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 exceptional floating kingdom of significant Britain, which has produced zebra crossings, Shakespeare, Twiggie Winkie’s Farm, and locations with names like Farleigh Wallop and Titsey.

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I gave a crooked smile, thinking he must be pulling my leg, and said, 'You're kidding. ' 'Not at all,' he replied coldly. 'Why, do you find it amusing? ' 'It's just that it's kind of ... strange. ' 'Well, you may think so,' he said and turned his attention to the colonel and Mrs Smegma, and I realized that I was now, and would doubtless forever remain, friendless in Dover. Over the next two days, Mrs Smegma persecuted me mercilessly, while the others, I suspected, scouted evidence for her. She reproached me for not turning the light off in my room when I went out, for not putting the lid down in the toilet when I'd finished, for taking the colonel's hot water ­ I'd no idea he had his own until he started rattling the doorknob and making aggrieved noises in the corridor ­ for ordering the full English breakfast two days running and then leaving the fried tomato both times. 'I see you've left the fried tomato again,' she said on the second occasion. I didn't know quite what to say to this as it was incontestably true, so I simply furrowed my brow and joined her in staring at the offending item. I had actually been wondering for two days what it was. 'May I request,' she said in a voice heavy with pain and years of irritation, 'that in future if you don't require a fried tomato with your breakfast that you would be good enough to tell me. ' Abashed, I watched her go. 'I thought it was a blood clot! ' I wanted to yell after her, but of course I said nothing and merely skulked from the room to the triumphant beams of my fellow residents. After that, I stayed out of the house as much as I could. I went to the library and looked up 'counterpane' in a dictionary so that I might at least escape censure on that ranking. (I was astonished to find out what it was; for three days I'd been fiddling with the window. ) Within the house, I tried to remain silent and inconspicuous. I even turned over quietly in my creaking bed. But no matter how hard I tried, I seemed fated to annoy. On the third afternoon as I crept in Mrs Smegma confronted me in the hallway with an empty cigarette packet, and demanded to know if it was I who had thrust it in the privet hedge. I began to understand why innocent people sign extravagant confessions in police stations. That evening, I forgot to turn off the water heater after a quick and stealthy bath and compounded the error by leaving strands of hair in the plughole. The next morning came the final humiliation. Mrs Smegma marched me wordlessly to the toilet and showed me a little turd that had not flushed away. We agreed that I should leave after breakfast. I caught a fast train to London, and had not been back to Dover since. CHAPTER   ONE THERE ARE CERTAIN IDIOSYNCRATIC NOTIONS THAT YOU QUIETLY COME to accept when you live for a long time in Britain. One is that British summers used to be longer and sunnier. Another is that the England football team shouldn't have any trouble with Norway. A third is the idea that Britain is a big place. This last is easily the most intractable.

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