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Talk Of The Town

Columnist, author and commentator Peter Hitchens

Written by . Published on January 11th 2012.

Talk Of The Town

PETER Hitchens is an award-winning columnist and author, and the younger brother of the late Christopher Hitchens. He writes a weekly column for the Mail on Sunday and frequently appears on TV programmes such as Question Time. Hitchen’s published books include The Abolition of Britain, The Broken Compass: How British Politics Lost its Way, A Brief History of Crime and the Rage Against God. He is currently working on a book called The War We Never Fought about the alleged non-existent war on drugs in the UK. In 2010 he won the prestigious Orwell Prize for political writing.

What is your favourite part of London?

The parts I prefer are those up on hills or those close to the river where you don’t feel as hemmed in by the city. The few parts I would be particularly fond of, in Hampstead around Fenton House and the old holly bush. Also the top of Primrose Hill and along the South Bank running from Westminster Bridge right the way east to Tower Bridge. I don’t really like very big cities, I feel very hemmed in by London so when I’m up high or where I can see the river I like it best.

Which is your least favourite place in London?
Trying to ride a bicycle around the Elephant and Castle roundabout. The people who designed it hated humanity.

What is your favourite building in London?
I quite like the old [Christopher] Wren church St Martins on Ludgate Hill. The great thing about it is there are very few Wren churches that were not bombed. Apart from some rather tacky nineteenth century glass, it’s pretty much as it would have been. It’s full of atmosphere of seventeenth century London. 

Do you have a favourite restaurant in London?
No. I don’t really like restaurants very much I think they are an overrated form of pleasure. I’d rather go for a walk in the park. There was an Indian restaurant I quite liked but it closed long ago when Indian restaurants all went up market and pretentious.

Does anything annoy you about London?
It’s too big; it’s too noisy, it’s too dirty. It’s fundamentally unfriendly as all big cities are. I also feel very sorry for tourists that come because it’s also ludicrously expensive. It does not justify the expense, obviously they get the free museums, but if you want a cup of coffee or something it’s just monstrous.

And its public transport system has been grossly neglected for the past 50 years. The tube was superb in the 1930s and the old routemaster buses were great until the traffic snarled up in the 1960s. When you compare it with Paris where the public transport system is much superior.

How do you unwind away from writing and politics?
Well my whole life is spent doing what I want. So I’m not particularly wound, I’m one of the luckiest people alive. If I do get away I go out and look at cathedrals. I like travelling by train, though travelling by trains alas is not the peace and tranquillity it once was what with mobile phones.

Have you read any good books lately?
I’ve just finished an excellent book about Bloody Sunday. It’s extraordinarily good, it’s by Douglas Murray. It’s beautifully written and it contains an awful lot of things that will surprise most people. It has a very powerful ending. Max Hastings’s All Hell Let Loose, it’s a very good and perceptive history of the Second World War.

Also I reread one of my favourite C.P Snow novels, The Affair. C.P Snow for me seems to be an unfairly neglected and traduced author. He’s a man who came from very ordinary beginnings to being a distinguished man of letters and minister of the crown in a way that probably would not be possible now. His books are a very good background insight into how Britain was run until quite recently.

I also reread John Le Carre’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and to reassure myself that the recent film was as bad as I thought it was – it is terrible.

I read that you are writing a book about The War We Never Fought, how is that going?
It’s going hard I have actually had to stop writing it in the past few months as I have so many other things to do. It’s sitting half-finished on my computer with great stacks of research waiting to be turned into chapters. I must get on with it I just get so annoyed by a number of people that appear on television saying that the war on drugs has failed – what war on drugs you nitwit?

There has not been one, the war on drugs was called off in 1974 and people don’t know this, they have no idea. The actual attitude of English law on drugs has been pretty much permitted since the Heath government. Drugs are technically illegal but in reality they are not. Any war on drugs would have to involve continuing to punish people for possessing and that is just not happening.           

Peter HitchensPeter Hitchens

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