In defence of Fiona Bruce

26 January 2019

9:00 AM

26 January 2019

9:00 AM

Will I be allowed to take my dog to Europe after 29 March? A trivial question, you might think, in these feverish times, but one that might be an indicator of what the EU thinks of us and how/if they’re going to make us pay for leaving. I took Boss, my Battersea rescue, across France this Christmas and it couldn’t have been easier. The dog was barely noticed on the way out and given a fast, friendly check on the way back. Why should anything change? A pet on the road doesn’t get extra germs just because of the colour of its passport and yet nobody has any idea what’s going to happen. Are UK pet owners about to be punished for no good reason? And if so, what punishments might be extended to the rest of us pour encourager les autres…?

Driving across the European motorways, I was listening to Zero Zero Zero, a brilliant examination of the cocaine trade by Roberto Saviano (I’m addicted to Audible, the company that recorded it). The first chapter asks who uses the drug and suggests that the answer is pretty much everyone. Apparently, 11 per cent of all banknotes test positive for cocaine and the industry is now worth a staggering $110 billion. I write books for young people so I cannot publicly call for the legislation of drugs but it’s obvious to me that we have to change, radically, our thinking on this issue. Now and then it comes up on the BBC’s Question Time. Everyone has a say and then it’s forgotten. $110 billion! And all of it in the hands of criminals.

I loved Fiona Bruce’s debut on Question Time, by the way. She struck me as warm, witty, in control and somehow able to deflate the sheer nastiness that had characterised the programme for so long. All the critics were broadly on her side too. So it’s extraordinary that there should have been such an immediate volte-face after her second appearance with one national newspaper now declaring her ‘a lightweight’. A week is clearly a long time in political punditry. The whole fuss about Diane Abbott began with a joke made in the pre-recording so maybe the moral of the story is never to make any jokes, ever, in public. A sad thought.

I’ve just returned from Sri Lanka where I’ve been attending the wonderful Galle Literary Festival so I’ve missed out on quite a lot of what’s been happening in the UK. However one image did come my way across the internet — a man being tasered after waving a machete at Tulse Hill station. Fortunately, nobody else was hurt but the action — seen all over the world, with four burly police officers deployed — took place with a large poster for one of my fairly violent adult books in the background. I’m undecided whether this sort of publicity is good or bad.

Back in London, I’m now writing and researching a new Alex Rider novel five years (and two books) after I publicly announced that the young spy had retired. I love it when, as often happens, I discover that something I’ve imagined turns out to be true. For the new book, I need someone disguised as a choirboy to enter St Paul’s Cathedral through the crypt and climb a staircase all the way to the dome where he will help an associate to slip inside from the ball and cross. Oliver Caroe, surveyor of the fabric of St Paul’s, kindly took me on a tour of the building, starting in the crypt. And it’s all there! A small doorway quite close to where the choirboys would enter, a spiral staircase, and high up in the dome, a ladder which can only be operated from inside. You couldn’t make it up — and it turns out I don’t need to.

London looked quite awesome from outside on the dome, twinkling in the twilight with views as far as Crystal Palace. I’m not sure about some of the new high-rises though. I’ve never warmed to the Shard and now my eye is drawn to a glass beast at the end of Blackfriars Bridge. As far as I know it hasn’t yet been given a nickname so I’d like to suggest the Lava Lamp because that’s what it looks like — though one that, in a surreal way, has slightly melted itself.

But London’s most exciting development is underground. I recently visited the Elizabeth Line in Farringdon right where I live. It is a revelation. The curving passageways and intersections are monumental, like something out of a science fiction film, and the platforms are so long that you have to know which end of the train to get out of or you will find yourself half a mile from your destination. No one can say when it will open or what the final bill will be but then St Paul’s itself had its fair share of wrangling about cost overruns, delays and even corruption — and took 40 years to complete. It will be worth it in the end.

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