Monday, 4 April 2011

Bill Bryson (and me) on a Trip around the Fields of England

In two months I will say goodbye to the UK after having spent nearly 3 years here. To say that I am sad will be an exaggeration. However, to say that I will not miss it is just plainly unfair. After all, the UK has taught me several important life lessons, which I will never forget soon:

1. How to pass an exam, when you haven't attended a single lecture and you have two days to learn everything
2. Yes, it is possible to be rainy and windy 364 days of the year.
3. Never be surprised when a total stranger calls you "love" or "mate".
4. "Cheers" is the ultimate word. It can substitute absolutely anything you want to say.
5. Cider is cheep and fairly disgusting
6. Burger&Chips CAN be a national dish.
7. You can always start smoking after you have successfully passed the "wanna be" phase of your life (in my case you can start smoking not at 13 but at 20).

If you feel a sense of bitterness, irony, and sarcasm...well you are absolutely right. To be honest, I don't only have bad memories from my time here. Of course, I am now expected to share that my life abroad has made me more responsible, more organized, and more self-sufficient. Well, it did. It is quite obvious. Leaving the comfort of your home behind, where your mum and dad take care of every disgusting chore and moving on to live by yourself, having to learn how to cook, wash your clothes, manage your finances, etc will ultimately transform you from a careless teen into a mature individual. It is not the UK that did this. It is merely the living abroad, which could have happened in exactly every other country.

However, I have two things to be thankful to the UK. Firstly, I started this blog here. I realized how much I love books and how much pleasure dedicating time to reading and writing gives me. Secondly, I realized I want to write a book about my life (I wouldn't have anything to write about if it wasn't for the UK but that is another issue). So, England, this is my big thank you for releasing my literary talent and for giving it a subject to write about.

Maybe sensing my feelings towards his home country, my flatmate provided me with a book to change my opinion (or at least attempt to do so). After spending nearly 20 years on the island, Bill Bryson (a born American) is about to leave it for good and move to live with his family in the US. Feeling nostalgia, the author decides to take a journey around the fields of England starting from the south and finishing in the north. Bryson enters the UK through Dover, the same way he did in the distant 1970s and starts a trip, visiting not only every major UK city, but also going to relatively unknown places and villages. The book is funny, entertaining, and clever. It is not merely a trip through the fields of UK, it is a trip through a whole life time. There is as much about England and its miracles as about Bryson and his life. The author is sarcastic and funny; his elaboration on the Britons and on their island is straight to the point. The author not only describes the absolutely astonishing parts of England; he also attempts to draw a rather comprehensive picture of its public face. What are the key characteristics of the Britons? What made them so? What transformed some prosperous industrial towns into deserted and isolated places? What makes the green green grass of the UK so lovable? Bryson answers all of these answers from his own perspective, as an immigrant for almost 20 years. His imagination, sense of humour, and wittiness make Notes on a Small Island more than a road trip book. They actually make it a guide to understanding England. When I read it, I kept thinking "This is absolutely the way it is".

However, along with making me laugh out loud while reading (I really did that) Bryson managed to show me the good things about the UK. Things I just failed to notice, being too busy hating everything I see. The nature, the places, the sweet weirdness of the people, their extraordinary rituals, their behavior, everything. Bryson described all that makes the English so different from all other nations. Their almost adoringly strong belief that the island is ultimately the only place worth living on, their inclination to call each other "love" or "darling", their history, their traditions, even their food. Bryson is far from being over idealistic. Just like me, he hates the fact that every town has to have its Marks&Spenser, Boots, Tesco, or Sainsbury's. Yet, he points out the little pleasures one can encounter, the absolutely magnificent English nature, the richness of historical artefacts, etc. I just felt the desire to be along with Bryson on his road trip.

After finishing this great adventure, I felt a great nostalgia. Nostalgia not about the UK I experienced, but about the UK I didn't. Somehow these 3 years being busy complaining about everything I could think of (starting from the rain and finishing with the wrong side buses seem to come from) I failed to get a sense of the greatness of this nation, of almost the immerse possibilities it can offer to a stranger like me. I lost this time and now it is the time to say: "England, I am sorry". I am sorry that I didn't take all you could offer and I am sorry I got to dislike you so much. Just the time and place were not right for me and you to meet. Maybe in years, I will come back for a tour similar to Bryson's. Maybe then I will be able to appreciate the vastness of your land, the beauty of your weather, the cosiness of your people. Maybe then I will be more healthy, more mature, and more happy to say something like: "England, I came here. I disliked you. I hated you. I cried here. I was happy when I left. Then I came back. I travelled. I saw you. I got to know you. I realized I didn't hate you. I hated the person you made be here. But I am different now. And I thank you. For changing me. For helping me hit the bottom. For helping me stand up. For helping me reach the sky."

1 comment:

  1. Why didn't you just go home then? What an horrendously small minded individual you are. Whilst it is not stated here your mentality and self importance immediately identify you as American.

    There's no great national pride in me about my country of birth. Not because I believe there is nothing to be proud of (although this is arguably accurate) but because I believe the very idea of patriotism and national pride to be foolish and petty. Having read Notes from a Small Island, as you say you have, I can see the glaring difference between truly intelligent people like Bill and the alternative, such as yourself.

    The most saddening thing is that I can picture your type so clearly, I've met so many of you. I hope you are able to expand your mind as you grow into an adult, or failing that, find contentment in your simple and basic view of the world around you, though I simply can't imagine you changing those fundamental personality traits at your very core. Either way, good luck, I fear you may need it!