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Sunday, March 07, 2004
Canberra Thai

My last critical comment on Bill Bryson's book Down Under relates further to his attitude to Canberra. Here is part of what he has to say on pp. 207-8:
'So which is better,’ I asked [a young lady, newly arrived at SP from Canberra], ‘Canberra or Surfers Paradise?’

‘Oh, Surfers by a mile.’

I raised an eyebrow. ‘It’s that good, is it?’

‘Oh no,’ she said emphatically, amazed that I had misread her, ‘Canberra’s that bad.’
Now, I suppose that if you look far enough in any country, you can always find something to criticise. I sometimes think that Bryson’s dislike of Canberra arises from his lack of a ‘key’ to the place. I was fortunate enough to have found my way round without much trouble. This year, my enjoyment was heightened by being accommodated and guided by a visiting academic who even went so far as to provide me with alternative indoor transport while my zimmer frame was decoked.

To complete Bryson’s dismal picture of the capital city, let me refer you to pp. 91-5, where he regales us with his attempts to find somewhere decent to eat one Friday evening: ‘I was thinking of maybe a nice Thai restaurant’…(p. 93). Of course, he failed.

Well, as luck would have it, I found myself in Canberra on a Friday evening last December. We had an excellent Thai meal, washed down with an exquisite bottle of Annie’s Lane Riesling, a wine I had come across in the Clare Valley a year ago. For reference, the restaurant, ‘Lemon Grass’, is to be found at 65 London Circuit, City Centre. It is listed in the latest ‘Lonely Planet’ guide to Australia.

A much older edition of this same guide that I was using, the sort of reference that Bryson would have been available to Bryson and, I suggest, that he should have had to hand when travelling for his book says:
Canberra has a fine eating scene. Most places are around Civic…
(That means 'City Centre' where 'Lemon Grass' and other interesting looking restaurants on London Circuit are to be found.) I have previously wondered if Bryson fell secretly in love with Canberra and didn’t want anyone to know. If he is being honest, though, we have to take it that he was extremely unlucky with his Canberra experiences. I liked the place very much and I had no difficulties there. Indeed, my visit to Australia this year has once more been entirely devoid of problems. It does not mean that I never want to return to Bagshot but I’ll be back in Oz before the end of the year, d.v., for the sun, space, and relaxed Aussie people and their lifestyle. And if Bryson likes to think of Oz as being like ‘Baywatch with cricket’, I prefer to think of Melbourne as Bayswater Road with sunshine.

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