What is Lord Adonis doing this weekend? Trying to travel by train? Hoping to board a British Airway plane? Voters are entitled to expect that the Secretary of State for Transport would have the interests of passengers at heart, but I have my doubts. OK, Adonis hasn't been elected and sits in the House of Lords – but telling us he's passionate about trains and touring the country by rail on a cursory fact-finding mission shortly after being appointed doesn't convince me. Coming up with a high speed rail link that will cost billions doesn't impress either – it's macho posturing to impress big business.
We need Adonis to understand the day in and day out reality of what it's like to be a passenger in modern Britain. The dirt, the waiting, the filthy stations, the clever way that competing train operators ensure their trains cleverly don't connect with branch-line services. His contribution to the current industrial crisis seems to have been a few inflammatory words on the Andrew Marr show a week ago: surely behind-the-scenes negotiation would have been preferable to this on-camera declaration of war. Since then, silence.
We now seem to be in the hands of Charlie Whelan, Lord Mandelson and Gordon Brown – a triumvirate that is all about political fixes and very little to do with the needs of passengers. When RMT union boss Bob Crow tells the media that his members are really concerned about passengers, I want to laugh. None of this lot care; travellers are the bottom of the ruddy heap. Even the train announcers now call us customers, as if that's made any difference to the service. Passengers are the people who pay to travel, unlike MPs and union leaders. Passengers are the life-blood of our railways and airlines. If they don't have passengers, they might as well be selling cake mix. But the people running the railways and planes, and the unions involved, are so full of self-interest and their shareholders' profits, they've forgotten about the humble passenger. So we need Adonis to redress the balance.
Incidentally, Lord Adonis has authorised the expenditure of £439,000 to pay for four bat bridges – yes, bat bridges – to ensure these protected creatures can cross main roads without coming to harm, to protect "bat commuting routes". You couldn't make it up. Can he tell me why passengers travelling around our rail network on a weekend have to stand in overcrowded conditions on the few trains operating, and then wait on freezing cold stations for coaches to ferry them home? Journey times are trebled and bats have a better deal than East Coast passengers on Sundays. But there's worse to come – maintenance workers voted to strike over Network Rail's plans to cut 1,500 jobs, even though NR say that 1,100 people have volunteered for redundancy and most of the job losses will be achieved without any job cuts. Last Friday, by a narrow margin – 54 per cent – signalling workers voted to join them, which could result in the worse industrial action on the rail network for 16 years and ruin travel plans for millions of passengers over Easter.
And what does the Bob Crow say? "Services are always poor over Easter as Network Rail tends to replace trains with buses." In fact, maintenance work at weekends has meant that millions of people are already having a lousy time trying to travel. Why should the railway run efficiently for commuters during the week and not for families trying to visit relatives? What about sports fans and students trying to return to college? Is there only one type of passenger?
Lord Adonis doesn't strike me as being particularly muscular in the macho world of Gordon Brown's Cabinet and its well-documented ties to various trade unions. And what about the 150 MPs who have signed an early day motion opposing Network Rail's proposed cuts? How many of these MPs will have received support from a union?
The problem with our railways is that someone always passes the buck. According to Bob Crow, the blame lies with Network Rail who are placing passengers at risk by cutting down on maintenance work. Network Rail says they are trying to modernise arcane working practices and be more efficient. The various train companies explain their pathetic weekend schedules by blaming Network rail who say the work is "essential". In other European countries railways run efficiently and cost far less per mile. Lord Adonis, your passengers need you.
How bootiful: Marco is made ambassador to turkey
Marco Pierre White has pocketed a huge amount of cash to swallow his pride and promote Bernard Matthews turkey products, gushing about how "honoured and privileged" he feels to be spearheading a campaign to get turkey back on our menus with his planned new range of turkey products. This from the Michelin-starred chef who told us how his life was enriched when he switched to Knorr stock cubes. I can't take Marco seriously – it's hard to tell who needs the biggest image make-over, him or Bernard Matthews, whose company has had some negative PR over the past few years. Jamie Oliver attacked Turkey Twizzlers (which the company no longer makes) during his campaign to improve school dinners, and an inspection of one of the company's farms in Norfolk during the bird flu crisis in 2007 found filthy conditions and rats. That year, BM posted losses of £9.9m, but made a modest profit of £857,000 a year later, which, on a turnover of £335.5m, might explain why they've signed up Marco to add some glamour. Jeff Halliwell, BM's managing director, told reporters last October that "traditional frozen favourites like Mini Kievs and Golden Drummers... were highlights" of their improved performance. It's a long way from a Michelin star to a frozen Mini Kiev, but I am sure that Marco will rise to the challenge.
Dave and Sam dig for victory
Are they really that common? Sam Cam's adopted an accent like mine, and now Dave tells voters he's happiest digging his allotment, claiming it's "one of the most fulfilling things you can do". It's true that growing your own has become a badge of honour for trendies. DIY – once the favourite pastime of the working and lower middle classes – is on the wane, as a trip to my local B&Q confirms. The only customers are in the gardening section. Sales of vegetable seeds have soared and newspapers and magazines are full of ads for potato- and tomato-growing kits for city- dwellers. Don't think that you'll necessarily be saving money, however. Some vegetable plug plants are so expensive it works out at over a pound a carrot or 47p a beetroot. Growing vegetables from seed takes a lot of time and effort, in my experience. I hope Dave's ready for some heartache.
Turn on, tune in, drop out – again
A clinic has opened in central London, offering the first rehab programme designed for children addicted to mobile phones, the internet and computer games. In a residential unit, teenagers and children as young as 12 will be weaned off their techno gadgetry, taught social skills and face-to-face communication. How many parents can't get their kids to turn off the computer each night without a fight? It's become one of the trials of modern life. Isn't it time schools banned texting and iPods, and cut down the use of computers in so many lessons? We all spend too much time at the keyboard, and then complain that kids live in a parallel world of their own. It's not just the young who need weaning off technology – we're all hooked to an unhealthy degree.Reuse content