April became “meet the Fast Lane reader month”. From side streets in Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay to the lobby of the Villa d’Este on Lake Como, my month was wall-to-wall FT Weekend readers.
The odd thing about writing a newspaper column is that you think you’re anonymous until you’re suddenly caught out at the worst possible moment. I was swearing like an angry trucker in what I thought was an otherwise empty restaurant bathroom when I was greeted by someone who told me how much he enjoyed the column.
On a recent Air France flight from Paris to Tokyo, a very nice gentleman approached me just as they were about to open the doors and told me how much he liked the back page and the positioning of Fast Lane versus Slow Lane. He then asked how I managed to sleep during the whole flight?
“It was quite remarkable to see you board, down a glass of champagne and then pass out for eleven hours,” said the reader.
I explained that I had a special metabolism that agreed very well with the air quality and white noise of a Boeing 777.
While I waited to get off, I stood there blinking, slightly stunned, knowing that my hair was completely asymmetric, my face was lined with pillow scars, my eyes were puffy and there was probably dried toothpaste at the corners of my mouth.
Reader: “Tell your editors I really like the Weekend FT.”
Pillow Face: “Thank you, I will.”
Reader: “Can I ask you another question? How do know what you’re going to write every week? Do the editors give you hints about what they might want.”
Pillow Face: “Ummmmm, the editors have bigger things to worry about, like what’s going on the front cover rather than worrying about what goes on the back page. I’m very lucky, I write about whatever interests me between Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning when I file the column.”
Reader: “What’s in this week’s column?” (It’s Friday at this point.)
Pillow Face: “I couldn’t possibly say. You’ll have to go online as soon as you get to the baggage carousel or wait till tomorrow morning. My publisher would kill me if he knew I lost a possible sale for the Weekend edition by giving the column away.”
Most weeks there’s one thing I feel passionate about and usually that’s what ends up on page but sometimes I get to word 447 (where I am at the moment) and realise that this has not quite happened. So it ends up being about all sorts of things.
Like, at the moment, I’m sitting on a sparkling Deutsche Bahn ICE train at Berlin’s airy Hauptbahnhof and will soon start rolling towards Hamburg at high speed, wondering if I should write about Deutsche Bahn’s acquisition of UK transport company Arriva last month and why the German company shouldn’t have stopped there. It should snap up every bit of rail in the UK and help the new government win hearts and minds with punctual, super-fast and well-catered trains. It could then create tens of thousands of jobs by ripping down most of the big train stations in the UK and building elegant mixed-use developments to replace many of the beautiful but antiquated railway stations that are rather lovely but have become tatty.
I’ve now turned my attention to the weekday edition of this newspaper and I’m also rather appalled by this whole Continental-United merger and the accompanying PR waffle. Why is the merger of two mediocre mega airlines going to be good for anyone? Isn’t that going to mean double the amount of mediocrity? I know one or two people in the US who are quite evangelistic about Continental (I’ve yet to meet anyone who gets excited about United) but I’ve never quite seen the benefits of flying with them. That the new management decided to take the name of United and then back it into the corporate identity of Continental (by using the latter’s logo, livery and colours) not only looks unimaginative, it’s also missed an opportunity to start completely afresh. Why not a whole new identity? Even a new name? Oh well, I think I’m spending too much time on this topic as it’s highly unlikely I’m going to be flying on this airline any time soon.
Finally, my quick dash through the kiosk at the train station has me feeling quite fired up about German media – particularly print. There’s just so much of it and a lot of it very good. I had to stand back and marvel at the amount of choice the morning commuter has at a German rail hub versus the limited offer at UK ones. At a time when many are questioning whether there are going to be any more serious magazine launches in developed markets, how exciting to read that Germany might even get yet another news weekly to challenge Der Spiegel.
So the lessons learnt? Behave, no matter where you are in the world. Trains are great and Britain needs more of them with an infrastructure to match. The new United is a lost opportunity. And print is far from dead – particularly in Europe’s biggest economy.
Tyler Brûlé is editor-in-chief of Monocle
More columns at www.ft.com/brule