"A quick flip of the wipers, and off we ... oh. I heard frail machinery endure immense strain and surrender with a reverberating twang; I saw the wipers flop limply down on to the bonnet, useless and dead." - from YOU ARE AWFUL, about driving Craig
"I watched my reflection settle into the now familiar blend of horror and exhilaration - the face of a man who has gone in search of the truly dreadful, and found it ... Five minutes later I walked outside (the barber shop) wearing a crested grebe plucked from an oil slick." - from YOU ARE AWFUL, about a haircut in St. Helens
"Drained and stained, the irregular-shaped pools seemed sad and creepy; the primary-hued plastic employed from everything from water slides to snack huts had dulled and roughened like an old toothbrush. The whole Chernobyl fairground look." - from YOU ARE AWFUL, about Rhyl's Sun Centre, off-season
Early in his marriage, travel essayist Tim Moore and his wife got lost on a day trip to Leeds Castle and ended up on the Isle of Sheppey in the Thames Estuary at the decaying beachfront resort of Leysdown-on-Sea. Twenty years later, this experience inspired Moore to do a driving tour of Britain's most vilified and blighted places as pronounced by various polls and surveys. Thus YOU ARE AWFUL (BUT I LIKE YOU), an unusual work of humor and bad experiences which is sprinkled with words like: horrid, rubbish, worst, loathsome, unhappiest, dreadful, and ugly. For the reader, it's great fun. Brilliant, actually.
Dedicated to the concept of Awfulness, Tim acquires his ride for the adventure, perhaps the worst engineered British car in recent history - the Austin Maestro - which he names "Craig." Inserting the needle under his fingernail even deeper, he programs the on-board sat-nav with the most obnoxious voice available from among celebrity voices, that of "Ozzy" Osbourne, and loads his on-board music player with 358 British songs voted by listeners as the most terrible.
And he does his round-the-island journey in the winter.
Sounds like a lark. Who among us could resist an offer to ride along?
So, it's up along the east coast (Great Yarmouth, Skegness, Goole, Hull, Middlesbrough, Hartlepool, Gateshead, Howick, Forth, Methil, Lochgelly), then down the west coast and through the Midlands (Cumbernauld, Barrow, Southport, St. Helens, Rhyl, Doncaster, Sheffield, Nottingham, Walsall, Merthyr Tydfil, Slough).
(Even having holidayed in Great Britain more than a dozen times and been from Land's End to John O'Groats, up the east and west coasts and down through the center, I can't recall having spent significant time in any of these places except Nottingham in 1975, and that was to satisfy my desire to visit the Nottingham Castle of Robin Hood legend. I was much younger then, and naively uninformed. In any case, there's very little of that fortress left; I was vastly disappointed.)
And what a wealth of horrid experiences! A bad haircut, dismal hotel rooms, atrocious food, decrepit seafronts, blighted industrial towns, depressing pubs, deserted museums, and execrable public architecture. Among other things.
At one point, the author invites the reader to interactive participation when he writes of the scabrous Pontin's Southport Holiday Park:
"You don't even need to go there to see how bad it looks: as viewed on Google Earth, that weathered concrete wheel says correctional facility or abandoned military intelligence compound."
I viewed, and it does.
Throughout YOU ARE AWFUL (BUT I LIKE YOU), Tim displays an eye for detail, a caustic dry wit, a self-deprecatory humor, and a more-or-less stiff upper lip in the face of adversity. And, in the end, Moore gains from the experience:
"But something had happened to me over the past few months ... I had taken a crash course in grubby discomfort, and relearnt the lost native skills of taking the rough with the smooth, looking on the bright side, making the best of a bad job."
Bravo! This is a gem of a travel narrative worth savoring with your next meal of parmo (Middlesbrough) or Chinese Lemon Chicken (Doncaster).