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

On the road with a maestro of mockery

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The Independent Culture

There's a certain kind of venture – usually some absurd and deeply ill-advised quest – that allows Tim Moore to don his now-familiar narratorial persona and explore and explain his subject with a decent serving of undisguised contempt. You Are Awful (But I Like You), in which he embarks on a tour of Britain that takes in all the worst that the country has to offer, plays to his usual strengths.

He stops at all the places that top "The country's worst ..." surveys, and the hotels with the most unstarred online reviews, along the way listening to some real atrocities from the world of UK pop. ("Orville's Song", David Bowie's "Laughing Gnome" and Frankie Howerd's cover of "When I'm Sixty-Four" are lowlights.) All this while driving a barely functional Austin Maestro, guided by a satnav voiced by a sweary Ozzy Osbourne – Brummie accents being notoriously unloved, too. He visits Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Hull, Doncaster and Sheffield. He eats some truly alarming food. He makes a pilgrimage to SE830220, chosen by Ordnance Survey's cartographers as the dullest grid reference in the country – though there is an electricity pylon in one corner of this map square, mitigating the otherwise unremitting emptiness.

But as usual, while there's ample mockery, Moore is never as cruel as he might be. (And some of his grumbling contempt is usefully directed at himself, too.) Satirising the unpopular can too easily come across as bullying: a sneering, posh London boy picks on down-at-heel seaside communities, jokes at the expense of post-Thatcher former colliery towns, shoots despondent fish in barrel, and that sort of thing. But any sense of discomfort you might feel about it – about the complicity expected of you when you laugh along at the crapness of his car, Chas and Dave's "Rabbit" on the stereo, deep-fried nightmares in a styrofoam box on his lap as he crawls nervously through another housing estate full of scary locals – is sweetened by Moore's sympathy for his subject.

Because You Are Awful is also a hymn to things lost; a nostalgic appreciation of the days before Tesco Extra and the universal flood of modern bland. And besides, laughter is terribly seductive. When he's at his best, there aren't many travel writers funnier than Tim Moore. Which means that it's hard not to relish his assaults on hopelessness and mediocrity, tatty products and grim errors of civic judgement, even if you feel occasional unease as you do.