Why I was almost thrown out of South Africa

On my 2 p.m. arrival for a week-long work trip to South Africa a fortnight ago, an immigration agent flapped my passport while inquiring as to the purpose of my visit. ‘To appear in the Franschhoek Literary Festival’ clearly meant nothing to this woman, but hey, lit fests aren’t exactly Glastonbury. I only grew, shall we say, concerned when she announced that because my passport lacked two sequential completely clean pages, she was denying me entry to the country. ‘You’re kidding me,’ I said – quietly; I didn’t shout. Yet this reflex expression of disbelief was all it would take for the entire team of Cape Town’s gatekeepers to blackball

Hancock launches his quarantine crackdown

The search for the right balance on border policy continues, as Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced this afternoon a host of new measures that travellers coming to the UK will face. From Monday, all arrivals will need to take two PCR tests: one on day two and another on day eight of self-isolation. This will apply to everyone, regardless of where they are travelling in from or whether they are quarantining in a hotel or in their home. This means anyone arriving in the UK will now be taking a total of three Covid-19 tests, as a negative test within 72 hours of travel is also required. Hancock announced that any

Who is most likely to be killed by police in the US?

The Colston chronicles Who, exactly, was Sir Edward Colston? Colston was born into a family of merchants and spent the first years of his career working for his father, trading cloth, wine, sherry and port around the western Mediterranean and North Africa. In 1680 he joined the Royal African Company which had been set up 20 years earlier by the Duke of York, the future James II, initially to exploit gold reserves in west Africa. In the 1680s it moved into the slave trade. Colston served one year as deputy governor of the company (the governor being James II). Colston also owned 40 of his own ships. He left the

Signs of the times

My first award for intelligent design this week goes to Dublin airport for displaying a sign which reads ‘Lounges. Turn back. No lounges beyond this point.’ It may seem like a trivial thing, but it takes a rare intelligence to think in this way. It’s one thing to put up a sign that says ‘Lounges, this way’. But it takes nous to think ‘yes, well and good, but what happens if people see the first sign but miss the second one?’ In all likelihood, they would end up walking 500 yards in the wrong direction, as I nearly did. Signage and wayfinding are mostly designed for people who never make

The highs and hellish lows of superstructuralism

Amid the thick of the Crimean war, Florence Nightingale dispatched a plea to the Times deploring the lethal conditions of British military field hospitals. Ten times more soldiers were dying from diseases like cholera and dysentery than from battle wounds. Shocked, the War Office commissioned 49-year-old Isambard Kingdom Brunel to design the world’s first prefabricated hospital. Components were manufactured to Brunel’s specifications in Gloucestershire then rushed to Turkey for erection. He took the commission on 16 February 1855 and fewer than five months later, the new Renkioi Hospital could accept 300 patients (2,200 by March 1856). Infection rates collapsed. Nightingale called it ‘magnificent’. The new architecture of prefab had triumphed.

Travelling hopefully

Olga Tokarczuk examines questions of travel in our increasingly interconnected and fast-moving world. The award-winning Polish writer channels her wanderlust into reflections upon the places she visits, sometimes in a handful of lines, sometimes in longer chapters, telling other people’s and her own stories. Her prose, however, is anything but conventional travel writing, and she is the first to point out the danger she would be in otherwise: ‘Describing something is like using it — it destroys.’ Trained as a psychologist, Tokarczuk is interested in what connects the human soul and body. It is a leitmotif that, despite the apparent lack of a single plot, tightly weaves the text’s different

How to carry less baggage

One fairly reliable rule of thumb is ‘never buy anything at an airport if you can help it’. Something about the peculiar atmosphere of airports makes people act in strange ways. I used to find myself buying plug adapters simply because they were a slightly different colour from the ones I already had in my bag. Other people seem strangely eager to buy giant Toblerones.-Lufthansa once even asked scientists to investigate why in airport-lounges and on aircraft, people became far more disposed to drink tomato juice than anywhere else. Finally, and most baffling of all, who the hell buys luggage airside? Buying a suitcase before you go through security might

