Hit & Run: Whitehall – by bus
Tuesday 09 March 2010
First Tory MP Sir Nicholas Winterton railed against the prospect of second-class train travel, almost gagging on his own foot as he suggested passengers with regular tickets were "a totally different type of people".
Now, some of Whitehall's most senior civil servants are swapping their chauffeur-driven cars for things like trains, the Tube, bicycles and – horror of horrors – buses.
Months after mandarin-in-chief Sir Gus O'Donnell urged colleagues to ditch their drivers, almost all permanent secretaries have discovered alternative conveyances. It's hoped they could inspire MPs and other officials already braced for swingeing cuts. But it can't be easy, swapping leather seats and reading lights for year-old chewing gum and burger boxes. In sympathy with poor public servants not used to mixing it with the masses, we offer a guide to getting about in the age of austerity.
* Hidden beneath the streets of the capital lies a magical network of trains that link cleverly positioned stations including one called Westminster. It's on London Underground's Jubilee line, which will whisk you to your second home via major rail terminuses. With its modern and well-lit trains, it also makes the ideal location for man-of-the-people photo shoots.
* If it's good enough for Boris and Dave (Johnson and Cameron), you too can navigate London by bicycle. Invest in a helmet and trouser clips. Under no circumstances allow a driver to trail with your cases (Cameron, 2006), lock your bike to a bollard so that it may be easily stolen (Cameron, 2008) or jump red lights (Cameron, 2008).
* Should you find yourself rubbing shoulders in a crowded train carriage (sometimes people even have to stand up), think twice before reaching into your briefcase. Consider printing in smaller text to evade wandering eyes and for God's sake don't alight before gathering up your secret terror files (as one civil servant did in 2008).
* Westminster is a haven for bus passengers, served as it is by 11 routes. There are no conductors these days but never be tempted to board bendy buses without swiping your Oyster card (magic passes that mean you don't need cash). Avoid upper decks and the back seats, which are reserved for young people. Should you venture into South London, avoid changing buses at Elephant and Castle after 10pm.
* It will only get you so far, but walking is the easiest, greenest and, crucially, cheapest way to make short trips. Perhaps invest in some comfy shoes (though sadly, you are un-likely to be able to claim these on expenses). But there are added benefits. When Charles Clarke was a junior minister, the generously-proportioned former Home Secretary said he preferred to walk than use a ministerial car "for health reasons". Simon Usborne
Best street in Britain? What a Shambles
The news that the Shambles has been voted Britain's most picturesque street by Google Street View users, will shock few people that have ever visited York.
The distinctive, narrow cobbled lane in the city centre, Europe's best-preserved medieval street, was mentioned as far back as the Domesday Book. Its pavements were raised to create a channel away from its timber-framed buildings for butchers to wash their blood and guts down.
The butchers are long gone. As a former York resident of three years, my recollections of the Shambles are a bout of food poisoning from one of the tourist trap restaurants, shops stocking cheap tat or unaffordable antiques and hordes of American and Japanese holidaymakers blocking the route to my favourite pubs. I much preferred the cut-through down the nearby comically named Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma Gate, which after four pints of the furious local ale, Centurion's Ghost, was harder to pronounce but easier to traverse. Jamie Merrill
Meat-free is murder – and this law won't help
"Lentil-eating vegans and teetotallers are to be protected against discrimination – just like gays and lesbians." While some herbivores may have rejoiced, my (meat-free) blood ran cold when I read this news story in yesterday's Sun, about a new proposed equality bill.
Great, I thought, another reason to hate vegetarians. There may be four million of us in the UK, but you'd be amazed at how often I'm asked, "What do you eat, then?" as though this were the 1970s, and the word "vegetarian" still conjured up images of cookery books full of badly styled dishes in brown crockery. Maybe to them, it does. In which case I understand their concern. Other painful things I hear at dinner parties include: "So ... we've made you a special dish." (Translation: "Yes, you are a difficult guest".) And as a direct result of that: "Vegetarian, eh? That for moral reasons?"
Not really light, just-met-you kind of chat, is it? Especially not over that plate of roast beef. And especially as I'm the only person not to have mentioned my eating habits so far. You see to me, "vegetarian"conjures up anything from rustic Italian platters, to beans on buttery toast, hearty French onion soup, naan bread dipped in saag aloo ... normal stuff. And that's why I'm not sure about the anti-discriminatory angle. It doesn't feel like a niche lifestyle choice to me – and, since I don't wander around humming Smiths songs at barbecues, well – I don't really want to be singled out even more. Kate Burt
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