The Guardian, 29 January 2016

There are only two things British people like more than a bargain: a plucky underdog and an opportunity to complain about our bloody awful trains. So it’s no surprise that Jordan Cox – the bespectacled blogger who flew to Essex from Sheffield (via Berlin) for a net saving of £8 over the cost of a train ticket – is all over the news this week. If this story were any more British, Mary Berry would be judging it, and she would not find it wanting.

People have drawn their own conclusions about the sense of spending twelve hours to get home instead of the 3.5 hours it would have taken by train. But Cox never claimed it was the most efficient way to get home, only cheaper and more fun – for him, an 18-year-old who had always wanted to visit Berlin – than the alternative. Besides, the train may be more direct, but it’s hardly quick (3.5 hours to travel 183 miles is an average speed of 52 mph).

As for the pricing, I can’t have been alone in thinking that the £47 Cox quoted was relatively cheap for a train journey of that distance in the UK (the walk-up, no-railcard price seems to be £86.50, so next time he makes the trip, Cox could probably go to Rome or Vienna and still not lose money). As so often, the only way to get a cheap rail ticket is to book in advance, which is great if you always know when you’ll need to be where, and less good if you occasionally want to do something spontaneous, or have friends or family who don’t know in advance that they will be ill. I long ago explained to my relatives that they need to arrange any injuries or sickness with a minimum of six weeks’ notice.

We now need to treat train travel like air travel: book on a specific train, weeks or months ahead. But the whole appeal of trains is that they aren’t like planes. You don’t need ID, you don’t need to decant shampoo into miniature bottles, you don’t need to spend the entire time wishing you were dead. And if we want to free up our busy airports, and save the financial and environmental costs of building new runways – making intercity train travel cheaper than international flights seems like the easiest place to start.

Occasionally, my partner and I try to work out what happened to an actor we used to like. There are usually three potential answers: they’ve been in some obscure corner of the Hydra-headed CSI franchise, they were busted for shoplifting, or they’re a woman over 35. Only recently we were trying to puzzle out where Joseph Fiennes had got to, but I can honestly say that neither of us guessed correctly that he was about to be cast as Michael Jackson.


‘I'm a white, middle-class guy from London’ said Fiennes, ‘I'm as shocked as you might be.’ I’m pretty sure he isn’t, or at least not as vocally, otherwise the casting agent would still be having treatment for a punctured eardrum. The drama will follow a car journey apparently made by Jackson with Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando from New York to Ohio. In this version, presumably New York will be played by Croydon, and Ohio by a small field near Okehampton.

I’m pretty easy-going about the evolution of language, mostly because I have noticed that it goes ahead and changes whether I like it or not. But if there is one modern usage I would wipe from the face of the earth, it is the word ‘monster’ as a description of something big, like a monster truck rally (which to me sounds like it should feature monster-shaped trucks, rather than monster-sized ones. The reality was a grave disappointment and my ‘Go Godzilla’ banner remains folded up in a dark cupboard).

Now I discover that a ‘monster spider’ has been found in Oregon. If ever there was a species (genus? I can’t look it up: there might be pictures) which did not need to be rendered more alarming, it is surely spiders. To me, all kinds of spiders are monsters. If anyone needs me, I’ll be standing on a chair, holding a really heavy shoe.