Bordering on insanity | 3 November 2016

There are lots of signs at Gatwick about how it is unacceptable to be ‘rude or abusive’ to Border Force staff. One poster warns that losing your temper or gesticulating in a threatening manner could be a criminal offence. Keep a lid on it, is the-message. My wife Joanna and I recently had plenty of time to study these missives and just about kept a lid on it after returning from a weekend in Spain. It was a Monday evening that became a Monday night at Gatwick’s north terminal as thousands of travellers snaked back and forth for nearly an hour at passport control in an atmosphere that swung from

In defence of Zac Goldsmith

I’m baffled by the reaction to Zac Goldsmith’s decision to resign as the Conservative MP for Richmond Park. It is being interpreted, even by MPs on his own side, as an act of opportunism, a chance to rehabilitate himself with the metropolitan elite after his bruising defeat in the London mayoral election. Surprisingly few people seem willing to entertain the idea that he might be acting on principle. Exhibit A in the case for Zac’s defence is the fact that he’s the MP for Richmond Park in the first place. Zac could have applied to be the candidate in any number of safe Conservative seats in 2010 and, given his

Martin Vander Weyer

Despite what Big Bang destroyed, there’s still nowhere quite like the City

As the 30th anniversary of Big Bang loomed, I found myself back at the scene of my City demise. Ebbgate House — headquarters of BZW, the investment banking arm of Barclays where I worked until one fateful morning in 1992 — fell deservedly to the wrecking ball a decade ago. It was replaced by Riverbank House, and there I was last week, hovering above where my desk used to be, talking about ‘why no one listens to the City any more’ and reliving the P45 moment that released me into the happier world of journalism. Personal echoes apart, this was also a moment to revisit Big Bang, the Thatcherite reforms

Barometer | 27 October 2016

Folio society A new collection of Shakespeare’s work credits Christopher Marlowe as co-author of the three Henry VI plays. Some other candidates claimed to have written Shakespeare plays: FRANCIS BACON (1561-1626). His poems are said to share a similar structure. But lacks motive to use Shakespeare as a pen name. WILLIAM STANLEY, 6th EARL OF DERBY (1561-1642): A Jesuit spy claimed he was secretly writing plays. EDWARD DE WERE, 17th EARL OF OXFORD (1550-1604): Theatre patron said to have used pen name because an aristocrat could not take credit for public plays. Dead for the last 12 years of Shakespeare’s life. ROGER MANNERS 5th EARL OF RUTLAND. Said to have

Let the gruesome legal battle over Heathrow commence

When the history comes to be written of Britain’s descent from a democracy to a krytocracy, the story of Heathrow’s third runway will mark an important point. Is there anyone who really believes that either today’s decision by the government to make Heathrow its preferred option, or the parliamentary vote in perhaps a year’s time, will really be the last word on the matter? It is already 67 years since extra runways to the north of the Bath Road were first proposed for London Airport. It might well be another 67 years before the legal challenges have concluded. Never have quite so many interests been lined up to challenge in the

Tom Goodenough

Heathrow or Gatwick: What are Theresa May’s options?

Today, after years of delay, we’ll finally learn what the Government’s answer is to the airport question. Both supporters and opponents of it expect the Transport Secretary Chris Grayling to announce that the Government is backing a third runway at Heathrow. However, it is also likely that the Government will make encouraging noises about further expansion at Britain’s regional airports. A Heathrow third runway isn’t the only option on the table though. Here’s the Spectator’s guide to Theresa May’s choices: Heathrow: A third runway? The Airport Commission threw its weight behind the option of building a new runway at Heathrow last year. After publishing its review into the airport question,

