the active principles of cannabis, and think how insupportable life would be without those. So thank you Scotland, and never mind that you seem quite unable to qualify for the World Cup these days.

On the shipping forecast

I FIND strange comfort in the exotic and mystifying litany of the shipping forecasts. I have no idea what they mean - 'Viking rising five, backing four; Dogger blowing strong, steady as she goes; Minches gale force twelve, jeez Louise' but they exert a powerful soothing effect on me. I genuinely believe that one of the reasons Britain is such a steady and gracious place is the calming influence of the football results and the shipping forecasts.

On television repeats

HOW is it possible, in this wondrous land where the relics of genius and enterprise confront you at every turn, where every realm of human possibility has been probed and challenged and generally extended, where many of the greatest accomplishments of industry, commerce and the arts find their seat, how is it possible in such a place that when I returned to my hotel and switched on the television it was Cagney And Lacey again?

On teatime favourites

THE British are so easy to please. It is the most extraordinary thing. They actually like their pleasures small. That is why, I suppose, so many of their treats - teacakes, scones, crumpets, rock cakes, rich tea biscuits, fruit Shrewsburys - are so cautiously flavoured. They are the only people in the world who think of jam and currants as thrilling constituents of a pudding or cake.

On the Royal Family

I MUST say, I can't begin to understand the attitudes of the British nation towards the Royal Family. For years - may I be candid for a moment? - I thought they were insupportably boring and only marginally more attractive than Wallis Simpson, but everybody in Britain adored them. Then when, by a small miracle, they finally started doing arresting and erratic things and making the News of the World on merit - when, in a word, they finally became interesting - the whole nation was suddenly saying, 'Shocking. Let's get rid of them.'

On colourful placenames

THERE is almost no area of British life that isn't touched with a kind of genius for names. …

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What I Love about Britain; Forget Our Third World NHS, Ramshackle Railways and Crime Ridden Streets. One Man Still Believes This Nation Is the Greatest ... and He's American /as Bill Bryson Is Voted the Author Who Best Captures the Mood of This Country
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