Boswell's Bus Pass by Stuart Campbell is a really great idea for a book, beautifully and entertainingly executed. At first the idea seems pretty simple. Between the middle of August and the beginning of November 1773, James Boswell and Samuel Johnson undertook a tour of Scotland. They each subsequently published accounts of their journey which resulted in the two becoming the best known early tourists to the country. Stuart Campbell decided to undertake the same journey 238 years later, using only his pensioner's bus pass and accompanied on different legs of the journey by various friends.
The result is what might be called an enjoyable bus and ferry-based romp up the eastern side of Scotland, and back down the western side, taking in a number of inner Hebridean islands en route. Campbell's observations of his fellow bus passengers and of others he meets on his journeys are fascinating and amusing, and at one level this book becomes a snapshot of a particular aspect of Scotland in the well established tradition of tongue in cheek travelogues.
But Boswell's Bus Pass turns out to be very much more than a simple account of the journey of Stuart and his friends around Scotland. You rapidly begin to realise that there is also a great deal here about the journey undertaken by Boswell and Johnson: and this in turn draws in biographical information about two men who, each in their own way, had more than enough issues for any half dozen ordinary mortals. Boswell's serial infidelities are addressed, as is his premature death from the effects of venereal disease and alcohol: while Johnson's intellectual intolerance and antisocial tendencies are also covered.
Much of the source material for these aspects of the book lies in the accounts each wrote of their journey. But perhaps Stuart Campbell's greatest coup in writing Boswell's Bus Pass was in locating a hitherto unknown third account of Boswell and Johnson's journey, written by Boswell's Bohemian servant Joseph Ritter in the form of a series of love letters to Boswell's wife Margaret. These were apparently found separating vinyl records in a car boot sale... The letters, used to conclude most chapters, are huge fun, and give the author the means of bringing to light events on the journey Boswell and Johnson failed to record, at all or fully: often because one or both were cast in an unfavourable light by them. Other sources are also used, and Undiscovered Scotland gets a mention: we are pleased the bull we encountered wasn't in the field when you visited the Strichen Stone Circle, Stuart!