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After You’ve Been There


I recently read Bill Bryson’s Notes From a Small Island. More accurately, I re-read it. I couldn’t recall for sure when I picked it up in the library but, once I’d got a few pages in, I was sure that I’d journeyed through those pages before. It must have been somewhere between the original publication date (1995) and when I started assiduously recording all my reading on LibraryThing (19 January 2006 if you want a precise date), as it didn’t pop up as a duplicate entry.

What has changed between the lost date of my first reading and now is that I have visited a lot more of the places Bryson describes, which adds an extra dimension. For example, I’ve lived in Oxford for the best part of a decade. Bryson marks it down a tad unfairly, ostensibly because of the rash of modern buildings across the area and probably also because Oxford doesn’t need another person gushing about how beautiful it is. However, I can now read his litany of streets and each one is entwined with memories of my own experiences of those places. Travel reading is savoured differently before you’ve been to a place and after you’ve been there.

Oh, and I can only imagine how he would fulminate against the new Westgate Centre, which is nearing completion and due to be opened for the end of year rush. It has a Cotswold stone facade on the front which wouldn’t look out of place in Witney while the mixed brick stylings of the sides and rear almost leave me pining for the previous excrescence!

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