“ Hardcover: 160 pages / Publisher: Boxtree / Published: 2 Sep 2005 „
If you are like me and have a rather childish sense of humour, then long, boring car journeys can be livened up by reading road signs and seeing if any of the place names sound vaguely rude. Many is the time I have kept myself amused on long drives by exclaiming things along the line of "Hee! Hee! Piddle in the Hole. Let's go there", whilst the saintly and long-suffering Mrs SWSt tries to remind herself once again exactly why she married me (for my charm and good looks, obviously)
It seems like I'm not alone, since the authors of this book have done something similar, collecting together place names and street names that sound a bit rude. If you're the type of person who is amused by this sort of thing, then this may be the book for you.
Or perhaps not. The idea behind Rude Britain might have a lot of potential, but its execution is poor. The book itself is tiny (about the dimensions of a Mr Man book, but thicker). Now, I know that size isn't everything (this is a review about a rude words book, so the odd bit of innuendo is surely allowed?), but the content is also disappointing. Each small page often has two different entries, leaving very little space devoted to the text. As such, the text for each entry is mostly bland and uninspiring. Entries generally feature one of just a few types of information: a brief description of the location of the place in question, an "interesting" fact, then an outline of how the place came to have its smirk-worthy name.
There are a couple of problems with this, though. Firstly, the prose (particularly the location descriptions) are so dry that you could easily use them to towel down a particularly soggy elephant. The "interesting" facts are usually deeply tedious. Occasionally, there is the odd one that will make you lift an eyebrow in mild interest, but no more than that.
Worst of all are the rather poor attempts to explain the derivation of these humorous place names. Again there is the odd interesting nugget thrown, but for the most part, it's pretty humdrum stuff and hardly enlightening. Far too often, the authors' findings are inconclusive, ending in a rather anti-climactic "it is possible that..." and there are far too many entries which end with an even more disappointing "it is not known how the place got its name". Equally, there are too many obvious conclusions drawn: who'd have thought, for example, that Fanny Lane (stop those schoolboy sniggers at the back) might possibly have been named after a lady called Francis or Fanny. No? Really? D'yer think so?
The truth is that the entries smack of some pretty lazy research, as though the authors have done the bare minimum to try and establish the origins of a name, or accepted the information passed on to them by locals, regardless of how accurate or misleading it might be. The text accompanying most of the entries suggests that despite their brevity, a fair bit of padding was still needed to try and bring some up to the required word count.
Some of the place names aren't even that funny or rude and again smack of the author's poring over maps in a desperate attempt to find 100 rude place names. Yes, there are some that will raise a smile: the delightfully named Happy Bottom was a personal favourite, whilst the unfortunate inhabitants of Minge Lane have my sympathy. However, there are more than a few that are particularly weak (Cockermouth Green is one that springs to mind) and really didn't warrant inclusion in this book.
Of course, it's meant to be just a bit of fun and to raise the odd smile and if you have a particularly lame sense of humour, you might enjoy it. The truth is this is a bit of a one-joke book and that one joke soon wears rather thin. It's a book which is neither particularly amusing nor particularly informative, and given that those are its two objectives, it has to be judged a failure.
It could have at least partially redeemed itself through providing some nice photos of the places in question. But no. Whilst there are plenty of pictures, almost all are photographs of either the street name or the road sign in question, proving that such places do indeed exist. They are not even wide shots to give you some idea of the places where they are situated, but close-ups that usually reveal nothing other than a brick wall or bit of road as background. Now, unless you are a very specialist kind of "spotter", once you've seen one road/street sign, you've seen them all. For most of us, the images used to "liven" up this book are about as exciting as the rest of the text.
The crowning insult comes with the cover price: £10. You must be joking, surely? Even worse, there are copies going on Amazon or eBay for twice that! I was given my copy by my parents (who are all too painfully aware of my childish penchant for rude words) as a joke. They paid about 20p for it in a charity shop and I STILL feel like I've been ripped off. If you paid £10, it would leave a very sour taste indeed.
All that Rude Britain is likely to do is make you use a few rude words of your own when you realise you've wasted your money. If you're tempted to buy this for a loved one as a stocking filler, don't be; otherwise they won't be a loved one much longer.
Rob Bailey and Ed Hurst
Pan MacMillan, 2005
© Copyright SWSt 2012