In all our sanctuaries we sit at risk

Diary of a Time-Traveller


Morning, first thing.  Before packing and leaving, I booked some train tickets online, for another journey due in a week‘s time. I hate and still fumble at dealing online. I feel lonely and a bit panicky in the whole robotical procedure, with the pretend friendliness and informality of the words onscreen only adding to my disorientation. Will I disappear down some cyber precipice ? Or fall for some small-type cyber-trick, luring me into spending extra on something which I don’t need at all and will merely add to some senior manager‘s unearned bonus ? I journey deep into robot cyber-space as I click on this and that and record my private details. When the process is over, I feel lucky to have escaped back to Earth and my own human skin. Or have I ?

A few minutes afterwards, I receive an email from the Trainline people. “Great News !” it begins. Great news ? Have I been randomly selected to receive some comfortable pension until I die ? Have the Israelis stopped killing Palestinian children ? Has Cameron offered yet another phoney apology to the cameras, on the advice of his spin doctors ? “I’m terribly sorry for being such a jolly nice chap that I gave my close friend the criminal and liar Andy.orc a second chance.”  No, the great news is that my train journey booking has just been registered ! I am apparently overjoyed. Great news ! I dance click click all over the room.

Midday.  Motor-way service station half way up England. It is a multiple franchise, a whole circle of retail outlets, some of them with big names, clustered round a central atrium full of café tables and seats. But what about acoustics ? Did the architects forget about securing our ear-drums, in their concern for emptying our purses ? The amplified voices of around a hundred travellers, many of them children, bounce around the domed roof, accompanied by frantic vacuous music over the PA system. Instantly, we decide that we need to grab some sandwiches, have a quick pee and then out, fast.

At the till, a cashier delivers her question, “do you need a bag ?” For the nth time that day. Then she hisses something very intense sideways to a colleague at the second till. They are both probably still teenagers. “Do you need a bag ?” asks her companion, addressing the customer in front of her, before hissing sideways back.

Escape with sandwiches and hurry to the gents. In the men’s urinal, I pee to the same frantic loud music as out in the foyer, only even louder here, as the speakers are closer. Then there’s a sudden furious roar behind me as someone starts to dry their hands under the dryer. It’s like a jet engine starting up. Then another starts.

Hurry out through the atrium – that shriek machine and echo-chamber, those market hooks, lures and shoddy, useless knick-knacks – and into the car park. Head for the car, on high alert for other escapees around the car-park, who have started driving away before us. Return to the relative peace of motorway speeds.

All the above is plain reportage and it happened in one day, exactly as described. In a sense, though, it is also all happening all the time.


I propose that the above succession of small incidents in a single day of inland travel offers an indication that our way of life is out of hand and heading (at motorway speeds and deservedly) for utter breakdown across a broad front.

Perhaps I should add that the end of this particular day offered more sanity to us travellers than the earlier parts. We arrived in working countryside in the north of England, real fields, real harvest, real tractors – and the slower pace and greater quiet associated with those things. It was a calm and balmy evening and a woman, perhaps lonely, was watering her lush garden, guarded by a rather lovely setter dog. A cyclist was out alone in the lanes, riding fast, feeling the evening air on his skin, under those huge skies, getting back in touch with self and other.

That evening, in that place, was productive of the following thought. How about, after the referendum on Scottish Independence, we hold a referendum on whether or not the North of England should be self-governing as well ? The people smile at you up here, as if you are human. They have manners. It feels a bit like a foreign country, not having supported the Coalition Government to any significant degree, nor having benefited from it at all. On the contrary. The whole area seems to be altogether more sane and more civilised than the constituencies further south.

And then what about Cornwall ? What reason has Cornwall to remain part of the United Kingdom ?

And having got this far, let’s export this foreigner-making principle and suggest de-uniting the United States of America, for instance, turning all those states into separate countries, each with its own frontier, closely guarded with armed drones, barbed wire and bayonets. Why not ? Let’s really promote this idea.

Or take it further in other ways. For instance, how about every street in every nation becoming a separate country ? All those lovely frontiers, closely guarded with armed drones, barbed wire and bayonets ?

Actually I live in a Close, not a street. About thirty people live there, all ages and several ethnicities. We of the Close have been inspired by the Scots who want to say yes and – equally sick of Davey-boy and his horrible crew of Oxfordshire hooligans, toffs, liars, tax-dodgers and persecutors of the poor – we want to say yes as well. And for  months now, at nights, I have been creating a frontier around our Close, using a tenon saw. I am sawing us into separation and very soon now I’ll have finished. And then we’ll push the severed Close on wheels to the Wandle, a mighty rolling stream that passes nearby, and we’ll launch the Close onto the waters and sail it down to where the Wandle disgorges into the Thames, beside the Wandsworth Council public tip ; and thereafter we’ll head for the Thames Estuary and onwards, east to the North Sea, hoping then to be swept north by the tides, following the route of the Spanish Armada. And after that, we shall apply to join the EU and will buy a few fireworks with which to defend our national integrity.

Easy. As easy as joining UKIP, As easy as blowing bubbles.