Great Britain

Going Up: Would You Live In A High Rise?


In one sense high rises are very egalitarian. The resident in the 16th floor of a council tower block gets the same view as someone in an equivalent floor of the Shard – but JG Ballard’s novel ‘High Rise’ imagined a block divided by its Have and Have-Not residents until a full class war broke […]

The Victoria Really Does Vanish

jerusalem tavern london 4

It seems the plot of ‘The Victoria Vanishes’ didn’t go far enough. Pubs are disappearing for good, if the latest CAMRA press release is to be believed (ie. they’re not). But the rate at which British pubs are closing down has now accelerated to 31 a week, and 3% of pubs in the suburbs have […]

Let Them Know Less


When I lived in the US I was amazed how people organised against propositions of which they didn’t approve. It seemed wonderful to me that voters knew they could still stop bad things from happening. By comparison, British rights get eroded by stealth. The way we vote is now changing; everyone has had a letter […]

Ideals On Wheels: Why Mobile Libraries Need Your Help


There’s a vague feeling in the UK that libraries have had their day, that Oxfam and Kindle have jointly conspired to eliminate the need for borrowing books. It suits our present government to believe that private enterprise has proven effective and can reduce state spending, but if you reduce the visibility of books, you remove […]

Smithfields Wins A Reprieve


Conservationists are celebrating a surprising victory after Communities Secretary Eric Pickles threw out a “wholly unacceptable” £160 million scheme to redevelop much of Smithfield Market. The decision came after a high-profile campaign to halt the proposed scheme, which would have turned the western end of the market into an office, shop and restaurant complex. It was […]

Beside The Seaside, Beside The Sea


Pity the poor British seaside town – unloved, unrespected, unvisited. While Europeans flock to Italian, French and Spanish equivalents (they even have great beaches in Holland and Poland) we get the remnants of once-attractive working class towns which have either had no investment or investment of the wrong kind from dubious town councils. Why no […]

London’s Pubs Are Falling Down…


I’ve noticed a few new pubs around lately, thanks to some late saves by craft beer outfits – hooray for The Parcel Yard, the Holborn Whippet and the Pig and Butcher, but they’re few and far between and limited to central London. I didn’t realise just how many local pubs had vanished beneath the rapacious […]

Back On The Rails


Maybe you’re a steam train enthusiast, but even if you don’t know your C-stock from a banana trifle and just long for the days when there were proper luggage racks, you may still wish to take a trip into the past this summer. All around the country steam trains are reappearing, including on the London […]

Does An ‘English Look’ Still Exist?

English Spread

When I’m describing a character, it’s tempting to fall into easy categorisation. If the person I’m writing about is ‘typically English’, it suggests a Golden Age detective novel description that was once ubiquitous. Ladies in floral frocks, gents in waistcoats and suits – now the idea seems ridiculous. But then I read Dan Brown’s description […]

England Plays It By The Book

British Library, Roly Keating

The new booklist drawn up for the GCSE syllabus is under fire as never before. Journalists and writers across the country have expressed dismay that list of set texts for English GCSE has cut out international authors to concentrate on British books, and by doing so has ‘plumbed new depths of cultural incoherence’. The AQA, the […]