The Swinford toll bridge at Eynsham sold at auction yesterday for £1.08m. I have forked out many a 5p to cross this – it’s often been a handy short cut to get between north Abingdon and Witney without having to come round the ringroad to the southern A34 junction – but I had no idea I was contributing to an annual income of c. £195,000, nor that the bridge has its very own Act of Parliament (1767) exempting it from all kinds of tax. Cor. Nice little earner – though as the report does point out, maintenance of the bridge also has to come out of that £195k.
I’m going to go out on a limb and bet that the salaries of the spotted youths who sit shivering in the tollbooth day in, day out make a very small dent in the £195k indeed.
Apparently the auction was done in Park Lane. I was in Park Lane yesterday, as Marble Arch is one of the drop-off points for the Oxford Espress. I could have popped in and made a bid. I was however in the area for the much more important Random House Children’s Authors Christmas Party, off Berkeley Square. Had a nice chat with John Dickinson and this year finally did get to tell him that his father gave menightmares when I was 10. He seemed delighted to hear it and told me about the nightmare his dad had, of being burned as a witch, that inspired The Changes in the first place. I also met a couple of fellow ghostwriters: one for someone I have always suspected of being ghostwritten but had no proof, and one for someone I had no idea was, um, writing at all. Officially. We all shared a slightly baffled but gratefully smug bemusement that ghostwriting is actually legal. I mean, it’s lying! To children! (Which is not always a bad thing.)
A childhood spent playing Monopoly means I can never quite feel happy in Park Lane. I have a lingering fear I will make the wrong landing and go bankrupt. My cousin’s childhood Monopoly strategy was to eschew all properties except Park Lane and Mayfair. Sometimes it paid off richly but it was a high risk strategy with a lot of attrition on the way. I doubt he kept this up for long.
I must have passed it often before without blinking, but for the first time I noticed that Park Lane has a quite large war memorial – certainly larger than a lot of the ones you see for humans – for animals who died in conflict. The statues show pack animals like donkeys carrying machine guns: the engraving on the wall states “they had no choice”.
Well, true, they didn’t. I would however say they had more of a choice than the people who made them carry the machine guns. A donkey that refused would probably get sworn at. A man that refused would get shot by his own side. That is what I would call having no choice.