October newsletter: new books and the bloody viruses

Sorry I have missed out a couple of months, due to holidays and overwork. But I will try to produce a regular issue over the coming months.
Covid-19 and the response to it dominate everything at the moment,but life has to go on and books have to be published. The first of my three books – one new, two revised – that are being published this autumn has just come out.
‘Driverless Cars: on a road to nowhere?’ is the first. Observant readers will notice that on the insistence of the publisher I have added a ‘?’ to the title in order to suggest that there is an issue. Fair enough, since I am not a futurologist, but I am prepared to bet a lot of money that the Nirvana presented by the tech companies of a world utterly dominated by shared use driverless vehicles will never happen. And it certainly won’t by the time I am pushing up daisies. If you want a copy – it is a fully revised and updated book with an extra chapter – email me christian.wolmar@gmail.com and arrange to send me £8 plus £1 50 p and p by BACS.
The other two books are the updated edition of that hardy best seller, The Subterranean Railway which has a new chapter on Crossrail, a railway that seems to never arrive. I will be writing some more on that saga in Rail in coming weeks.
And last and best, my new book Cathedrals of Steam, the story of London’s terminus stations is due out on November 5. It is the eighth in my series on railway history which started with The Subterranean Railway and includes books on Britain’s railways, American and Indian railways, the Transsiberian and , oddly my own favourite, railways and war – and if you want all eight I can do you  some sort of special deal! Just email me. And of course, you can purchase a signed copy of the new one – at this stage just send me your email and I will alert you when they are available.
As for our present mundane world, I have to confess that even the semi-lockdown in which we now live is deeply depressing. Sure, it is better than when all the pubs and restaurants were shut and we were supposed to only go out for an hour of exercise a day, but it remains a deeply dispiriting new reality. I am personally desperately unhappy about the lack of meetings, the absence of casual chats, the closure of offices as well as, outside of the work context, the inability to go to a football match or the theatre. I used to speak at events a couple of times a month and now I am reduced to the occasional Zoom presentation, which I find unsatisfactory as the whole point of public speaking is engagement.
While I worry constantly that the new world of Zoom and Teams will dominate the post Covid era, it is all too clear that if that is the case, we will be missing out on the very essence of our humanity. While in a Zoom meeting the other day, I had a long side chat with a woman who rightly highlighted the way that we are beginning to feel detached from the world – and of course, it is a world that does not really exist any more. We are all detached from normal life and there is little prospect of it returning for a considerable time. Yet, return it must. We cannot live like this forever. We are social animals.
In terms of transport, I am on the pessimistic wing. Sure the extra few cyclists are welcome, but the roads are chocking with traffic even before many people have returned to work. As I write, further injunctions not to use public transport in areas slated for new lockdowns are being made and the damage that has been down by the exaggerated messaging on risks of public transport will take years to recover from. There are numerous articles on the website about my concerns about this but essentially I believe that while people will return to the railways, the heights of 2019 will not be reached for years to come.
Again, on the personal side, being bereft of distractions means that my output, in terms of books, media appearances and articles has been greater than normal. My website is bulging, and about to reach the total of 1,500 articles on the site. I am sure some of them have barely been read, but looking back at the older ones, especially the Rail columns, can be quite fascinating given the constancy of many issues. The same debates and struggles over the use of road space, the need for sustainability and the problem of the structure of the rail industry, are taking place now, despite the advance of technology, the change in political climate and the inevitable shift in personnel. Dip into them – it can be fun.
I remain an optimist, despite all this. Let’s hope that, as was famously once said, ‘Things can only get better’. But perhaps not this winter.Yours as ever


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