Richmond: London’s happy valley

“In what may well be one of the last utilitarian bean-counting exercises performed by New Labour, the Department of Communities and Local Government has reported the results of its latest ‘Place Survey’. This is a comprehensive look at how satisfied Britons are with where they live.

“You and I might well imagine such activity should be confined to the Ministry of Stating the Bleeding Obvious but why make things easy when you can generate great mounds of paper and waste the time of a great many people and the money of a great many taxpayers to discover that, lo! The inhabitants of leafy Richmond upon Thames report an approval rating of 92.4 per cent.

London’s a beach

“I love London — don’t get me wrong; but it’s a love that’s only the positive pole of a quite profound ambivalence. I think all of us can agree that there are times when the sheer size and weight of the city closes in on us — a vice of bricks, mortar, concrete and steel. For this reason I’ve never liked living in those districts of the city that have no natural features at all. This isn’t too much of a problem, for London — being in a river valley — abounds in hills and rises.

Fertility isn’t a right – it’s a privilege for a few

“I suppose that for those of us who make some of our living from writing about fictional dystopias, rather than utopias, the hysterical reaction to the news that Dr Karim Nayernia and his team at Newcastle University claim to have ‘created’ human sperm in the laboratory can only be a good thing.

“It’s gratifying that in the 77 years since Aldous Huxley published Brave New World his vision of a future in which humans are produced in assembly-line laboratories, according to predetermined characteristics — physical, intellectual and emotional — still remains so deeply embedded in the popular consciousness.

In defence of London

“An American travel website is warning travellers off our fair city on the grounds that it’s ‘dirty’ and the cuisine isn’t all it might be. While it isn’t usually my style to enter this sort of fray – I am, after all, a dual citizen – I feel I must speak out.

“I know I’m not alone in thinking that the boom years led London to have a somewhat bloated self-image: we began to think in terms of the City traders’ bunce; if we were property-owners, we fell prey to the delusion that money in bricks and mortar was also cash in the bank; we ignored the widening gulf between rich and poor.

Kicking, squealing, Gucci little piggy

“Face it: you aren’t going to die of swine flu. Getting all wound up about the looming pandemic is just a way of ignoring the plague of debt sweeping the world.

“The facts are stark: epidemiologists don’t really know how many people have been infected in Mexico, so the ratio of deaths to diseased is also unknown. At the same time, the outbreak in the US seems to have markedly different characteristics, with no deaths, and children rather than young adults principally affected.

Fewer rules on our roads will make us better drivers

“Plans are afoot to make the default speed on A roads 50mph instead of 60, while more 20mph zones will be introduced in residential areas and in the vicinity of hospitals and schools. All this with the avowed aim of reducing road fatalities by a third, from 3,000 per annum to 2,000. In fact, road deaths have already declined by a third in the past decade – which can only be a good thing. But while no one disputes that a pedestrian hit by a car travelling at 20mph has a far greater chance of surviving than one struck by a car going 10mph faster, I have my doubts that greater speed limitations will actually help in urban areas.

I don’t buy the gospel according to Saint Tony

“I never took to Tony Blair at all. I was never impressed by his populist touch, nor was I sure that the benefits of a Labour government that sacrificed its principles to the free market could be outweighed by the gains to the British people. As for the stain of Iraq on Blair’s reputation, it now seems that his successor is going to allow an inquiry — but it isn’t scheduled to be completed until after the next election. And not just our general election, but after the ‘election’ by EU leaders next year of the first European president as well, a post for which one T Blair is angling.”

This stylish show should bite the hand that feeds it

“I’ve always known when a TV series is starting to bite with me — I begin consciously organising my life around its scheduling.

“It’s happened with a string of US-made drama series that shame our home-grown television, including The Wire and The Sopranos. So it’s proved with Mad Men, an Emmy-award-winning show, made for cable — or at least, up until the halfway mark of each season.”

To read the rest of Will Self’s Evening Standard column, go here.