David Lister: Beyoncé's transport blues

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The Independent Online

The workings, or non-workings, of the London Underground system at weekends are discussed far too seldom. If, like me, you live in outer London, then there are numerous Saturdays and Sundays when you can't get into the capital by public transport. So I'm grateful to Beyoncé, pictured, that this state of affairs has been noticed at last. Her gig at the O2 last Monday was a success in the arena but a nightmare outside. Thousands of her fans were left with transport difficulties, as it was a bank holiday and the Jubilee line was closed for engineering work.

That all sounds terribly parochial – one concert hall, one Tube line, and couldn't the fans have driven anyway? Actually, no. Many Beyoncé fans are teenagers and don't drive. The O2 isn't exactly easy to reach by car, and the £15 to park isn't exactly cheap. Besides, it's not any old venue. It's the biggest in the country. Soon Michael Jackson will be playing there, and the same transport problems are likely to occur for some of his gigs, with the train line so conveniently next door to the venue out of action once again. Once more, fans can expect to queue for hours for a riverboat service or wait till midnight in a line for taxis, and pay plenty on top of the expensive ticket price for the privilege.

It could be worse, of course. In fact it has been, according to one Independent reader who blogged this week that when he saw Metallica at the O2 a few months ago the Tube line was again closed and he could see only two people directing 23,000 concert-goers on the best way to get home. He was stuck there until 3am.

Not our fault, said AEG, owners of the O2 after the Beyoncé concert. A spokeswoman told this paper that engineering work during major concerts was "frustrating" but added that the venue was working closely with Transport for London to give music fans as many travel options as possible. "It's not an ideal situation, but unfortunately there's not much we can do about it apart from working with TfL and putting a robust plan in place."

That spokeswoman should be arrested for abuse of the English language. What is this "robust" plan? Queuing for a cab till midnight? What has this "working closely" achieved? As is so often the case, the needs of the paying public attending an arts event are ignored. It happened last year when the Royal Shakespeare Company ended its shows so late that there was no public transport to take people back to London. But after that was highlighted on this page the RSC to its credit did work closely with the rail authorities and laid on a late train. It can be done where there is a will.

Of course it would be nice if these frustrating weekend line closures came to an end. But in the meantime let's not forget that the O2 is owned by a very wealthy multinational company, AEG. It has a moral responsibility to look after its audiences. When the Tube is not running it should make its car park free. It should subsidise the riverboats so that they are free and it should lay on a fleet of coaches to take people back to the centre of London, where they have more options for continuing their journey. It's time that those who run arts venues realise that the evening does not end with the final encore.

A case of justified pessimism

Some achieve a reputation they don't really want. Some have that reputation thrust upon them by their publisher.

This is the Year of Astronomy, and the Astronomer Royal, Martin Rees, was one of the guest speakers at the Hay festival this week. He remarked at the beginning of his lecture that he does indeed have a reputation as a pessimist, and explained how this has come about. He had written a celebrated book, which he called Our Final Century. His publishers left off the question mark. His American publishers went further. They took it upon themselves to change the title of the book to Our Final Hour.

"The Americans love instant gratification," he sighed.

What legendary nonsense

The word "legendary" has long been a staple of sports reporting, and famously reached its height when the football correspondent of the Daily Mirror, reporting on a match with the England football team in Israel, called it "birthplace of the legendary Jesus Christ".

I enjoyed that one. But I am a little alarmed at how commonplace this word is becoming in the arts. Any musician who was performing in the 1960s and is still alive seems to qualify. The same is true of any film director from the 1970s. Indeed, the same is increasingly true of anybody who is well known and has been around a while. Yet somehow I found it particularly irritating at the Hay festival when Brenda Maddox was introduced at the country's foremost literary gathering as "biographer of the legendary novelist, George Eliot".

As they say in the best English literature seminars: yuk.

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