The Daily Telegraph
Cruising: the best way to travel without going anywhere
Record numbers of British people, I read the other day, are going on cruise holidays. They’ve chosen wisely. I love cruises. Every type of food is available, 24 hours a day. There are swimming pools, bars, spas, shops, dancing, games, films, quizzes. A city’s worth of entertainment, all on board a single ship, sailing through the sun.
What I particularly like about cruises, though, is the way they indulge my laziness and ignorance. If, like me, you’re not at all well-travelled, cruises are tremendous value, because the ship will stop at a different country pretty much every day – meaning that back at home you can airily say to people, “Oh yes, I’ve been to Tunisia/ Croatia/Turkey/Sardinia”, without letting on that you were only there for six hours, spent most of it on the beach drinking cocktails, and didn’t bother traipsing round the sites of historic interest or speak to a single local.
None of that nonsense about expanding your horizons or imbibing ancient cultures. No, give me a day of sunburnt loafing, and then back aboard the ship for another monstrous buffet.
Cruises. Perfect for people who like everything about going abroad, except for the “abroad” bit. Next week the BBC is showing its new adaptation of Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh. I don’t know if it’s any good. And I never will. Because I just can’t bring myself to watch it.
I don’t know whether anyone else gets neurotically proprietorial about their favourite books, but I do. I can’t bear the thought of an adaptation not doing justice to my precious original – and putting viewers off reading it. Somehow, I feel as though Decline and Fall is mine. It belongs to me. And I won’t let anyone else touch it. I’m basically Gollum, but for early 20thcentury comic fiction.
Decline and Fall is glorious, though. Not just funny, but cruelly, viciously, malignantly funny. If you haven’t read it, it’s about the misfortunes of an innocent undergraduate outrageously expelled from Oxford after being debagged in public by a gang of untouchable toffs. At the college gates the porter waves him farewell. “I expect you’ll be becoming a schoolmaster, sir. That’s what most of the gentlemen does, sir, that gets sent down for indecent behaviour.” I’d have thought it would be impossible to film successfully. First, because most of the characters are absurd, cartoonish gargoyles who can live only on the page; stick them on screen and they’ll turn to dust, like vampires exposed to light. Second, a lot of the humour comes from Waugh’s narration, his merciless comic timing, his downright evil deadpan. Television can’t replicate that. And third: I can’t believe that, in the year 2017, the BBC will even contemplate including the stupendously funny but, shall we say, “problematic” chapters involving the unsolicited appearance at a public school sports day by “Chokey”, an extremely well-meaning young AfricanAmerican. “‘I appreciate art. There’s plenty coloured people come over here and don’t see nothing but a few night clubs. I read Shakespeare,’ said Chokey, ‘Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear. Ever read them?’
“‘Yes,’ said the Doctor; ‘as a matter of fact, I have.’”
If they find a way to make that work, do let me know. The terrorists are doomed to fail – and for a simple reason. They know nothing about London. They think they can bring it to its knees with senseless murder. But they can’t. London just gets back up, and goes about its business. The idiots have lost. And they’ll lose again.
Because if these people actually knew anything about our capital city, and those of us who live or work there, they’d forget about bombs. Leave their guns at home. Chuck their knives in the bin. And do something far simpler.
Stand on the left-hand side of an escalator during rush hour.
If I were the leader of a UK jihadist cell, I’d summon my 10 most trusted warriors, and say, “Right. You two: King’s Cross. You two: Oxford Circus. You two: Victoria. Rest of you: one each at Euston, London Bridge, Waterloo and Bank. Get in there at 7.30am. Buy a ticket. And then spend the entire morning riding up and down escalators on the left-hand side. Ignore the tuts. Ignore the sighs. Ignore the huffy little grunts of, ‘Excuse me!’ Just hold your ground. Stand firm. And don’t let a single commuter past you.”
Then I’d turn to my B-team, and order them to board the Tube wearing the largest rucksacks money can buy. No need to fill them with explosives. Books would do. Tins of beans. Whatever. All that matters is that these rucksacks must be enormous.
“You three: rucksacks on your back at all times. Stand in the middle of a packed carriage, making it impossible for anyone to board, and occasionally swinging round 180 degrees, so that other passengers get the rucksack full in the face. The rest of you: place your rucksack on the seat next to you for the whole journey, no matter how busy the carriage gets.”
The rest of my cell would be split into two. One half would be sent to stare gormlessly at a cashpoint for minutes on end while a vast seething queue grows behind them. The other half would be sent to spend the morning bumbling along a crowded pavement at the lowest speed possible, each wheeling a colossal suitcase.
I guarantee it. If the cell followed my orders to the letter, within 25 minutes the entire capital would have descended into violent anarchy. Rioting, arson, looting, fighting. Parliament abandoned, Canary Wharf in ruins, the Shard torn down, the Thames ablaze. By half past eight, London would have fallen. Destroyed not by bombs or weapons, but by enraged commuters who just couldn’t suffer in silence a second longer.
But have the terrorists ever thought of that? Course not. Total amateurs.
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