Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Article excerpt

It's no good complaining. The rail network inhabits the wrong kind of universe. If the sun shines for more than two days, the network goes down. You can't argue with science. In the last heatwave I travelled back to London from Brighton in a train whose airconditioning had given up under the strain. I rang the customer-services office to complain that passengers couldn't even open the windows. Less than a fortnight later I got a letter from South Central. It was not an apology. It was a patronising explanation of the principles of airconditioning. It doesn't work, see, if you open the windows. The point is, however, that if it is not working, the only way to get some air is to open the windows, or to break them. A guard with a window key would have come in handy, but there was no guard on the train. As privatisers will wearily tell you, advanced technology has made the guard redundant. How I yearn for the days of nationalised railways, when the airconditioning did not break down - because there was none - and when there were not only guards but porters. All you had to do was cry 'pawtah!' when your train arrived at King's Cross and a forelock-tugging man in uniform - salt of the earth - was instantly at your side, and glad of a sixpenny tip.

Cornwall is the fashionable place to be right now, whether you are a toff or a methadone-swigging hippy. My wife and son are there again, and again without me. I can't warm to the place. Its narrow lanes are jammed with Renault Espaces and caravans, the food is rubbish, the architecture is uniformly ugly, and - though I hate stereotyping as much as the next man - the locals sometimes give the impression of being not only stupid and cunning but grasping too. At any rate, a little-known survey of the folkways of coastal Britain shows that the most frequently used construction in Cornwall is, 'That'll be ten pounds, m'dear.' I'm glad I'm not there.

My hatred of stereotyping extends even to Germans - indeed, especially to Germans, since they are given such a hard time in our oafish press. And yet ... last month, just after Germany and Italy had started trading insults, my wife and I stayed in an apartment on an agriturismo outside Arezzo. Below us, and on every side, were Germans. We were close enough to them to watch their underwear dry. The trouble with these people is not that they are humourless. On the contrary. In Arezzo at least there was nothing they did not find funny. In the pool they played with a rubber ball. If the ball hit the water in front of one of them and splashed him, he laughed; if he caught it and it didn't splash him, he laughed; if it hit him in the eye and momentarily blinded and stunned him, he laughed. One of the laughing Germans was reading Michael Moore's Stupid White Men in translation, which struck me as odd because he - and all the Germans at the agriturismo - spoke perfect English. ('You have been enjoying another fine sunset, yes!?') At a time when Europe is crying out for a revival of Prussian militarism - essential if we are ever to assemble a credible defence force - all we get from Germany is laughter and good manners. It is not good enough.

Mercifully, the Germans in Tuscany keep their kit on. Not so the Germans on the Adriatic coast of the Romagna, who romp naked and glistening in the humid heat, the men pausing occasionally to rub Factor 2 into their penises. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.