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  • Jake Wallis Simons

    Jake Wallis Simons

    Telegraph writer. Novelist. Broadcaster. Also draws pictures.

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    "Meet the Settlers: A journey through the West Bank"

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  • Fiction


    Jake's fourth novel, "Jam", will be released on April 3

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  • Broadcasting


    Jake presents for BBC Radio 4 and the World Service.

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  • Cartoons


    Has been known to put pen to paper.

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The biggest train fare dodger in history: criminal or hero? (Telegraph blog)

OK, so I accept he was morally wrong. And I suppose that I really should be rather annoyed, given the fact that as a law-abiding commuter, I pay about £4,500 for my annual season ticket to London.

But I can’t help admiring the unidentified hedge fund manager, known only as “the biggest fare dodger in railway history”, who got away with saving himself more than £42,000 in train fares after “exploiting a loophole”.

The chap lives in the Sussex village of Stonegate, and commutes to Cannon Street station in London. Apparently he realised that by “tapping out” with his Oyster card at Cannon Street station but not “tapping in” at Stonegate, he would be routinely charged just a fraction of his total fare. And did this every day for five years.

Imagine the feeling of arriving at work day in, day out, knowing that you’re screwing the system. The audacity of it! Personally, I could never go through with it; I would be held back by a toxic blend of cowardliness and moral principle. Clearly, this man had neither of the above.

There has been an outcry over the fact that Southeastern did not prosecute him, instead accepting an out-of-court settlement. But to many beleaguered, downtrodden commuters around the country, the man is a bit of a hero… Continue reading on the Telegraph website

Exclusive interview: AC/DC lead singer: ‘cars give me the same thrill as music’ (Telegraph Men)

“Alright there, Telegraph! Alright, my son. The cars await. There are bacon sandwiches, too. They were my idea. See, we’re looking after you, aren’t we, Telegraph? Ha, ha, ha.”

Thus Brian Johnson, frontman of the legendary rock band AC/DC, stubs out his roll-up and welcomes me to the Goodwood motor circuit. It is a glorious spring day, and all around us are visions of beauty: Lamborghinis, Ferraris, a Jaguar E Type Coupe, a 1982 AC Cobra. The adrenaline is pumping; today we are going to race some astonishing machines.

In person, Johnson – who, he makes a point of telling me, is a committed Telegraph reader – is smaller than I expected, with a 66-year-old’s hunch and a crackling grin.

This morning, he is almost incognito. He is wearing a nondescript T-shirt and sunglasses, and his trademark newsboy’s hat has been replaced by a black baseball cap. This, I have to remind myself, is the frontman of one of the highest grossing bands of all time, which has sold 200 million albums over four decades. He is worth at least £50 million. And he is equally in love with music and the motor car.

“Both are noisy, exciting and fast-paced,” he says. “They are connected in a parallel universe kind of way. I get the same thrill from the roar of the engine and the roar of a 100,000 crowd.” Continue reading on the Telegraph website

Loving and loathing the brilliant, awful BBC (Telegraph blog)

You don’t need to work for the BBC for long before you realise that Paxman is right. With remarkable candour, he has revealed that although he loves parts of the BBC, there are important aspects of it that he “loathes” (and not just its institutional pognophobia).

I agree with Paxman. As a journalist from a print background, it is an honour to occasionally present for the BBC. Despite its very public failings, it often sets the benchmark for objective reporting and rigorous analysis, and is one of the most trusted media outlets in the world.

But it can be depressing to see it from the inside. Departmental struggles over budgets create nasty dissonances when seen in the context of the bloated salaries commanded by those at the top. And sometimes it actually feels like an episode of W1A made flesh. Which is actually less funny than it sounds… Continue reading on the Telegraph website

Exclusive: AC/DC: We are not retiring (Daily Telegraph)

Brian Johnson, the flamboyant frontman of the rock band AC/DC, has debunked rumours that the band are about to split up following concerns for the health of one of the members. Instead, he revealed that the band are still planning to get together and write material for a prospective new album.

“We are definitely getting together in May in Vancouver,” he told the Telegraph. “We’re going to pick up some guitars, have a plonk, and see if anybody has got any tunes or ideas. If anything happens, we’ll record it.” Continue reading on the Telegraph website

JWS on BBC Radio 4′s PM, with Eddie Mair and the boss of the RMT, debating rail fare dodgers

M25: the road you love to hate (Daily Telegraph)

Think of the M25. What comes to mind (if you’re still reading)? For many people, it will be horrendous traffic, debilitating stress, blazing rows with your nearest and dearest. But at the same time, there is something undeniably fascinating about it.

You’re sceptical. I get it. But consider this: since the opening of the M25 in October 1986, guided tours of the motorway have been laid on not just once but twice.

Admittedly, both were short-lived. The first was just after the M25 was declared open by Lady Thatcher, who cut a ribbon on the final section between London Colney (junction 22) and South Mimms (junction 23). So excited were the people of Norfolk – many of whom had never seen a motorway – that busloads signed up for guided tours of the London Orbital.

“It’s mad when you think about it,” says Edmund King, president of the AA. “Norfolk didn’t have any motorways, and people were fascinated. Tourists would spend an afternoon looking at the delights of the road – and no doubt getting caught up in traffic.”

