Monday, 2 March 2009


Sometimes I read an article in a newspaper and just think, in the words of Lee from The Apprentice (cue rough Essex accent): “That’s what I’m talking about!” So when I heard researchers had found train tickets from the UK to the continent (Zurich station, right) take twice as long to book as flights, although hardly surprising, I was delighted to find somebody had picked up on this. But what about domestic train tickets? They are expensive, the websites are difficult to use and confusing, and woe betide you if you try and book by phone or at a ticket office. That’s even more confusing.

As an example, I give you the Sheffield to Hereford route, which I will be using in a fortnight when I go to watch Hereford United v Southend United at Edgar Street in Football League One. A standard walk-up return on a Young Persons Railcard is £38.10. However, after a whole hour researching this, I managed to get a walk-up return for £21.45. Using the route of Sheffield to Hereford via Birmingham New Street, I purchased return tickets from Sheffield to Derby (£5.40), Derby to Birmingham New Street (£7.75), and Birmingham New Street to Hereford (£8.30). Although the Sheffield to Birmingham New Street route is direct and does not require me to change, I can buy two tickets in a legal process known as split ticketing. But it's not widely advertised, as that would of course lose the train companies money, and so many people pay more than they should.

So I’ve saved myself £16.65, although it did take me a whole hour to research this as the cheapest route, as I also attempted going via Stockport, which eventually worked out as £24.10 advance. Yes, it gives me a sense of satisfaction when I make a good saving, but spending a hour doing so is not as fun. So will somebody please make train tickets a lot less confusing to purchase! We’ve got a lot to learn from Europe...


Community sentences are under fire, which interests me considering the number of court cases I’ve been to over the last month for reporting on my course. King’s College London found one probation officer thinks those subject to the unpaid work or rehabilitation orders leave court “laughing their heads off”. This is an important issue, as crime levels will continue to rise if people think they can avoid jail. In fact, some men or women might happily exchange 50 hours gardening for beating up their ex-partner.

But community orders do have their benefits, as they can stop people’s lives becoming a circle of crime. For example: arson (right). I was in a Crown Court case last week where an 18-year-old Sheffield lass was said to have set fire to another girl’s home and an elderly man’s car and mobility scooter. She caused a total of over £6,200 damage to a council house and three cars over a period. But Judge Keen QC only imposed a two-year community order including compulsory attendance for an offenders and alcohol rehabilitation programme, saying: “It’s a choice between a substantial sentence or seeing if something can be done with you.”

If ‘something can be done’ with someone through a community order, rather than putting them behind bars for a good few years, then the justice system has given someone a chance and done its job. But some people would argue that the girl committed an imprisonable crime, so she should automatically be sent to jail. If the majority of people feel like they get ‘let-off’ when given a community sentence, which the King’s College study suggests, then the system is not working and needs to be changed. If the prisons are full, then that’s a problem we need to sort out by building more prisons - you don’t sort it out by letting people get away with things as they won’t learn their lesson.


Reviews of Margaret, shown on BBC1 last Thursday, are obviously going to be influenced by a newspaper’s political stance, so at least be honest about it. When an Observer columnist begins a review on a BBC drama about Margaret Thatcher by saying: “This isn’t a predictably lefty rant-in-waiting”, alarm bells start to ring. As expected, by the end of the damning report, Kathryn Flett reminds us “how far we have moved away from Thatcher’s dour drag act”.

I watched the programme on the BBC iPlayer, and thought it was an interesting analysis of how the Iron Lady fell from grace at 10 Downing Street (right) - reduced from a powerful animal in the House of Commons to a crying wreck in her last Cabinet meeting before she resigned. Thatcher presents an interesting psychological study of such a strong woman in a male environment, and Lindsay Duncan certainly had no problems conveying this idea to the viewer.

I only wish they hadn’t kept switching back and forth by 15 years because it made the programme very hard to follow and incredibly confusing. One moment, she was getting elected in and the next we saw Geoffrey Howe plotting her demise. I applaud the programme makers for being inventive, but perhaps a more simple chronological account would be better next time. However it was a pretty good attempt.