It’s good to talk

‘It was so unreal,’ said one of the first world war veterans about the long-awaited Armistice. It was the most striking thought I heard all week, and the most shocking. The sense that when the guns finally fell silent at 11 o’clock on 11 November 1918 (and both sides had continued to barrage each other until the very last minute), signalling the end of war, the arrival of peace, the opportunity to return home, to go back to ‘normal’ life — that all this was somehow ‘unreal’. But for the young men who had spent four years in the trenches, that life of fear and dirt and rats and mud

On the buses | 12 July 2018

When did you last take the bus? If you don’t live in London, probably not for ages. In her two-part series for Radio 4, Mind the Gap, Lynsey Hanley set out to demonstrate just how difficult it is to access public transport outside the capital. In Skelmersdale, billed in the 1960s as a place of opportunity, a new town where everything would work better to make life easy for everyone, rich, middling and poor, no rail connection was built into the plan and now there are very few buses to get around. So bad is it that the council has had to set up a subsidised taxi scheme (euphemistically known

Letters | 12 April 2017

On Pamela Harriman Sir: When it comes to grandes horizontales and naughty girls, I defer to Taki (High Life, 8 April). On either topic, he could win Pulitzer prizes. I am also unsure whether I should have described Pamela Harriman as a naughty girl. Most girls I know would take that as a compliment; she did not deserve compliments. I did meet her once, after she had taken up with the Clintons, and expected to despise her. But there was an allure. Like Circe and Delilah, she had a ruthless charm. She could make any man feel that he was the most important being in the room and in my

Bus battles

From ‘The softening of street manners’, The Spectator, 20 May 1916: Generally the public opinion of the ’bus entirely upholds the conductor. The influence of the tyrant is too strong to allow of protest, but now and then cases of rebellion occur, and bold females who consider themselves slighted vow that they will write to the company. But an ordinary ’bus-load contains no such heroines…. Sometimes, however, the will of the passengers prevails by reason of unanimity. A few nights ago a drunken soldier got, late at night, into a West End ’bus. The conductor civilly asked him to get out. The man began to argue, and a number of elderly

Waiting for Utopia

The Soviet Union was a nation of bus stops. Cars were hard to come by, so a vast public transport network took up the slack. Buses not only bore workers to their labours, but also breathed life into the ‘union’ itself by taking travellers from town to taiga to desert to seaside. In remoter parts of the country, bus shelters mattered even more than buses, providing convenient places for people to gather, drink and socialise. They were caravanserai for the motor age, and while the empire they served no longer exists, most of them stand right where it left them. If they are in various stages of ruin now, they

The best navigation idea I’ve seen since the Tube map

I stopped using London buses when some coward put doors on them. Twenty years ago, you could board any bus headed in the right direction and when it diverged from your intended route you’d jump off and board another. You didn’t need to understand bus routes at all. Now, when bus doors open only at specified stops, an absurd level of research is needed. It takes five minutes to work out where to wait and which route to take. Worse, buses use the dippy Paris Métro approach (Diréction Porte de Clignancourt) where only the final destination is on the front. This demands unrealistic knowledge of the outer suburbs. Where the

Dear Mary: What do I do now I haven’t sent a thank-you letter?

Q. Over New Year I stayed with a man who combines being a generous and exciting host with a punctilious need for swift, hand-written appreciation. I had every intention of writing as soon as I got home, but my parents said an email wouldn’t do. However, since we were collected from the airport I didn’t have the address and postcode (he lives abroad); also, I didn’t know what his correct title was for the envelope, and I didn’t know what stamp to put on. Then, when I finally had the information, I was told, ‘He gets even more enraged by late letters than by no letters at all.’ I am sure

Why I’m on board for the homophobic bus

London has long since lost its allure for me — altogether too many cars, foreigners, cyclists, middle-class liberals and people who, like me, work in the media, as they call it. I was born in London but only feel truly at home in the north-east of England, an area of the country within which the constituents of that list I quoted above are almost nonexistent. But I am thinking now of moving back to the city — it’s possible that I could afford a flat in somewhere such as Brockley, or perhaps Catford — to take advantage of a radical new development in our capital. Because rumbling along the streets

Never seen the need for a class system? Take a long-haul flight

Usually it is annoying when you have to board an aeroplane via a shuttle bus rather than an airbridge. The exception is when the plane is a 747. That’s because, with the single exception of Lincoln Cathedral, the Boeing 747-400 is the most beautiful thing ever conceived by the mind of man. Any chance to see one at close quarters is a delight. But aside from the engineering, the most beautiful thing about a long-haul airliner is the economic wizardry which keeps it flying. On board are a variety of seats from the sybaritic to the spartan for which people have paid wildly varying amounts of money, even though each