BRYSON AND BRYSON

A WALK IN THE WOODS

There are a couple of Brysons in the news this past few weeks . I’m not talking about super-suckng vacuum cleaners here. That’s Brysons…not Dysons.
On one hand the American , Bill Bryson, the humourous travel and social writer, has had one of his entertaining books turned into a film , helmed and produced by Robert Redford and also starring Nick Nolte. The film, although widely advertised in the press and on television, is apparently accruing some poor reviews from the critics. Films are rarely as good as the books, anyway, you might say .That is generally true because nothing compares to the imagined world of letters constructed by your febrile brain. I’m sure , Bill Bryson is hoping for the best and probably has already picked up his pay- cheque..
“A Walk in the Woods ” is the title and I read it years ago. It was published some eighteen years back .It was Bill Bryson’s “mid-life crisis “book, written about his over 2000 mile on-foot camping hike in the company of an old college buddy, along the Appalachian Trail ,where they attempted to re-kindle their mad , lost , 1960’s/1970’s flaming youth of feckless , responsibility -free abandon.
it is described.. along the lines of….nearing his mid-forties and in the company of his not quite so enthusiastic friend , Stephen Katz (who featured in his bestselling “Neither Here nor There”), Bill set off to walk through the huge tangled woods “which have been frightening sensible people for three hundred years”. The journey of some 2,200 miles stretched ahead of them, comprising mostly of “remote mountain wilderness filled with bears, moose, bobcats, rattlesnakes, poisonous plants, disease-bearing tics, the occasional chuckling murderer and – perhaps most alarming of all – people whose favourite pastime is discussing the relative merits of the external-frame backpack”….. They faced savage weather, merciless insects, and maps which bore only a scant relation to any geographical reality . The “Katz” was a capricious journey- companion whose” profoundest wish was to go to a motel and watch The X-Files”, Bill’s telling, eventual ambition was to survive the awful wilderness and achieve a lifetime’s ambition – to die anywhere but in the Great Outdoors…and preferably in his own cosy bed.
…… so you knew in reading this chuckling memoir that you might be far from anyone’s idea of a comfort zone into “Deliverance” territory, possibly with crazed , raddled, inbred rednecks looking for any good reason to make full- grown soft city -slickers , squeal like pigs…. far from any civilised order, home -comfort , or safety.
I was thinking that both Redford and Nolte were a bit long in the tooth for the film roles by about some thirty-odd years .I was also ruminating that if I had to schlep, like their aged- characters, some 2000 miles and camp out along the way in my crumbling , bone-jarring , sixties,eating badly cooked food , there’d be little left of me, save for some sad, blistered stain, possibly found beneath a redwood sequoia tree which a grizzly bear used as a scratching stop to ease that itch on his hairy arse. It’s hard to beat a good bed when the years pile on . It’s probably the most important purchase you’d ever make ; a good bed and mattress….a bit of support and comfort for those tired old muscles and cracking, popping joints. You’ve only one life to live …You deserve that much. Yes, believe me …that makes all the difference….
No…my days of long-haired hippying around Europe with a rucksack on my back, sleeping on benches and beaches in my bedroll, while the mosquitoes, clags and midges breakfasted on my thinning blood and fruit -sellers tried to rob me blind, are long -gone memories of my own flaming-youth , now. Bill Bryson was fortunate that he was able to turn similar youthful escapades of those same times into a life-long career , writing about his further adventures and journeyings  throughout the world. I wish I could remember as well as he did but he must have had time to take notes. My sister gave me a signed copy of his “Notes From A Small Island” years ago, implying while she did so, that “this guy sounds a bit like you…You might enjoy it” .
Well …maybe a bit. He’s the same age but he was born into a magic America of drive-in cinemas, Pepsi Cola , drag-racing and hot dogs .Everything was “boss” and “peachy -keen” back then and you could buy the “Sea-monkeys” advertised at the back of the comics. That sounded pretty exotic back in the day .On the other hand, I was born in an equally mythical land called Norneverland ,where they were obsessed with war, religion and locked -up play-parks on Sundays. I have to respect the fact that the man can write with entertaining zest while never taking the “educating” part of it too seriously. I’ll probably watch the Redford film eventually , just to compare it with the book and wonder how it might have looked had Redford and Paul Newman made it some years ago , as he’d originally planned. It might have been another “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” or “the Sting” re-union if they could have raised the seed-money in time. . We’ll never know now, as nothing remains of Paul Newman ‘s legacy except his old films and his charitable range of “Newman’s Own” sauces and salad dressings, at your local supermarket.
