I came from Cashmere. Somebody had to.
No, not Kashmir as in the Northern conflict-ridden mountainous region of India at the edge of the Himalayas. Alas, I came from the Cashmere of the Port Hills in Christchurch. The good schools and nice views.
But I wrote that line “I came from Cashmere. Somebody had to.” In my first ever travel diary. Why? Simple, It was a little hat tip, a little shout out to my favourite author at the time.
Bill Bryson started his autobiography, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid’ with that line... “I came from Des Moines. Somebody had to.” When I first read it, I don’t even think I knew where Des Moines was. I don’t know whether I could have found it on a map. I certainly didn’t pick that 6 or 7 years later I’d be there in Iowa, covering an election race. My first meal in Des Moine was some sorry breakfast in a Des Moines diner. I spent the whole time thinking about Bill Bryson.
Isn’t it funny how a little line like that, a little sentence, can stick with you. Can make an impression on you, for whatever reason. I mean it’s hardly a moving sonnet, or a profound philosophical insight. But there’s something sweet, and humble and self depreciating about Bill Bryson’s words that have stuck with me for all these years.
The truth is, I’m absolutely hopeless at quoting literature.
Apart from ‘Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this sun of York!’ I can’t recite any Shakespeare by heart. I could give you a single psalm or a bible passage from memory. The closest thing to conventional poetry I could read to you from memory are lyrics to my favourite hip hop songs.
I can only quote two lines. That little phrase from Bill Bryson, and a phrase written just a couple of years ago by my all-time favourite author, friend of the show A.A Gill.
When he was diagnosed with terminal illness, not long after he spoke to us on this show, he took to his newspaper column to share the news.
“I have an embarrassment of cancer, the full English.” He wrote. Damn.
Is it realistic to know more than those two simple sentences? Am I a just an un-cultured heathen? People always do it in the movies! They’re always quoting Keats or Rumi and winning over the love of their life.
I don’t know about you, but I’m a simpler man. If remembering and quoting someone word for word is just the way our subconscious holds on to authors who’ve impacted our lives... then I’ve held onto the words of two men.
Only one of them is alive. He came from Des Moines, somebody had to. His name is Bill Bryson.