No. 3: Norrishorribilism
The first Norris horribilis was an invention of Christopher Isherwood in his prophetically titled novel Mr Norris Changes Trains (1935). Expensively dressed, flabby chinned, charming and furtive, Arthur Norris sits beside the book's hero on a train bound for Berlin, is suspicious of conversational advances, complains about cyclists and canals, and confesses to making a point of always travelling first class ("It always pays. One gets treated with so much more consideration"). He is gradually revealed to be, successively, a Communist fellow-traveller, a spy and a conman. He set a standard of in-transit disrepute that still endures.

The second Norris horribilis was Lady Docker, the Fifties socialite who once remarked that it was a sign of failure to be seen riding on a bus after the age of 30. The third was Roger Freeman, a British transport minister who predicted that, in years to come, people would be able to enjoy a whole pecking order of train seating, from the exalted businessmen at the top to a "cheap and cheerful" bucket-shop service for stenographers at the bottom.

Several unpleasant, condescending transport ministers later comes Mr Steven Norris, who explained that driving a car is infinitely preferable to taking public transport, because "you don't have to put up with dreadful human beings sitting alongside you". Commuters objected to being so described and blamed the state of modern buses and trains on chronic underfunding by the Department of Transport. Newspapers pointed out Mr Norris's connections in the motor trade ("Steve" Norris Ltd of Salisbury), his lifelong vested interest in persuading travellers that cars are best, and accused him of hypocrisy. Mr Norris said he hadn't meant it like that.

Travel, class and social treachery are a constant, twisted braid in British life. Public transport has always offered a stratification of comfort levels into "classes", from posh to steerage: if it is ever to be inferred that money is cognate with class, it is in the area of travel. But what is objectionable about the avatars of Mr Norris is not just their snobbery, but their fakeness. Spurning the base degrees by which they ascended, they believe that people are defined by their travel arrangements; that businessmen are the top drawer of society; that the slip-road to success is a journey from communality to chauffeur-driven solitude; and that politicians need not account for their actions nor answer inconvenient questions (last week he declined to discuss safety levels on the London Tube) if they emanate from the Great Unwashed.

Thus Norrishorribilism: the phenomenon of sleek, well-placed but obnoxious public figures fastidiously distancing themselves from the mass of the population they are in power to serve.

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