Educational And Highly Amusing,
This review is from: Mark Steel's In Town (Paperback)
This 2011 book by comedian Mark Steel is 'lifted' from his Radio 4 series of comedy tours of British towns (which, incidentally, has just restarted on Radio 4 - well worth a listen given the dearth of decent Radio 4 comedy these days) and, in keeping with the man's style, is full of nicely humorous observational tales of the local practices and history of a selection of British towns (or regions). In effect, it's a sort of Bill Bryson with a bit of added 'edge' i.e. 'street-wise' with some swearing thrown in. I have read most of Steel's books and although I don't think In Town is (from what I can recall) quite as funny as his (more personal) book, 2008's What's Going On, it still has many moments of great hilarity.
Here, Steel does a pretty good job of covering the entire length of Great Britain, with particularly memorable chapters on Penzance and the Orkneys, as well as poking fun at town planning conformity and corporatism in the chapters on new towns (Basingstoke, Milton Keynes and Crawley) and Surrey. Highlights for me would include his discovery that the 'John O' Groats - 874 miles sign' at Penzance is only 'available' for photos at a cost of £10 and is removed(!) outside the hours of 9am to 5.30pm and his excellent chapter charting the rebellious nature of the town of Merthyr Tydfil (and its inhabitants). And for a moment of (long-overdue) enlightenment, as a fellow Kentish Man, Steel informs me that that unidentifiable muck that we were served for school dinners, known as Gypsy Tart, actually originated in Kent (making me considerably less happy in the knowledge that other parts of the country were probably not forced to suffer the stuff as well!).