Another alternative “Bryson ” has popped up again …Just when you thought he’d gone away and slipped back into the jungle of noisome reportage there’s the mythical Jamie Bryson once more, like some little pointy-headed Jack-in-the Box .Norneverland’s very own junior revolutionary. I have no real idea why he even reached the public prominence that he appears to have engendered . At one point he was quite conspicuous in news stories. He appeared to have become extremely agitated around the glorious high-blooded days of the street flag protests . That’s when I first noticed him at all. There is a certain need among some of the denizens of Norneverland to get very irate and excited about the strangest things. Something like the deaths of refugees from Syria or famine in Africa might never stir them into activity. The Health Services may be falling apart in the towns and cities and waiting lines for operations may stretch into years. They may be sinking into oceans of dementia with no life-rafts in sight and it will never register with some of the citizenry. In Norneverland cancer drugs might be with -held from the suffering and the streets will not be awash with righteous anger .There will be no demonstrations at the appalling mess that our local politicians make of their chance to govern and put things right…..but…
Mention that they’ll be only be allowed to fly a flag fifteen times a year or the possibility of maybe trying a different route for their parade and they ‘ll be up at arms, spitting fire like demons.. Those are the kinds of people Jamie Bryson appears to appeal to .He voiced their concerns on the streets and on the internet. He seemed to get very elevated about this .He’s a young fellow and appears youthfully, still mostly unformed, physically or intellectually, with his squeaking , lisping ,babyish mode of vocal expression and his sharpened , child-like features , simply conspiring to congeal this vacuous image of himself. He seems insubstantial appearing to have parlayed very little in the way of intellectual heft or artistic or literary creativity into a formidable, popular presence. It’s something of a mystery. You’ll have to admit that in itself, that is a feat of some self-promotion. He may not have the intellectual depth, humourous humanity or worldliness of Bill Bryson, but he’s somehow managed to have written and have published at least three “books” ,without showing any discernible aptitude for common or social sense or even any literary aptitude, not to mention the financial input required for such an exercise.
Any aspiring “real” writer might have a small frisson of jealousy at this .Even in the dubious game of “vanity publishing “, it still costs a substantial, invested sum of money to begin turning some of those same sequoia woodland timbers into paper and inky print and embark on processing them into books; not to mention marketing and gulling a substantial number of the public into buying and consuming your finished efforts while reclaiming your investment. On closer inspection it becomes apparent that this particular Mr Bryson , unlike the aforementioned Bill, isn’t strictly a “writer” of any substance at all , of course.George Orwell or Ernest Hemingway would never have much to discuss with him ,in his presence .It appears that there are currently three publications bearing his name which, I assume , amount to no more than pamplets .I have never read any of them , to be fair to the man, but he is charging some high prices for his golden words :
“My Only Crime is Loyalty”,{190 pages, eight quid}
“The First Shades Of God”{56 pages roughly eight quid},
“Four Men Had A Dream”{66 pages for a fiver }

….and I have to say , the reviews are not complimentary.
The word is that he is generally an unemployed man who claims State Benefits, writes somewhat as a child might in his first years at primary school , but also in a somewhat delusional manner ,leaving the greater mystery as to where he gets the finances to actually have these pamphlets printed. His twin obsessions appear to be local politics, which he has dabbled in to the point of putting himself up as an unsuccessful electoral candidate , losing his deposit in the process and secondly ,some evangelical ” born-again” belief in a god of sorts. That might apply to many of his companions too. How did he become such an insider to the point where he apparently has private information enough about the NAMA financial scandal and the political contacts aplenty that allowed him into the periphery of the last Haas talks to the point where he seems to have more influence on a lot of politicians and in effect, other people’s future than he can possibly ever warrant either literarily or politically.
It’s difficult see the woods for the trees in this one , methinks ,but I know which Bryson’s writing I will always prefer…One, I can certainly laugh with, but I’m afraid I’d be laughing very hard at the other .