Jonathan Cape, £11.99. Order for £10.89 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

You Are Awful (But I Like You), By Tim Moore

 

Two things ring very true in Tim Moore's sharp and witty book about "unloved England". The first is his verdict on Leysdown-on-Sea, which he declares to be a mudflat on the Thames Estuary with a static caravan park, reminding him of "an eighteenth-century slave ship". It's a telling observation. I cycled past recently and my chief memory is of a shop tucked between amusement arcades classily labelling itself as "BOOZE AND FAGS".

His second astute description includes the words "Great Yarmouth" and "end of the world". Having as a teenager spent a week there in an open-plan static containing both my family and the family next door, I can confirm that Moore has summed up its facilities rather well.

It was an accidental visit to Leysdown which inspired his book. It's the complete opposite of the trip described in his French Revolutions, which involved pedalling over the spectacular route of the Tour de France; this is a pilgrimage to the most derelict, unlovable and forlorn parts of Britain. After not so great Yarmouth, he ventures up the coast to hell and indeed Hull. He learns what puts the grim in Grimsby and that Goole is Anglo-Saxon for "open sewer". The itinerary of infamy includes Middlesbrough, Cumbernauld and Doncaster. Anglesey Sea Zoo, oddly. Slough, naturally.

It would be easy to go for cheap laughs at the expense of these godforsaken places – and I am glad to say that he does. His dialogues with receptionists, some of whom couldn't believe he was risking a night at their hopeless hotel, are hysterical.

He also goes for the difficult laughs. Seeing a number of females piling into coaches outside Hartlepool civic centre, he wonders if this is a mass evacuation of womenfolk. He also fears he is an angel of urban death. The day after he drives past Europe's largest blast furnace, its owners announce its closure.

Moore conveys the powerful attraction (to outsiders like him) of dereliction and shows his angry sympathy for the doomed souls it envelops. When the traditional awfulness is swept away and replaced by "blandly inoffensive, ruthlessly focussed" retail parks, we'll miss it. Still, we'll have his book to remember it by, which is quite a trade-off.

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