Notes from a Small Island

By Bill Bryson

Before New York Times bestselling writer invoice Bryson wrote The street to Little Dribbling, he took this delightfully irreverent jaunt round the extraordinary floating kingdom of serious Britain, which has produced zebra crossings, Shakespeare, Twiggie Winkie’s Farm, and locations with names like Farleigh Wallop and Titsey.

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By the time I reached the station it was coming down steadily. Llandudno Station is closed on Sundays ­ that the largest resort in Wales has no Sunday rail services is too preposterous and depressing to elaborate on ­ but there was a bus to Blaenau Ffestiniog from the station forecourt at eleven. There was no bench or shelter by the bus­stop, nowhere to get out of the rain. If you travel much by public transport in Britain these days you soon come to feel like a member of some unwanted sub­class, like the handicapped or unemployed, and that everyone essentially wishes you would just go away. I felt a bit like that now ­ and I am rich and healthy and immensely good­looking. What must it be like to be permanently poor or disabled or otherwise unable to take a full and active part in the nation's headlong rush for the sunny slopes of Mt Greedy? It is remarkable to me how these matters have become so thoroughly inverted in the past twenty years. There used to be a kind of unspoken nobility about living in Britain. Just by existing, by going to work and paying your taxes, catching the occasional bus and being a generally decent if unexceptional soul, you felt as if you were contributing in some small way to the maintenance of a noble enterprise ­ a generally compassionate and well­meaning society with health care for all, decent public transport, intelligent television, universal social welfare and all the rest of it. I don't know about you, but I always felt rather proud to be part of that, particularly as you didn't actually have to do anything ­ you didn't have to give blood or buy the Big Issue or otherwise go out of your way ­ to feel as if you were a small contributory part. But now, no matter what you do, you end up stung with guilt. Go for a ramble in the country and you are reminded that you are inexorably adding to congestion in the national parks and footpath erosion on fragile hills. Try to take a sleeper to Fort William or a train on the Settle­to­Carlisle line or a bus from Llandudno to Blaenau on a Sunday and you begin to feel shifty and aberrant because you know that these services require vast and costly subsidization. pass for a drive in your car, look for work, seek a place to live, and all you are doing is taking up valuable space and time. And as for needing health care ­ well, how thoughtless and selfish can you possibly be? ('We can treat your ingrown toenails, Mr Smith, but it will of course mean taking a child off a life­support machine. ') I dread to think how much it cost Gwynedd Transport to convey me to Blaenau Ffestiniog on this wet Sunday morning since I was the only customer, apart from a young lady who joined us at Betws­y­Coed and left us soon after at the interestingly named Pont­y­Pant. I had been looking forward to the journey for the chance to see a little of Snowdonia, but the rain was soon falling so hard, and the bus windows so beaded with dirty droplets, that I could see almost nothing ­ just blurry expanses of dead, rust­ coloured ferns dotted here and there with motionless, seriously discontented­looking sheep.

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