Saturday, 11 July 2009

In search of middle England

Halfway through my interview with Robert Elms on BBC Radio London last week, something strange happened – a little piece of broadcasting history. I actually started to ENJOY it, mainly because he seemed really interested in my book. You can listen to it here (about 15 minutes in):

But then what do I know? The last radio interview I even vaguely enjoyed I don’t think they even used. It was a pre-record in which I went off on one (as I believe they say at the high table at Queen’s) about ‘Middle England’ being a political and media invention – momentarily forgetting that I was being interviewed for a three-part series called In Search of Middle England. So I can’t really blame them for leaving me on the cutting-room floor. I wasn’t really entering into the spirit of things.

And in case anyone doesn’t believe me that service stations once used to be the go-to places for the jeunesse doree (see ‘22 Years in a Travelodge’, Chapter 5 in On Roads), I found this in Brian Viner’s new book about 1970s telly, a memory of the car journeys his wife used to make as a teenager: ‘A visit to the restaurant at the New Trust House Forte service station on the M1 was considered a rather special family outing. Once or twice, when they went for a Sunday-afternoon drive to Clumber Park in Nottinghamshire, both girls had to take a change of clothing in case they stopped to eat at Woodall services on the way home.’


While I’ve been consorting with the meejer, real men have been busy with maps and rucksacks. Three generations of the Moran family – my dad, brother and 11-year-old nephew - are walking the Tour du Mont Blanc this August, in aid of Peak District Mountain Rescue. You can find out more at this site ( and even donate if you like …

Mundane quote for the day: ‘I seem to have spent half the time in denouncing the capitalist system and the other half in raging over the insolence of bus-conductors.’ – George Orwell


  1. Talking of Middle England, have you read Stuart Maconie's "Adventures on the High Teas"? A fascinating journey of a place which doesn't really exist.

  2. I enjoyed listening to the interview. Robert Elms seemed quite tickled at the talk of motorways being created stealthily.

    I imagine it is in many stores, but it was good to see your book 'On Roads' sitting in pride of place on the counter of Waterstones here in Lincoln. That must be a great feeling to walk into a store and be greeted by your own book (without having to search for it, or order it!)

    What are you working on next? Is there any scope for 'On Tracks' about the railroads? I was reading about 1870s New York earlier, and was amused to hear the description of the Beach Pneumatic Tunnel, "whereby carloads of passengers would be propelled all the way from the Battery to the Harlem River by a single, massive blast of air from a huge blowing machine." (Engle, 1978: 169).

  3. Yes I've read Stuart Maconie's books CW - the Radcliffe and Maconie show on R2 has helped me through many a long dark night of the soul ...

    Thanks Emma - the 'On Tracks' idea has sort of been done by Matthew Engel in his new book Eleven Minutes Late. It's worth reading. I note that on the jacket flap, Matthew describes himself as 'the least fiscally aware columnist on the Financial Times'. Since I also write for the FT occasionally, I might have an argument with him about that ...

  4. On the local radio station this morning, it reported that they're going to start filling pot-holes in Lincolnshire's roads with used chip fat (Euuuugghh!)

  5. I heard the news today, Oh boy
    They're filling holes with oil in Lincolnshire ...

  6. Lol! Very good. I like the new lyrics to the Beatles 'A Day in the Life' : )