"A couple of beers and a box of Ordnance Survey maps" is Guy Browning's idea of a good time. Nick Hornby kicked off sections of Fever Pitch with match scores and Bridget Jones started her diary with cigarettes and weight. Browning begins every chapter of his witty and enjoyable autobiography with a full-page coloured map and every so often drops in a mini-map of a street, river or stretch of railway line.
Their terrain ranges from his parents' back garden to Niagara Falls. These are usually real maps customised to take account of his life. A spot on the coast of El Salvador, where his father was briefly posted, is labelled "My first and almost last swim". A junction on the road out of Chipping Norton is celebrated as "Where I was born", while a point to the west of nearby Enstone is credited with "Tut-tutting woman". One of the maps is taken from a souvenir ashtray of Jamaica, to which he has carefully added "British Leyland Marketing Team", even though those executives will have gone home by now. The cartographical representation of the Isle of Wight derives from the "mental map" of his apprehensive mother, who took him there when he was 10; subconsciously, she placed the genteel island somewhere between the Indian Ocean and Tasman Sea and gave it features such as "Pam Ayres' Rock".
Let us hope that the publishers did not subsidise all this artwork by robbing his royalty cheque. Browning certainly gave them, and us, good value. Practically every sentence has its en-suite drollery. He admits to uttering "duck-billed platitudes". The intellectual North Oxford girls of his teens terrified him: "If you aren't trilingual by four, with grade 17 on the violin, you are regarded as having special needs." He fears that the one who chose him as her boyfriend can have done so only because of "some hidden charitable/research purpose". The attached map charts his shrinking ego.
Clearly, this is no misery memoir. Browning's family are good company and good copy. His elder brother, the "Fatted Calf", got all the lucky breaks, making sub-prime loans with his pocket money. His father is an endearing Oxford don specialising in long family walks made longer by "short" cuts through RAF bombing ranges. His grandmother sold Spirella corsets that doubled as iron lungs. This book puts non-misery-memoirs where they belong: on the map.