As the festive season proceeded, I was positively oozing the milk of human kindness. Two days before Christmas, someone came from the electricity company, cheerfully proffering his ID, to do an actual meter reading. On Christmas Eve, I made it back from a family visit in time for the King's College carols, and on the day itself the pheasant almost cooked itself. On Boxing Day, the staff at Leigh Delamere service area could not have been more charming.
And driving through the congested town of Wick (running early because there had been no hold-ups on the M4, just fragments of snow where Basingstoke had once been), I flashed my lights in the spirit of the season to let oncoming traffic through, only to be flashed through myself by a succession of motorists who just would not be dislodged from their courteous purpose.
Then there were the girls at the travel company who called you back and knew their stuff; the buses that were running when you least expected it; the helpful person at the end of the East Midlands reservations line, and the glorious, soaring heights of the new St Pancras Station – proof that the British can, after all, complete a grand projet.
Which is where, alas, my charitable feelings towards my fellow men and women came to a juddering and ingracious halt. Whenever I visit the new St Pancras, I am caught between wonder at the transformation of that draughty old shell and rage at the lack of consideration for those weighed down with luggage or less than super-fit. This marvellous edifice has still not figured out how to work as a station, rather than a seething centre of commerce.
Anyone who has difficulty in walking should not arrive on local transport; there is a marathon walk through meandering crowds of shoppers. And the signposting, for trains other than the prestige Eurostar is, let's say, discreet. Many travellers are left baffled as to where to go.
Our taxi dropped us, in the pouring rain, nowhere near an entrance to the concourse. For those who have booked assistance – a splendid service for the less mobile – there seems to be no fixed point where they can connect straight from a taxi or car to a helper, and no obviously safe place to wait. You might chance upon a blue-jacketed information person; more likely, you will have to seek one out. My elderly mother and I had to walk the breadth of the concourse to the ticket office. After about 10 minutes, with no offer or possibility of seating, a kindly helper arrived.
Why is there no seamless way to connect from transport to helper to train? Why is there no fixed, clearly marked point of contact? Why don't the new lifts connect with the Underground, where people face flights of steps? Why, given the vast distances, are there no moving walkways? Why wasn't St Pancras conceived as part of the transport system as a whole rather than a project in majestic isolation? I don't think this is how a 21st-century station should work, even one that began life in the 19th.
Why not PD (Baroness James, that is) for PM?
What a week for redoubtable women! First we had the release of government papers from 1979 that reminded us, lest we had forgotten, of how Margaret Thatcher dealt with spineless men: by scrawling "Not nearly tough enough", "This will not do", or – most witheringly – "Too small" across their homework.
And then, joy of joys, we had PD (Baroness) James on the BBC Today programme yesterday, conducting a master class in how the Corporation's director-general – and any other highly paid public servant, for that matter – should be grilled. (I commend you to the BBC i-Player if you did not hear it.)
The Baroness and thriller-writer may be in her late-80s, but someone should sign her up immediately to frame the questions every voter wants to ask, and not take 'No, Don't know', or – in Mark Thompson's case when he was challenged about executive pay – some incoherent growling for an answer. Maybe Lady James should be a late entrant to moderate next year's live TV debates – the only drawback being that we might want to elect her prime minister in preference to the young, male, whippersnappers on offer.
Stop complaining – treat snow as winter's gift
What a fuss we made about the snow when it fell, supposedly unseasonably, before Christmas. But I'm afraid my sympathies this time were with the highways department. It really would have been better if anyone who wasn't facing an absolute emergency had simply stayed at home – or, as happened after the heavy London snowfall last February, taken the day off and gone out to play.
I'm a bit of a snow veteran, having experienced several real winters in Moscow and another three in Washington, during one of which snow immobilised the city for the best part of a week and the pavements were unwalkable for much longer.
The peculiarity of snow in Britain is that you don't know when it is going to arrive or even if it will arrive at all. And the start of snow is the real problem. Those who cope with the white stuff – Canada, Russia, the Scandinavians, the north of the United States – do so because, once it has arrived, it tends to stay for weeks, even months. There is time between falls to get out the ploughs and clear the streets. But even these countries find it hard to keep the roads and runways clear while the storm rages. Witness the urgency with which President Obama was speeded home from Copenhagen to beat the forecast blizzard. Remember the thousands stranded in their planes at Denver airport three winters ago?
Our snow comes in fits and starts and it makes little sense to plough or grit while the blizzard is in full force. By the time it stops, it is almost thawing. That's why, in any sober cost-benefit analysis, most counties in Britain are right not to invest in expensive equipment, and right to go easy on the advance gritting.
Far more sensible, and fun, to declare a local holiday and encourage everyone to roll some snowballs and enjoy a once-in-a-winter frolic.
* The year that is now past supplied us with a rich variety of films, from the profound to the fleeting to the quirky. But startling opening sequences seem less and less matched by compelling endings. Three recent films, each with its own merits – Michael Haneke's highly praised White Ribbon, Steven Soderbergh's Girlfriend Experience and the Coen brothers' A Serious Man left me feeling that too many threads remained loose. I know that an open ending can be an eloquent statement in itself, but if everyone does it, you can have too much of a good thing.Reuse content