Neither Here nor There by Bill Bryson

or   How to write a ‘Hugely Funny’ Travel Book.

Bill Bryson
Anglo-American non-fiction writer, Bill Bryson: born 1951.

Step one: Choose a common phrase like, There and Back to See How Far it is, Head you Off at the Pass, It’s a Long Way to ……, you get the idea, and make it your title.

Step two: Collect anecdotes of your coming of age (COA).

Step thee: rack your brain for your pubescent sexual fantasies (PSF).

Step four: make a list of your own foibles (SD = self-deprecation).

Step five: have handy anecdotes from other trips to the same places  (SP).

Step six: if you’re an American living in Britain, collect phrase and stories that put down the Yanks or the Brits. (OPD = own put downs).

Step seven: collect puts downs of a nerd that gets put down a lot by your targeted audience, like the Irish, the Mormons, the Kiwis, etc. (NPD = nerd put downs)

Step eight: you’ll also need some RPD’s – racial put downs.

So, let’s begin.

Chapter One. Of course, you start with a journey. However, if the journey is a little boring you can always rely on a PSF:

I fanaticised about “…finding myself seated next to a panting young beauty being sent by her father against her wishes to the Lausanne Institute for Nymphomaniacal Disorders, who would turn to me somewhere over the mid-Atlantic and say, ‘Forgive me, but would it be alright if I sat on your face for a while?”

and you can then tack on an NPD which has OPD overtones:

“In the event my seatmate turned out to be an acned string-bean with Buddy Holly glasses and a line-up of ball-point pens clipped into a protective plastic case in his shirt pocket.”

But if you find yourself on an inspirational roll you can continue this novel scenario:

“I spied a coin under the seat in front of me, and with protracted difficulty leaned forward and snagged it. When I sat up, I saw my seatmate was at last looking at me with that ominous glow.

‘Have you found Jesus?’ he said suddenly.

‘Uh, no, it’s a quarter,’ I answered and quickly settled down and pretended for the next six hours to be asleep, ignoring his whispered entreaties to let Christ build a bunkhouse in my heart.”

It’s important to understand that such ‘stories’ don’t necessarily need to come from the trip you are now writing about, nor do they necessarily need to have happened at all. Let’s call it comedic license.

And of course, when in Germany, it’s likely that funny incidents are few and far between but there’s always a good PSF to come to your aid:

“I had only signed up for German [as a boy] because it was taught by a walking wet dream named Miss Webster, who had the most magnificent breasts and buttocks that adhered to her skirt like melons in shrink-wrap.”

Or, as in his few pages on Cologne, he begins with an RPD about the woman running the statin café who ignored him because he ignored her:

“This is the worst characteristic of the Germans. Well, actually a predilection for starting land wars in Europe is their worst characteristic, but this is up there with it.”

He then segues into an SP about a previous visit to Cologne when he stayed in a cheap hotel and read soft-porn magazines that other guests had left behind. He then contemplates the massive cathedral and comments on its size with a little OPD:

“You can understand why it took 700 years to build – and that was with German workers. In Britain they would still be digging the foundations.”

Without any nicer things to say about Cologne Bryson indulges in a reminiscence about flying on a 747, and regaling the reader with the lack of American know-how of audio electronics – a bit of ODP – and praising the Japanese “for filling my life with convenient items like a wristwatch that can store telephone numbers, calculate my overdraft and time my morning egg” – a sort of reverse RDP. He then cuts short his Cologne stay when he spies a non-stop porno cinema in the train station, which one would’ve thought would’ve given Mr Bryson an extra beat of his heart but it instead caused him to high-tail it out of Cologne and head for, ironically, Amsterdam.

His stay in Hamburg is similar: he complains about the ugliness of the prostitutes, the smallness and expense of his carpet-less hotel room, the sex-shops – “nothing compared to those in Amsterdam” – although he does praise their ingenuity when it comes to manufacturing and promoting sex dolls. He indulges in a little RDP, ODP, SP and then tops it off with a lengthy analysis of why beautiful and stylish German women don’t shave their armpits; like “a Brillo pad hanging there. I know some people think it’s earthy, but so are turnips …”

Oh, and he also hates dogs.

It seems that Mr Bryson understands well his potential readership: the kind of travellers that other travellers try to avoid.

However, after reading the dense prose of our human stains in the stories by Tsiolkas, a house-brick sized Moorhouse about mores, political and sexual, in Canberra in the 1950’s, and the ethereal beginnings of literary modernism in Joyce, I thought I needed something light.

Neither Here nor There (1992) is entertaining-ish, undemanding, diverting, and completely forgettable, but don’t let it inform you about Europe.

Access to all 46 formats and editions you can find here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.