Safety first - but not for children

You can't carry a cup of hot coffee on a train, or smoke in a public place - but if you're a teenage

I once read that Boris Johnson was paid a quarter of a million pounds a year for his column in the Daily Telegraph, and at that point ended any possibility of my ever voting for him. But I do think he's right that Ken Livingstone, and the left in general, are too sanguine about youth crime. A paper local to my house, the Camden New Journal, has revealed the findings of a confidential police report showing that a third of all robberies in Camden target 13- to 17-year-olds. My elder son, who has now entered the target range, was in a group of boys who were mugged a couple of months ago. Most of his friends have been mugged and all of them threatened, which is grotesquely at variance with our culture of health and safety.

It will soon become a standard option to put on a fluorescent yellow vest when walking to the shops on the grounds that it might, to an infinitesimal degree, reduce your chances of being killed or injured during the undertaking. You are not allowed to carry a cup of hot coffee along the gangway of a train unless you hold it in a paper bag, for fear that you might scald someone. You can't smoke in a public place. But if you are a teenager in Camden, or almost anywhere else, you know for an absolute fact that you are going to be attacked on the street.

I was never attacked on the street as a child and nor, I bet, were those liberal commentators who say this is all middle-class neurosis.

Bloodbath in the City - good!

I suppose I'm still on the left in that I anathematise the local bankers more than the local feral youth, and I am optimistic that the recession will take care of a few of them. I always buy the Evening Standard when the headline reads "Bloodbath in the City". I prefer to think of City boys as blinkered rather than malicious, but in their conduct we see the blossoming of the Thatcherite dictum: "There is no such thing as society." Stuck for a place to park your 4x4? Try the pavement. Just bought yourself a vast suburban villa? Why not extend it by a third, concentrating your building works in the early morning and late evening? Looking for a way to celebrate your child's birthday? How about a fireworks party in the garden - at midnight?

Estate management

I also hope - and I'm afraid this diary is becoming rather jaundiced - that the fall in house prices might bring a correction concerning numbers of estate agents in the area. On Highgate High Street, which is about 400 yards long, there are currently 13, and although I know and like some of the people who work in these offices, I think that's one or two too many.

Unfortunately, it is all too likely that I will go under first. I am writing a series of historical thrillers, and escapist fiction is supposed to flourish in a recession. I will believe that when I see it. Meanwhile, I am travelling about promoting the books, often going north by rail . . .

GNER, the previous operators of the East Coast Main Line, were quite prolix enough, but now that National Express has taken over, the number and length of the announcements has increased. This is a function of privatisation. The train-operating companies don't manage the track or build the trains. They are "customer-facing", and so they add "value", as they like to put it, by talking to us.

"Let me take this opportunity to outline a few of the facilities available on this service," the guard intones into his crackling Tannoy, having already spent five minutes enumerating the kinds of tickets that are, and are not, valid. If only he could sit in the carriage and witness the responses to his words: the shaking heads, the mutterings of "Oh God, shut up".

The guards, or customer service leaders, all have their distinctive styles. One leaves long lacunae during his announcements, so that you fear he's collapsed mid-speech. "Ladies and gentlemen, good [seven-second exhausted pause] evening. This is the [ten-second exhausted pause] 7.30 departure for Edinburgh." It certainly makes you listen, and I would imagine that everyone on board would be on the edge of their seat if he were to insert one of his pauses after beginning as follows: "Ladies and gentlemen, I am very, very sorry to announce . . ."

Andrew Martin's novel "Murder at Deviation Junction" is published in paperback by Faber & Faber (£7.99)

This article first appeared in the 28 April 2008 issue of the New Statesman, Everybody out!