Diary – 6 October 2016

Any day now, the government will make its long delayed announcement on whether a third runway should be built at Heathrow or Gatwick. Personally I am against both. During my 18 undistinguished months as an environment minister, I learned one thing about the aviation lobby: their appetite is voracious. They want more of everything. Runways, terminals, you name it. I also learned that in the end, often after initial resistance, governments always give way. Although from time to time industry representatives hint that they would be prepared to make concessions on the handful of night flights that come in over central London each morning, disturbing the sleep of several million

The stupidest target in British transport

Two books to recommend to my fellow transportation nerds: Travel Fast or Smart? A Manifesto for an Intelligent Transport Policy by David Metz, formerly chief boffin at the Department for Transport; and Are Trams Socialist? Why Britain Has No Transport Policy by Christian Wolmar. The first is excellent throughout, the second is excellent right up to the final pages when, as many British transport commentators are liable to do, Wolmar rhapsodises about European approaches to city planning with their ‘bicycle superhighways’ and, yes, those bloody trams. You know the kind of thing: ‘In the Norwegian port of Slartibartfast, all cars are banned from the city centre before midnight, and the

Martin Vander Weyer

A free vote on the Heathrow runway? Don’t be so wet, Prime Minister

Hinkley Point — for all its flaws and the whiffs of suspicion around its Chinese investors — has finally received Downing Street’s blessing. Meanwhile, ministers hold the party line that High Speed 2 will go ahead according to plan, backed by news that the project has already bought £2 billion worth of land; and investors hunt for shares in the construction sector that might benefit from the multi-billion-pound infrastructure spree widely expected in Chancellor Philip Hammond’s autumn statement. But still no decision on a new airport runway for London — the one piece of digger work, short of tunnelling under the Atlantic, that would signal Britain’s raging post-Brexit appetite for

My tip for the next cool shop: Argos

When I was at school in the 1970s, some of the richer kids would come back from their summer holidays with jaw-dropping tales about the wondrous places they had visited. Chief among them, as I remember, was Schiphol airport. ‘It was amazing,’ they would say. ‘There were shops and restaurants and stuff,’ and you could buy a Walkman for some insanely low price. A few others vainly tried to trump the Schiphol crowd by fancifully claiming to have been to Frankfurt airport and seen an actual sex shop there — an assertion widely disbelieved, certainly by me, until I used the airport 15 years later and discovered it was perfectly

Brexit won’t mean more expensive flights for Brits. Here’s why.

We’ve been warned that Brexit could spell the end of cheap travel. But is it really true that Britain voting out of Europe would hit holidaymakers in the pocket? Easyjet’s boss Dame Carolyn McCall said before that Brexit ‘wouldn’t be good for Britain’. And in a company prospectus, the airline warned this year that if Britain votes out in the EU referendum in June, then it could have a ‘material adverse effect’ on the budget airline. But does this hold up to scrutiny? Easyjet says that: ‘The outcome of this decision (in the referendum) could have a material adverse effect on easyJet’s financial condition and results of operations.’ Obviously for

Patrick McLoughlin: government may still back second runway at Gatwick

‘Gutless’ is how this morning’s papers are describing the government’s decision to yet again delay the decision on where in the South East to build a new runway. On the Today programme this morning, the Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin attempted to explain why the government has changed its mind — noting ‘we could have said we couldn’t have taken this forward at all’: ‘I think we’ve made some important movements already. We’ve accepted what Davies says about the need for additional capacity in the South East and we’ve said that we will make a decision on that over the summer’. Most significantly, McLoughlin signalled the government is still toying with expansion at Gatwick. ‘Please get

Government decides to put off making a decision on airports

‘This is a government that delivers,’ declared David Cameron in a speech on Monday. It’s a good thing he wasn’t announcing the launch of a pizza delivery firm, as tonight’s announcement on airport expansion suggests that the food would be stone cold by the time it finally arrived. After initially saying they’d make a decision on the Davies Commission by the end of this year, ministers this evening proudly announced that they have decided to delay making the decision until at least next summer. In statement, the Transport department said: ‘The Government has accepted the case for airport expansion in the south-east and the Airports Commission’s shortlist of options for