This Christmas I spent an enormous amount of time doing something rather strange.
I found myself ‘defending Eastleigh’ a lot to my family.
The problem was that I started reading Bill Bryson’s new book, The Road to Little Dribbling, on Christmas day, after gift-giving, and before mother-in-law’s turkey was ready. This book has now topped the UK hardback charts for the third week.
The 384-page book covers 26 sections, from Bugger Bognor to Cape Wrath and beyond. Eastleigh is mentioned for the first time on page 6, then from page 9 to 11. Descriptions on Eastleigh is under Prologue.
It means that Eastleigh was set as an introduction to Bill Bryson’s new book. This was serious.
When I first saw the word Eastleigh on page 6, I got excited. What’s the world-famous, best-selling author got to say about Eastleigh?
Bill Bryson came to Eastleigh (Wessex House) to take a British citizenship test. He did well in the test, then in November 2014, Bill Bryson became a citizen of the United Kingdom in a ceremony in Winchester.
I’m a huge fan of Bill Bryson and have read almost all his books. I’ve re-read Notes from a Small Island many times and could recite some passages.
In this new book, The Road to Little Dribbling, Bill Bryson described Eastleigh as
an “interestingly unmemorable place – not numbingly ugly but not attractive either; not wretchedly poor but not prosperous; not completely dead in the centre, but clearly not thriving.” (pg. 9)
Hang on – this was the polite bit.
“The bus station was just an outer wall of Sainsbury’s with a glass marquee over it, evidently to give pigeons a dry place to shit.” (pg. 9)
I started feeling a bit unease.
Bill Bryson moved on depicting the obvious shops he saw in Eastleigh – coffee shops and charity shops. He said there were mainly two types of shops in Eastleigh town, empty shops and coffee shops.
“Some of the empty shops, according to signs in their windows, were in the process of being converted into coffee shops, and many of the coffee shops, judging by their level of custom, looked as if they weren’t far off becoming empty shops again.” (pg. 9)
According to Bill Bryson, a few adventurous entrepreneurs had opened pound stores or betting shops, and a few charities had taken over other abandoned premises.
“but on the whole Eastleigh seemed to be a place where you could either have a cup of coffee or sit and watch pigeons defecate.” (pg. 9 and 10)
I’m not particularly thrilled by Bill Bryson’s description of Eastleigh town.
“Eastleigh town is not that bad,” I muttered to my family around me (Remember, it’s Christmas day and I was surrounded by the loved ones).
My son asked me why I was upset about someone’s view on Eastleigh. “We’re in Chandler’s Ford, not Eastleigh,” my teenager son tried to console me.
“But Chandler’s Ford is part of Eastleigh,” I justified my mild irritation (on Christmas day).
“But Bill Bryson is talking about Eastleigh town centre, not Chandler’s Ford,” my son emphasised his point.
Then for the rest of the day, and Boxing Day, and the day after Boxing Day, I told people I was feeling a bit down.
Eastleigh town centre is vibrant and interesting to me. It’s in fact more interesting than Chandler’s Ford.
Eastleigh town is culturally more diverse. It is non posh. The streets are full of working class people. It’s full of colours and tastes and exotic languages.
I visit Eastleigh town centre very often for its convenience and its ways of life. Most Saturdays throughout summer, Eastleigh is filed with exciting events run by passionate people in the community.
I’m not sure if Bill Bryson had had a chance to visit Eastleigh Museum and say ‘hi’ to Mr and Mrs Brown there?
If he did, he would have discovered a bit more interesting history of this railway town, and could possibly have added some intelligent historical facts into his writing.
Was he aware that one of the best Fairtrade shops in Hampshire, Shop Equality, was just around the corner, amongst a sea of coffee shops and charity shops?
Was he aware that hidden away from the high street was The Sorting Office, the window to the creative world of some 20 artists and makers?
Did he walk around Leigh Road Recreation Ground and find The Point theatre nearby? Here is the hub of culture and creativity. In 2016, The Point theatre will celebrate its 20th anniversary.
None of these were mentioned in the book, unsurprisingly.
I’ve spoken to a few people about this new book that I’ve read. Of course I asked my local friends what they think about Eastleigh town.
Perhaps I shouldn’t have been startled, but a few of them totally agreed with Bill Bryson’s viewpoints.
“He (Bill Bryson) is a bit brutal, but he is quite right. Eastleigh is boring.”
“Eastleigh has too many coffee shops.”
One person asked me, “What can you really do in Eastleigh?”
Eastleigh is a place with charm and is full of characteristics. I won’t expect Eastleigh town to be as busy as Southampton, as posh as Winchester, or as clean as Chandler’s Ford. I love Eastleigh for its noises, its colours, and its Saturday markets. We don’t even have a market in Chandler’s Ford. Things are happening in Eastleigh. People are keen on transforming the place.
Eastleigh has arts, music, history, food from different cultures, and yes, many charity shops and coffee shops.
Bill Bryson’s Notes from a Small Island was a huge number-one bestseller when it was first published. My English teacher recommended this book to me 20 years ago as an introduction to Britain. This book was voted the nation’s favourite book on modern Britain in a World Book Day BBC poll.
If Bill Bryson’s new book has the same potential as Notes from a Small Island, which sells over two million copies, hundreds of thousands of people are going to read about Eastleigh through his lens in this new book – his views on Eastleigh as an uninspiring coffee-drinking, pigeon-defecating place.
I told my son that I quite like to present a very different perspective from Mr Bryson’s on Eastleigh. There is no need to ‘challenge’ his views as he is entitled to his observations based on his day trip. Perhaps Mr Bryson should come down to Eastleigh one day again. We could sit in one of many coffee shops (I’ll let him choose) and have a nice little conversation.
Readers, what’s your views on Eastleigh town? How would you like Eastleigh town to be seen?
Here is a small collection of articles on Eastleigh on Chandler’s Ford Today. Have a read if you haven’t done so.
- Charlotte Mary Yonge in Eastleigh
- Join The Point and Share Your Stories for its 20th Birthday Celebrations
- Eastleigh’s Christmas Lights Switch on – 21st November 2015
- Don’t Forget: Winter Open Studios This Weekend at the Sorting Office Eastleigh
- Eastleigh Basics Bank 2015 AGM
- Join Eastleigh Knitters Making Twiddlemuffs for Dementia Patients
- Remembrance Sunday in Chandler’s Ford and Eastleigh: 8 November 2015
- Eastleigh Museum Summer Soirée with the Chameleons
- Glorious Honey at Eastleigh Museum
- Eastleigh Bunting & Eastleigh Museum WW1 Poetry Evening
- Eastleigh Lions: Bravery Certificates
- Chilli Festival Eastleigh 2014
- A Very Eastleigh Festival: Mardi Gras and Vintage Market 2015
- Eastleigh Mardi Gras 2014: Fun, Joy, Charities for Community
- How Much Do You Know About Eastleigh’s Twin Towns?
- Celebration: Volunteers’ Week in Eastleigh 2015
- Mims Davies MP Makes Maiden Speech in Parliament
- St. George Visited Eastleigh – Who is St. George?
- Eastleigh: 250th Park Run
- 2014 Eastleigh Christmas Lights Switch on: Snow Has Fallen
- New – Tropic Exotics in Eastleigh Town Centre
- Eastleigh Artist’s Designs Picked up for New ASDA Greetings Card Range
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