Heading out from Gatwick to Ireland through security, I am struck by the large numbers of forks that have been dumped in those Perspex boxes full of proscribed objects. Do people set off on journeys armed with a full set of cutlery? Then, on seeing the metal detectors, do they think: "No chance of getting away with this. I know, I'll ditch the fork." Or are there determined terrorists who are tined- rather than tooled-up? The armed police presence suggests so. What a Heckler & Koch 9mm carbine (which can spray 600 indiscriminate rounds a minute) could do to disarm a fork-wielding assassin in a public place is, though, beyond me.
Back in London, I take my 16-year-old to see The Wind That Shakes the Barley. I find myself - as always - internally dissenting from Ken Loach's overly idealistic portrayal of . . . er . . . idealists. Rory, the IRA man who spouts William Blake and has a deep love for all workers of the world, I find cartoonish. Still, inasmuch as I know the actualité (mostly from Ernie O'Malley's masterful memoir On Another Man's Wound), Loach is spot on when it comes to depicting the brutality of the Black and Tans - and the piece was also beautifully played and photographed. My son dissented, saying he had no sympathy whatsoever for the IRA of the 1920s, given what they got up to in subsequent decades.
Absorbing this, I mused on how history is rewritten by the victors. Even during the height of IRA bombing, we teenagers, who were tinged a pinky-green with the Marxist ideology of the time, still had a lurking respect for the once-honourable freedom fighters. Now the Celtic Tiger has risen and there are plenty of jobs for the boyos, it's the Free State compromisers who appear brave; while, to my son, the diehard Republicans are only the fanatic parents of Thomas "Slab" Murphy and the vile Real IRA. Presumably, this isn't the effect on the impressionable young that Oor Ken intended.
Library of Babylon
At the Pearson distribution centre near Rugby I am confronted by a pile of 1,000 copies of my new novel. My task - like a prematurely senile Salvador Dalí - is to inscribe them with my signature. It's difficult not to feel shameful so, to while away the time, I interrogate Gary and another assistant about the intricacies of the computerised warehouse. You may recall it was a malfunctioning in this state-of-the-art behemoth when it opened two years ago that resulted in Penguin and Dorling Kindersley failing to fulfil orders for months.
Now, the workforce prides itself on its "picking" skills: moving through the pallets with computerised "guns", matching orders with locations. Gary isn't sure exactly how many books there are in the warehouse, but reckons it runs into millions - truly a library of Babylon. It's a far cry from my book-packing days at Duckworth in the 1970s. Back then, we considered it stiff work if we had to wrap for despatch a couple of copies of Kenneth Dover's Greek Homosexuality.
Coming back late, I am shocked to see what they've done to St Pancras. This was the last terminus to escape the excoriation of the 1980s, when every original neo-Gothic feature of the Victorians was flayed from the walls, the magnificent vaulted ceilings were hidden behind Venetian blinds, and transepts of Knickerboxes and Millie's Cookies were lain across the noble naves of these temples to the machine age. Now St Pancras has gone the way of the rest.
It impinged on me, as I walked through echoic booking halls, and trudged down to the bowels of the Victoria Line, that if you want to see the full flower of 19th-century railway architecture, you're better off heading to the sticks. I'd entrained at Leicester, where a miserable statue of Thomas Cook, the city's famous son, stands in the forecourt, an expression of firm resolve to get away stamped on his bronze features. But, the station building behind him still has its proper lineaments, while Leicester is predicted to become the first British city with a majority ethnic-minority population. If Cookie had stayed at home long enough, the world would've come to him.
Will Self's latest novel, "The Book of Dave", is published by Viking