A play set during the Troubles brings home the monstrosity of a few English politicians
It was possible to hope, last Wednesday afternoon, that the toxic idiocy of British politics might recede a little. Even as Boris Johnson spaffed truth and common sense up the wall, in his seemingly vain effort to redeem his reputation, a slow defeated sigh, as of air leaving a leaking balloon, came from the rightwingers’ rebellion against the Windsor framework, the plan to rescue Northern Ireland from the worst effects of Brexit.
That evening, I went to Under the Black Rock by Tim Edge, a play set during the Troubles and performed at the Arcola theatre in Dalston, east London. It featured torture, murder, the destruction of a family and the deaths of children as collateral damage from bomb explosions, all of them realities of the conflict that the Good Friday agreement helped to end. The play brought home the monstrosity of English politicians such as Johnson, who voted against the framework, casually playing games with peace in Northern Ireland. Do they really want this sort of stuff to come back?
It’s a straightforward piece of good news that the Elizabeth line, the 100km-long railway that runs from Essex through central London to Berkshire, is attracting more than 3 million passengers a week, compared with the expected 2 million. It now accounts for one in six rail passenger journeys in the entire country. No one truly knows, with grand infrastructure projects such as this, whether they will meet a real demand, so overuse is a welcome problem. Perhaps there’s hope yet for the even grander HS2, which currently looks like a very expensive way to get from the out-of-the-way Old Oak Common in London to the not-so-central Curzon Street in Birmingham.
From flick to fantasy
Dr John C Taylor, who got rich by inventing the thermostatic device that turns off kettles when the water inside them boils, is selling his £30m Isle of Man mansion. In what might be a first among estate agents’ superlatives, it’s billed as “the most complicated house ever built”, on account of its specially wired chandeliers, the elliptical form of its exterior and of several rooms and “a three-dimensional atrium floor precision-engineered into the shape of a dahlia”. It’s striking that someone who gave the world something as simple and practical as the kettle switch should have since built something so extravagantly elaborate. I don’t know whether to be bemused or impressed.
Floating bus stops
The Sunday Telegraph recently sent a journalist to report on a “floating” bus stop, about 500 metres from my home in east London – one where pedestrians have to get across a cycle lane that runs between it and the pavement. Their intrepid reporter, showing levels of courage rarely seen outside war zones, stood next to what he called “Sadiq Khan’s ‘death trap’ crossings”, even though they were introduced in the mayoralty of Boris Johnson. Nor did the article establish that such crossings have even come close to causing death, though it did link to a report that the actor Joan Collins had got annoyed (not at a bus stop, floating or otherwise) by a cyclist.
The problem, claimed the writer, was that bikes didn’t stop, as they should, when pedestrians want to cross. In a bid to share the inevitable Pulitzer with the Telegraph’s man, and as a user of this facility both on foot and on wheels, I’d like to report that a review promised by Khan into these crossings’ safety is welcome, but also that most people use them calmly and reasonably. They are less dangerous than the alternative, which is for cyclists to go around stationary buses.
• Rowan Moore is an Observer columnist