Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Article excerpt

Wednesday last week, back when travelling on the Tube was no big deal, I was on the Central line on my way to White City to appear on a BBC2 lunchtime business programme whose usual select viewing audience was going to be greatly swelled that day by my mum and dad. The loudspeaker at the end of the carriage crackled to life: 'We would like to inform all customers that London has been successful in its bid to host the 2012 Olympics.' I looked at the line of people in seats opposite. They responded exactly as they would have done to 'Stand clear of the doors. Mind the closing doors, please' - no one moved a muscle. Feeling that some sort of modest acknowledgment was in order, I caught the eye of the woman opposite and raised my eyebrows. She stared back stonily. Does this mean real Londoners couldn't care less about who hosts this tedious sporting event in seven years' time? Possibly; though more likely it shows how deep is our distaste for talking to strangers on the Tube. Which is one of the things that makes the city such a great place to live. The Olympics is not big enough to break it.

A bomb, by comparison, is big enough. The following day Tube passengers were forced together in wounded and dying embraces. As a result, all Londoners have been recast: we are no longer cold, private people who never talk to strangers. Instead we are brave and marvellous and spirited and the finest people on earth. Which is fantasyland. In truth some Londoners were heroes in the heat of that hideous moment. I suspect the rest of us have emerged from the shock with our personalities intact - the good bits and the bad bits are all present and correct, just as before.

The mid-life crisis takes many different forms. One of the more benign - in terms of damage to pocket and marriage is to embark on an exhausting physical challenge. In November I am setting out to cycle 400kms along the Nile. With me will be 100 over-achieving middle-aged women cycling away from something or other, and one man - Lord Winston, whose charity it is all in aid of. To prepare for this unnecessary ordeal I am cycling almost everywhere in London. I've found that the odd thing about getting from A to B is that you hate anyone who gets there another way. In the car I hate cyclists, and as a pedestrian I hate motorists and cyclists. But as a cyclist I hate everyone - especially pedestrians. As I was cycling back to the Financial Times one lunch-time this week, a pedestrian, who was plugged into his iPod, stepped off the pavement right in front of me. I braked, wobbled and fell. I did what I used to do if I fell off my bike when I was seven, which was cry. This didn't feel very dignified. He picked me up and asked if I was OK. 'Y-es, I'm fine,' I sobbed. Later I noticed I had lost all the buttons on the cuff of my jacket, which was a bit annoying, and also very puzzling. How did that happen?

On Sunday I was back at White City plugging my book on a Radio Four programme which asked a series of grand people: whither London? Kate Adie was there, and before she went on air she phoned her mum Up North to tell her to listen. It's one thing me phoning my mum, another for the famous broadcaster to be still doing it after three decades. Touching, I thought. My role was to find other news stories to talk about. …

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.