Magazine article The Spectator

Journey's End

Magazine article The Spectator

Journey's End

Article excerpt

All journeys eventually come to an end. They are, I suppose, often like life. On the long hauls from London to Glasgow by train, I find that the beginning of the journey comes to seem utterly remote: the scenery has changed, the weather is different, the light has gone and the occupants of the carriage have changed, or disappeared - yet the carriage is the one I entered five hours before. Just as one's early life can seem so incomprehensibly remote, yet it was the same body, the same person, that once did and thought those embarrassing things.

Such are my feeble musings on train journeys, and one virtue, it seems to me, of travel by railway is that it allows one to think - or to read, or to talk, or to gaze at the changing scenery, or to eat or even to drink in comparative tranquillity. Are such things possible when driving a car? I don't know: I don't have one. What I do know is that the car, for all its virtues, tends to isolate people from things. In an apparently secure metal cocoon, the driver becomes alienated, less able to relate to places and to society. Is it not surprising that Mrs Thatcher never travelled by train? Indeed she hated them. But - as I have argued in this column - a railway system, built necessarily on institutions and requiring order and hierarchy, combined with a sense of duty, can be regarded as a metaphor for a healthy society.

My sentimental meanderings on the subject in these pages began soon after The Spectator started a motoring column. I was profoundly shocked. Child as I am of the suburbs, where car-washing was a form of Sunday worship, I felt that something so vulgar as discussing the makes of cars belonged in the lower forms of newspapers and not in a weekly journal with aspirations to higher culture. So I protested, and the editor - in an earlier manifestation -- offered me an alternating `Not motoring' column in compensation, and I am very grateful for that.

Perhaps I did not take it seriously enough. I should have put forward the economic and technical arguments for investing in public transport, as Christian Wolmar, say, does in the New Statesman so very well, but I am not good with facts and figures. Or am I just too lazy to pursue hard information? Instead, I have tried to suggest the cultural and romantic reasons for not only needing but for enjoying a public transport system. Now I am not against the car, only against the crude, masculine, arrogant, commercial culture of the road that dominates Britain and America. I have tried to point out that in civilised European countries, the use of the private car is combined with the encouragement of an efficient public transport system, to the benefit of all. Of course cars are necessary - except for true urbanites - but they need to be controlled and regarded with a degree of cynicism.

`Is your journey really necessary?' Certainly not all those selfish morning and afternoon car runs that clog up the roads and ensure that children stay innocent and over-protected, unable to cope with life on the streets and deprived of a sense of direction. But the real objection to the excessive worship of the private car is that public transport necessarily withers in consequence, and that discriminates against all those unable to drive: the old and the young, the disabled, the incompetent, the inebriate. …

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.