I hate Bill Bryson. He is such a great writer, that it makes me want to give up. That’s on a bad day. On a good day, I am so inspired by his command of words, his humour and the sheer amount of information he can present in an interesting way in a short space of page, that I have an extra love of the English language that keeps me going. That’s not if I don’t have to stop because I am clutching my stomach with laughter at one of his brilliantly funny observations.
One section of his book, The Road to Little Dribbling, had me chuckling for days and makes me happy whenever I remember it. It was when he meets a woman with a superiority complex walking in East Anglia who lets her dog shit on the path. When Bryson complains, she brushes him off and makes the smallest of placatory gestures by putting some leaves over the turd, “converting the dog’s deposit from a conspicuous hazard into a kind of faecal landmine.” And here’s the next bit that has already got me laughing again: ”I stared at her for a long moment, with something like awe, then raised my walking stick high into the air and calmly beat her to death.”
Transforming facts into gold
I love reading fiction and seeing how far the imagination can take writers, but I am also in awe of anyone who can transform the everyday, real-life, ordinary moments into brilliant literature. The good news is that I have a few things in common with Bryson. First, he was a journalist (tick). Second, he worked as a sub-editor (tick again). Third, he likes to go for a walk (big tick). He has facial hair (I’m getting there). But I can’t take the comparison too far, that would be like a amateur painter comparing themselves with JMW Turner, though it is surprising when you go to local art fairs, just how much misplaced confidence some people have. But good for them! Confidence can take you a lot further than mere talent, as you may note to yourself when in a room with some of your overpaid clients.
Talking of clients, to end here are some wise words of Bryson from A Walk in the Woods, to use next time one of them tries to shoot down one of your brilliant ideas: “Tell me, did they specify ‘asshole’ in the job description, or did you take a course?”