I am sitting beside one of the darkened windows of the Sloe Bar-Café at Paddington, one of the best people-watching spots in London. My, what a relentless churn of humanity this is; what a swarm of busy worker ants, what an exhilaratingly multinational melting pot…and what a lot of tall, beautiful women there are in London. When the pros and cons of living in the Great Wen are discussed, the exhausting number of tall, beautiful women one has to try not to be noticed noticing is rarely mentioned, but it is significant. (A friend of mine from Nottingham once complained how unfair it was that all the best-looking women in his home town were hoovered up by London as soon they came of age. Most of the cities on the planet could make the same complaint now.)

London is also – as we learnt from Warren Zevon who spotted one walking through Soho carrying a Chinese takeway menu – full of werewolves.  To those with eyes to see they are easily detected, wearing excessive facial hair and expressions of barely concealed ravenousness. On the Tube they stare into their iPhones trying not to think about meat. A great many of them come from East Europe (the hairy arms are a giveaway), presumably refugees from the neverending war with the vampires which we all know has blighted that part of the world for so many centuries. There goes one now, with an unfeasibly tall, beautiful East European woman clinging to his hairy arm. Good heavens, I do hope these windows are indeed darkened, or I could face arrest. For unlicensed gawping.

***

“I shouldn’t be talking on the phone, I’m in the Quiet Carriage” said the woman next to me, on her phone, in the Quiet Carriage. This is a well-known trick of exhibitionists, designed to (1) pre-empt complaints; and (2) draw even more attention to themselves. In fact, she needn’t have bothered, since all bets were off, seat reservations void, laws of the universe suspended. The 15:00 hours First Great Western Service from London Paddington to Taunton had been cancelled. This was physically the same train, but the long delay meant that it was metaphysically the 15:20 train, the 16:00 train and possibly a few others as well. Glum commuters wobbled in the aisles, tweeting secretly about how awful and annoying everybody else was. I merely pretended to be engrossed in my edition of Standpoint magazine (it’s like the Spectator, but with more Nick Cohen and no sense of humour) and stored up the exhibitionist woman for this Diary. One has to have a sense of perspective about these commuting irritations. Somebody had been killed on the line at Ealing Broadway. Earlier, my morning train had been delayed by a death near Didcot. A statistically freakish two fatalities on the Great Western line in a day. I couldn’t help but think back to the grim prophesies of the Macclesfield Oracle.

***

The original Great Western Railway was of course built by the peerless engineer Isembard Kingdom Brunel, but perhaps his most important achievement was the SS Great Britain, pioneering propeller-driven ocean-going iron-clad steamship, now at rest in Bristol. We went to visit it last weekend for the first time since it was revamped as a tourist attraction using National Lottery money. They’ve done a superb job – I can’t think of another attraction in the UK that will give you a better sense of period. What with the Olympic team and all the other things built by the ‘tax on the innumerate’, it’s fair to say that we’ve all been Lottery winners. In fact, the only people whose lives have been made worse by the Lottery are the millionaires, who instantly fall into depression and drug dependency. Or so people who haven’t become millionaires always say.

***

The werewolves were particularly hungry this week, as Hallowe’en fell on a full moon. In fact, it rained in Bristol and trick-or-treaters were thin on the ground. I’d always been on the Guy Fawkes side of the Fireworks versus Hallowe’en rivalry, but I’ve shifted pumpkinwards since having children. Hallowe’en provides endless possibilities for costumes, crafts, japes and games. And fireworks, well, they’re a bit meh, aren’t they?

***

I enjoyed Conrad Black’s little sortie behind the enemy lines of the English media. He took two of the Beeb’s smuggest bastards head on, for which he deserves credit. Paxman revelled in the ding-dong on Newsnight, but Ian Hislop was discomfited on Have I Got News For You. He mislaid his ability to make even thin jokes, and the ugly side of his persona – the spluttering, sanctimonious bully – was left exposed. Conrad Black is clearly a man with no sense of humour, remorse, empathy or guilt, so there was nothing for Hislop to get hold of. He was reduced to the “but you were found guilty in a court of law” line, to which Black was able to quote back Hislop’s own famous complaint about courts of law: “If that’s justice, then I’m a banana.” Checkmate to Black.

***

The comment thread appending Rita’s latest controversial missive includes a discussion of whether fascism and Marxism are really the same thing. It is often argued than there is a spectrum which curls round in a circle, so the extreme left and right ends meet each other. I’d suggest, rather, that they’re two sides of the same theoretical coin: both are based on a narrative view of history which sees a historical goal as both inevitable and desirable, and this legitimises doing things to people who slow the process: curtailing their freedom, imprisoning them in labour camps, or killing them, depending on how much of a hurry we’re in. However, what really lies behind the question in most political arguments is a domestic row: in the UK or US, would socialists on the left or conservatives on the right rapidly slide into Stalinism and fascism respectively if only they got their way? To which my answer is, while you cannot be too sceptical about human nature, no. Our so-called ‘left’ and ‘right’ factions are just two more sides of a coin. A different coin, that is, if you follow me.

