Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Article excerpt

Perhaps it's the lateness of the hour but on Saturday night, driving from Heathrow to the Hampshire coast, I'm consumed with melancholy. The endless stream of traffic on the spaghetti-like tangle of motorways brings forth nightmarish visions of the future: the Cornish Coastal Path turned into a five-lane highway; one-way traffic from Plymouth to Penzance; the Scottish Highlands flattened to create more fuel-efficient `low roads'; the Welsh border transformed into the world's biggest bypass to bring thundering trucks laden with our shopaholic hearts' desires to the northern territories. My cataclysmic musings are interrupted when some moron in a Ferrari with his lights on full beam mistakes my attempt to get out of the glare for a desire to race. Obviously high on testosterone and oblivious to Norman Mailer's recent diatribe on male emasculation, he swerves in and out of the traffic undertaking me and putting us all in mortal danger. I escape by pulling into a service station for petrol, and shortly afterwards reach my friend's seaside abode. A cold sausage washed down by a couple of glasses of delicious Burgundy around a beach bonfire, as we gaze across the Solent at the twinkling lights of the Isle of Wight, proves to be just a brief respite. Later, in the luxury of my linen-sheeted bed, I toss and turn as my dreams hurl me into some Fritz Langinspired Metropolis. Elevators snake the city where once we pounded pavements, and obese human beings stand like waxworks as they are transported from shopping mall to office block. I'm among a new breed of Homo sapiens: legs like chipolatas, grown stumpy and podgy through lack of use. I'm relieved when dawn breaks. It's -only later, as we cycle through the New Forest to fetch the Sunday papers, that my fears recede. As the grey clouds are perforated by the sun, and Mother Nature shows off with a magnificent rainbow, my mood lifts.

That night, I agree, under duress, to watch the first of my Edinburgh Review programmes in the company of my hosts. Nerved by copious amounts of alcohol and with a cushion at the ready to place over my head during embarrassing moments, I'm ready for the upcoming torture. I needn't have worried. Within moments my host is snoring loudly next to me, one of his sons is piling as much bedding as he can on his father's head to drown out the noise, while the other informs me with typical adolescent honesty that I look much younger on screen. I don't know whether to laugh, cry or suffocate him with my redundant cushion.

Monday morning dawns and after an idyllic weekend on the coast I'm ready for a bite-sized morsel of London. Dinner promises to be a treat, reuniting me with friends I haven't seen for much of the summer thanks to my itinerant lifestyle. I'm eager to be brought up to date with what they've been doing, but I'm in for a shock. Within seconds of sitting down, all but one (me) of the assembled throng are engaged in a lengthy and heated argument about Big Brother. I haven't noticed Nineteen Eighty-Four rocketing to the top of the bestseller list, so I'm a little baffled by the subject matter. Slowly the light dawns. It's a television show that I've managed to miss out on completely. Nothing unusual there. Only the other day I was wondering if I might be in for a television-licence rebate, not having switched on my set for three months. Inertia and my Booker Prize judging duties are my only excuse. Judging by how high passions are running on the subject around the table, my pop-culture credibility is at a dangerously low level as a result. …

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