Monday, 27 July 2009


MPs have got it wrong more often than not recently, so credit where it’s due, the committee who brought out a report today on the state of Britain’s railways got it spot on. I have written beforehand on this blog about our ridiculous railways, and although the central issue is of price, the problem is twofold: a) tickets are too expensive; and b) it’s too difficult to buy the cheapest ticket and too easy to overpay. By careful planning and meticulous research I estimate to have saved myself around £500 in the last year when purchasing tickets - and that is no overstatement. I spend around 15 weeks a year commuting to London, travel between Southend and Sheffield about 10-15 times a year, and then go to countless football matches by rail.

Sometimes it’s easy to work out the cheapest deal - when a return from Sheffield to Barnsley is £2.50, or £4.95 to Huddersfield. But I have literally spent hours trying to find out the cheapest ticket on long-distance journeys, and once made it from Sheffield to Hereford for £21; a massive £15 saving, and they were still walk-up fares. The lower price was achieved by split ticketing, where you purchase different tickets for each leg of your journey. This is a good way to get the best value, although a good port of call is also the National Express East Coast website which gives you the cheapest possible ticket combinations for your journey. The future of this online service could be in doubt when that particular line is nationalised.

I’m certainly no train enthusiast, but by building up a knowledge of how the ticketing system works, I save myself around £70 a month when commuting because I know the cheapest method. The system is so ridiculously confusing, however, that train franchises are threatening to halt the superb increase in railway use over the last 10 years. This has been not only down to more green-conscious passengers, but also the increase in advance tickets, which get you a much better deal. It costs me £31 return from Sheffield to Southend, buying around a month in advance, which is much prettier than the walk-up return fare. So what should be done about it? Just make there one price for an advance fare, up until three days before, and then one price for a return fare. And ensure the cheapest way to get from A to B is to pay to get from A to B. Simples?

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I do feel sorry for The Independent to some extent, but after reading possibly the worst typo in the history of British national newspapers this morning, I’m starting to get worried about its future. In ‘Dozens fall victim to side effects of swine flu drug’, underneath Jeremy Laurance’s byline, it said “MUST KEEP FINAL PAR!!!” before going into the story‘s main text. The final par in questions was about some statistics from the National Pandemic Flu Service, which may have been of some importance, but not so that the editor lets the reader know this at the start in screaming bold type. Ouch. It was removed after the first edition went out, I should say.

This all ties in nicely to the fact that I read in this morning’s City AM that “Independent News and Media could go into the Irish equivalent of Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection”. Oh dear, it’s not looking good for The Independent, and I very much expect the end may be nigh. It’s been running on an increasingly lower circulation over the last few years like the rest of the industry, but looks to be the first to fall as it simply has not got enough cash reserves and hasn’t raised this sufficiently even through raising its cover price to a whopping £1. I must say it’s the most boring of the ten UK national dailies, although usually well-written, so I won’t shed too many tears if it were to go. But I would rather it stayed afloat for the sake of the journalists working there, and for better plurality in the UK press.

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If you thought it wasn’t looking good for The Independent, then just take a look at the shambles that is Newcastle United FC. I went along to London E10 on Saturday to watch them get utterly smashed at Leyton Orient, 6-1. It was beyond embarrassing - a shock result for sure, but one that Orient merited. The quality is still there in the Toon Army’s side, with the likes of Obafemi Martins, Damien Duff and Steven Taylor still at St James’ Park, but the passion, commitment and effort is not. That was clearly the problem on Saturday - the players just did not want to be there, full stop.

Everyone seems to agree on what should happen - install Alan Shearer as manager, let him buy some new players who actually want to wear the black & white (or yellow) jersey, and just change the atmosphere surrounding the club. Recent months have brought a catalogue of comedy from the Magpies to give football fans a cheer: the ‘deckchair’ yellow away shirt (I did enjoy the ‘bananas in pyjamas’ chant at the weekend), Joey Barton’s indiscipline and 3rd / 4th / 5th chances, not being able to sell a club for the same value as Cristiano Ronaldo, being stopped from travelling to Holland by The FA because Sunderland fans were going too, and then losing 6-1 to a League One side instead. The list goes on. I’m sure you could add your own comedy moments. Relegation’s a funny one too - I forgot that. But whatever happens, I will always stand by the Toon Army. I’ve gone to far with them up until now anyway!