Whilst convalescing in hospital recently (more on that later) I finally got around to reading Bill Bryson, courtesy of my German parents who appear to own his catalogue. I cannot tell you how many people, over the years, upon hearing of my penchant for travel writing, have said to me ‘you must read Bill Bryson.’ And, I have always nodded politely and said, ‘yes, I must, he’s supposed to be very good’ – knowing full well he is supposed to be very good – and then, in the annoying fashion I have, potentially driven by a subconscious urge to ignore everything that is good for me, I have … well I have not read Bill Bryson as recommended.
Obviously, this is a classic case of bizarre, deep rooted nose-cutting-to-spite-face, because Bill Bryson is bloody good. In two days, I read Down Under and The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid (the latter is incredibly funny, the former, I enjoyed, but Australians instinctively take umbrage with other people writing about us, even when it is infused with genuine love and praise … it could be that I am jealous I haven’t been to 90% of the places Bill turned his pen to) and decided Bill and I may be, on at least a very small level, a form of kindred spirits.
Not because we both enjoy packing a bag and cavorting through various countries (although this would be the most obvious link) … but because we both seemingly share a tendency to enjoy a tipple on our travels and the consequence of not only being quite unable to recall the full extent of the evening the next day, but also ridiculous, cryptic notes that do nothing to contribute to the evening’s write up.
From Down Under …
Well I can’t pretend to remember a great deal of what followed. We drank huge amounts of beer – huge amounts. We ate steaks the size od catcher’s mitts (they may actually have been catcher’s mitts) and washed them down with more beer. We made many friends. We circulated as if at a cocktail party. I talked to ranchers and sheep shearers, to nannies and cooks. I met fellow travellers from around the world, and talked for some time to the proprietor, Bruce Caterer, who told me the complicated story of how he came to own a pub in this lonely and far-flung spot, of which confidence I have not the tiniest bit of recollection and certainly nothing approximating a note … I got comprehensively beaten at pool by at least fourteen people. I bought rounds for strangers. I called my wife and professed my lasting devotion. I giggled at any story told me and radiated uncritical affection in all directions (favourite line). I would have gone anywhere with anyone. I awoke the next morning, full clothed and on top of the bedding, with no clear memory past the catcher’s mitt portion of the evening and a head that felt like a train crash.
Bill also, that night, organised a house swap with a Korean couple.