***

Inevitably, this iconic (overused word, but apt here) image of Isembard Kingdom Brunel features prominently at the SS Great Britain museum. The outrageous hat, the cigar, the chains, the cool-as-f*** attitude. It really is a supremely powerful portrait. How much of Brunel’s fame – in a field not exactly crammed with household names – is owed to this one picture, I wondered as I gazed at it. But then I looked closer. The eyebrows… the sideburns… the expression, hinting at an unnameable animalistic magnetism. No doubt about it, Brunel was a werewolf.

Dabbler Diary is brought to you by Glengoyne single malt whisky – the Dabbler’s choice.


  1. Worm on Monday 5, 2012

    We must have been in London on the same day, Brit, for I too was left to kick my heels waiting for ‘technicians’ to ‘clear an obstruction on the line’ at Ealing. How these euphemisms remind me of Larkin’s Ambulances

    And sense the solving emptiness
    That lies just under all we do,
    And for a second get it whole,
    So permanent and blank and true.
    The fastened doors recede. Poor soul,
    They whisper at their own distress;

    For borne away in deadened air
    May go the sudden shut of loss
    Round something nearly at an end,
    And what cohered in it across
    The years, the unique random blend
    Of families and fashions, there

    At last begin to loosen. Far
    From the exchange of love to lie
    Unreachable insided a room
    The trafic parts to let go by
    Brings closer what is left to come,
    And dulls to distance all we are.

    • Brit on Monday 5, 2012

      “Poor soul, they whisper at their own distress” is spot on, isn’t it?

      At Paddington they were openly saying it was a fatality – this seems a sensible policy as it prevents people complaining.

  2. malty on Monday 5, 2012

    Is London the cradle of all, repository of the sharpest of the cutting edge stuff? Us chickens at the outer edge, peering over the rim of the cauldron often wonder. Should we be there, are we missing out on this legendary action, the boulevards awash with willowy minxes, their Latvian pertness there for all to see. The cafe society laden with Simone de Beauvoir dopplegangers banging on about existential feminism, surrounded by fawning leftie liberals with existential teeth, crowds of boulevardiers busily munching garlic and filling their Ipads with holy water as the beat rolls on.

    I would consult the latest edition of Standpoint but, as a registered gentile, frequently feel like an interloper.

    • Gaw on Monday 5, 2012

      Go on then, Malty! Please do give us your defiantly non-London diary…

      • malty on Monday 5, 2012

        Yesterday in Galashields an ITV camera crew were filming a politician telling lies when the phone rang ‘there’s a bloke around the corner in a lime green mankini protesting about social deprivation, his nuts are hanging out’. Leaving the politician in mid-fib the team dashed around the corner and filmed the hanging. The new borders rail link will cost an extra £50 million and will not now be finished until 2015, said the lying politician.

        Beat that if you can, inner M25ers.

  3. Recusant on Monday 5, 2012

    Interesting photo that of IKB, for two reasons; one that banally speaks of our times and the other truly astonishing.

    The banal first. When the BBC published the photo in its list of the 100 Greatest Brits, they took it upon themselves to remove the cigar from the picture. Don’t want to give the kiddies the wrong influences, do we?

    The astonishing. Five minutes after this photo was taken IKB was dead.

    • Recusant on Monday 5, 2012

      Well. Actually. Five minutes after this photo was taken he suffered the stroke that killed him within a few days, but that doesn’t sound as dramatic.

      • Brit on Monday 5, 2012

        Either way, it adds an extra dimension to the image. Like that King Curtis live recording (which includes the Whiter Shade of Pale version used in Withnail and I) made a few hours before he was murdered.

        • mg13 on Monday 5, 2012

          Well no. Two facts make that dimension fictional. The first is that the recording (http://open.spotify.com/track/6ER8plW4Mae5d5nSATWPD9) was made in March 1971, if Wikipedia is to be believed, and Curtis was murdered in August.

          The second (admittedly less conclusive), is that the recording was made at Fillmore West in San Francisco. Curtis was fatally stabbed outside his home in New York.

          • Worm on Monday 5, 2012

            Top myth destroying commenting, sir!

  4. ian russell on Monday 5, 2012

    That pic was the answer to a question on Uni Challenge, last night, don’t you know?

    Can’t picture Hislop as a bully. His is the look on the face of the boy who’s head was about to be put into the toilet bowl. And, surely, it’s time to put that show out of its misery.

    • Brit on Monday 5, 2012

      Hislop uses the audience to bully, I doubt he’d manage it one-on-one.

      In The Spectator this week Conrad Black described him as a “whey-faced jack-in-the-box”.

      • Brit on Monday 5, 2012

        Though apparently at Private Eye he sometimes throws epic wobblies.

  5. Worm on Monday 5, 2012

    Hislop strikes me as having been one of those charmless small know it all boys that teachers and pupils all absolutely hate

    No idea why Conrad Black wanted to go on that show, Why would anyone want to prove themselves to Ian Hislop?

  6. Peter on Monday 5, 2012

    Have you ever noticed how in those arguments about whether fascism and communism are the same thing, etiquette demands they be described as execrable in exactly equal measure? The slightest suggession that one was even 1% worse than the other is the mark of an ideologue and closet fanatic who wouldn’t mind giving one of them a second go.