Saturday, 3 April 2010

From Stansted to Edinburgh in one meandering scribble

Stansted Airport is a joy. It's hard to get excited about airports - they all seem pretty much the same to me - but stepping out of the train, straight into the terminal, checking in and through security in five minutes to the welcoming Wetherspoons and the football: bliss. £28 for the train ticket was an irritation, but hey, I'll get over it. And seeing Daniel Agger's goal (the arrogant prat) was the icing on the cake (when talking football, must insert cliché).

Over the last few years it has become a long-running joke between me and my dad that whenever either of us is at an airport, anywhere in the world, we have to have a pint, then call each other up to say where we are and what we're drinking. This time it was Heineken. On that note, I can't wait until 22 May, when I'm off with three mates to Paris to watch the Heineken Cup final.

Still on flights - can there be a drearier way to come into London than Stansted? The train to Liverpool Street goes through uniformly dull terrain (Hackney Marshes, Hertfordshire etc) and then into one of the least interesting parts of town - if it was my first trip I wouldn't be inspired.

This time my flight was relatively uneventful - although I get splitting headaches these days when we start the descent. Otherwise no complaints - it was Easyjet I was flying with, thus marginally less opinionating than O'Leary's crowd.

The Evening Standard is a paper that I often disagree with, but their editorial page on Friday was spot on. The leader warned that whoever wins the election will inevitably have to tackle the unions head-on. Severe cuts will be needed at some point; severe cuts mean pay cuts and job losses, as well as reduced pensions; whenever there's a whiff of some inevitable job cutting, the unions hit back hard. The Standard got it right: the unions must realise their place in the bigger picture. They will not be able to repeatedly hold the country to ransom. The needs of the many must be greater than the needs of the few. The key thing will be working out how to make those cuts while inflicting as little misery on as few individual families as possible. Yet the unions will, no doubt, hit back hard and not make things easy.

Chris Blackhurst, the Standard's City Editor, is a columnist with whom I generally have pretty short shrift, but he too had it spot on when he said that a hung parliament "may not be harmful at all." Perhaps with a nod to the Labservative campaign, Blackhurst went on to point out the limited difference in economic arguements between Labour and the Tories: "we're about to endure weeks of political but & thrust for just £5 billion out of £622 billion." That's all. Darling and Osborne can posture all they want, but in reality neither has a bold plan for recovery, and indeed their policies, such as they are, remain similar. When Blackhurst said that Vince Cable "comes across as solid and wise" I thought someone must have written the article as an April Fool - was this the same Chris Blackhurst who was whining about having his million pound house taxed the other week?

Also in the news are the rise in cab fares at night to exorbitant fixed rates, with a minimum fare of £15 (tough luck if it's raining and you want to jump in a cab to take you round the corner). The £30 fixed fare is more interesting, though; it applies for any journey of between three and seven miles. Hang on a second. Cabbies are legally obliged to take you six miles, but if they can get the same money for a journey half the distance, expect to hear a lot of "sorry, not going that way tonight" as they hungrily search for a greedier fare. Passengers must be sure to insist firmly and know their rights according to the law. In general, though, the fares are making a mockery of a quintessential London experience.

I'm in Edinburgh at the moment over Easter - hence the flight - and every time I come back it appeals more and more. Morningside is getting ever more gentrified. A couple of years ago the local supermarkets were Morrison's and Iceland; they've gone, to be replaced by Waitrose and M&S! It's full of little boutiques too, selling knitwear, deli produce and crafts.

The most middle class shop of all must be Aitken & Niven. Tens of thousands of families must have been through their doors over the years to pick up school uniforms for the private schools - their staid, conservative appearance is achingly Morningside. I hope it never changes (although the George Street store is sadly missed).

Finally: Charlotte Square. I never really appreciated it before, but what a stunning architectural masterpiece. It's absolutely perfect - about as elegant as Georgian architecture gets.

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