Book – 52 Times Britain Was A Bellend
Author – James Felton
Year – 2019
Pages – 112
Genre – Non-Fiction
Bought for me by Amy and Gavin
Of all of the social media platforms, the one I enjoy the most is Twitter. I don’t participate too much – although I did once have a tweet blow up with nearly thirty likes and three retweets – but I spend a lot of time on there wallowing in my echo chamber, watching cat videos and rolling my eyes at the latest nonsense that Trump has come out with. I have a few people that I follow that I am particularly fond of, and one of the very best is James Felton. He is incredibly funny, and always up to date with the latest developments, particularly regarding the never ending topic of Brexit. Over the past year or so, Felton has been promoting his book on this platform, and I have been incredibly keen to read it. Perhaps put off by the title – a quite search on my mighty spreadsheet reveals this to be the only book I have read in the past ten and a bit years to have the word ‘bellend’ in the title – nobody got it for me for Christmas and likely for the same reason, it wasn’t put right at the front to find in Waterstones. Well, arriving in my isolation station courtesy of Gavin and Amy, I finally got a copy for my birthday and once the slog that was the Barrowman was out of the way, I settled down to read it.
The first thing to say is that it is not what I expected. It is both larger and smaller than I expected – larger in the fact that it is probably one and a half times the page size of a regular book, but smaller in the fact that it is only just over a hundred pages and half of those are cartoons. It also isn’t as funny. Felton is one of the most consistently funny people I follow – along with one of my other favourites, a writer called Laura, Alex has had to learn that when I say “James has tweeted” or “Laura has tweeted”, I mean these online presences that I have never met rather than our close friends with the same names – and I was expecting this to be riotous, but it isn’t. That is not to say that it lacks anything approaching humour, but after a few pages I cannot deny that I was a little disappointed.
It did not take long however until I realised that I was no longer bothered by this not being very funny, because it was fascinating. The title should not have made it a surprise, but Britain is a bellend sometimes. We started a war to make China buy opium from us. We ruined the land in India to stop the Japanese growing food, despite it meaning a famine for Indians. We made starving Irish people work for aid during the famine. Britain’s history is rich and fill of amazing triumphs, but my word we have been awful sometimes.
What Felton has done far better than I gave him credit for in the first couple of pages is to make it still humorous despite the horrific things you are reading about. Like an adult, left leaning Horrible Histories, it both makes you smile and shake your head at the same time. History is brutal, and that should be recognised, but equally something like this makes it incredibly readable. I still have a few gripes – the size is impractical, it is far too short a read, and a cover that is littered with penises that made me glad to be reading it in lockdown – but generally this is well worth a read and I look forward to his next book, which I believe he has already started.