It didn’t take long for the “mad” bus tours to be discontinued. But after lying dormant for decades, the idea was revived by the Brighton and Hove bus company in 2012, which was trying to prove that the M25 was actually not “the most boring road in Britain”.

Once again, however, the caper was short-lived. “It was supposed to be a bit of a laugh, to be honest,” a spokesman for the company now reflects. “But people got a bit sick of it. It was just for one summer. We didn’t even do it the following year, to be honest.” Continue reading on the Telegraph website

Half marathon organisers try to cancel event because of ‘lack of water’. Runners ignore them. Bravo! (Telegraph blog)

Let’s hear it for the people of Sheffield!

When the organisers of the half marathon, after a lengthy delay, announced that the race had been cancelled due to “insufficient water to ensure the wellbeing of all the runners”, there were boos and jeers.Then the runners simply began the race.

“Everybody just set off,” Lisa Steers, one of the competitors, told the BBC. “They’d told them to take their numbers off and there was a police barricade, but they just ran round it. So they ran it at their own risk really.”

Needless to say, there have been no reports of people falling ill due to lack of water.

British people are not known for ignoring the rules. But on this occasion, common sense truly did prevail. And that single phrase – “at their own risk” – gets to the heart of the problem.

Obviously the organisers had a degree of responsibility to ensure that the track was unobstructed and safe, that there were sufficient medical facilities on hand, and so forth. But the essence of health and safety culture is such that the authorities are expected to take on all of the risk, while citizens are treated like infants. It’s maddening… Continue reading on the Telegraph website

Labour’s plan to renationalise the railways is unrealistic and ill-conceived – but it could win votes (Telegraph blog)

Ed Miliband has got himself in a bit of a pickle. His “cost of living crisis” argument – which he has been banging on about ad nauseum – is sounding increasingly hollow, as wages are likely to rise faster than prices this year.

This may explain the news that the Labour leader is considering returning rail franchises to public ownership. In a bizarre moment, Miliband made the revelation not in a formal announcement but in a “low-key” answer to a question from a journalist.

“We are interested in innovative solutions when it comes to the railways,” he said. “It has got to be affordable. That is definite. The experience of East Coast, which has been in public hands (but is due to be privatised in 2015), has been a good experience.”

According to The Times, Miliband is considering allowing a state-backed body to compete alongside existing rail franchise owners such as Virgin and Stagecoach when contracts are put out to tender.

Aside from the fact that he squandered the potential impact of the announcement, this is a populist and canny move that is bound to appeal to many beleaguered commuters who are fed up of extortionate rail fares… Continue reading on the Telegraph website

Column: What kind of man wears a diamond engagement ring? (Telegraph Men)

You’ve got to admire Johnny Depp.

On paper, the man should be a right laughing stock. The blue tinted glasses; the tattoo of a bird on the back of his right hand; the Three Musketeers beard. If any ordinary man attempted these things, he’d be sent to Coventry (and nobody wants that).

Yet Depp manages to pull it off. To wit: the blue glasses. He wears them, apparently, because he has an eye problem. I too have an eye problem, and because of this I too have to wear blue tinted glasses when looking at certain computer screens. But as a result, I am a laughing stock.

(Mind you, if you google pictures of a young Johnny Depp, it becomes clear that he has not always dressed this way. Fame and fortune, I suppose, gives you licence to make outrageous fashion statements with impunity – even adulation. So that’s where I’ve been going wrong.) Continue reading on the Telegraph website

Climbing with no hands and feet? No bother (Sunday Telegraph)

Jamie Andrew is standing on prosthetic legs in the garden of his handsome Edinburgh house. And he is juggling.

“I came up with the idea of these prosthetic juggling hands, which are basically like small lacrosse nets,” he says, as the coloured balls bob in the early spring light. “I used to love juggling before I lost my hands and feet. I never thought I’d do it again.”

The prosthetics are just a small part of Mr Andrew’s “limb collection”, which he keeps in a drawer in his study. As well as the snowball thrower – which was inspired by a children’s toy – there is a spare plastic foot, a prosthetic hand holding a pair of pliers, a golf club holder and a rest for a snooker cue.

But his greatest challenge is mountaineering. Last year he became the first quadruple amputee to attempt to scale the 14,500-foot Matterhorn, one of the highest peaks in the Pennine Alps. A film crew charted his progress over two years for a documentary called The Limbless Mountaineer, which will be broadcast this Friday.

The climb was a massive undertaking. At least 500 people have lost their lives on the Matterhorn, and each year 1,200 are rescued from its slopes. Initially, Mr Andrew trained for the climb with a friend, Roger Payne, who was an experienced British mountaineer. But in 2012 he was killed by an Alpine avalanche.

Despite his grief, Mr Andrews pressed on with a different British climber, Steve Jones, and attempted the climb in August 2013. They started before dawn, by the light of head torches, so that they would have time to complete the descent before nightfall.

“To begin with I was completely overwhelmed,” says Mr Andrews. “It was dark, silent and eerie, and suddenly I didn’t want to do it at all. I had good prosthetic legs and some specially adapted trekking poles, but I couldn’t go very fast. But when the sun came up I had a renewed sense of confidence.” Continue reading on the Telegraph website