Richard Ingrams: Get off your bike, Boris, and try the misery of trains


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The actor Richard Wilson, better known to his many fans as the archetypal grumpy old man Victor Meldrew, compèred a Channel 4 Dispatches programme this week about the shortcomings of train travel in the Britain of today.

Defying the train company's regulation not to film on trains without prior permission, Meldrew drew attention to the scandal of overcrowding by being filmed sitting in the toilet, something he was told commuters are often reduced to doing.

Meldrew should count himself lucky. On the new Crossrail trains destined to arrive in 2018 there will be no toilets at all, if London Mayor Boris Johnson has his way. He claims there will be no need because the trains will provide what he calls "a high frequency metro-style service".

Perhaps because Boris goes around London on a bike, he is not familiar with the habit of British trains of all varieties not only to stop for long periods but also to break down at regular intervals. And there is no reason to suppose that a high-frequency metro-style service would be any different. Meanwhile, a spokesman for London TravelWatch pointed out in support of the Mayor that "lavatories would mean fewer seats" – and fewer seats would mean less profit, he predictably did not add.

Coalition's habit of turning a blind eye

"I'll get Britain working again," the Chancellor George Osborne announced prior to his Budget speech this week and after the unemployment figures were shown to be on the up. The only surprising thing about his pledge was that it should appear on page two of the News of the World and opposite their feature on the sleazy young pop star Rihanna.

This, at a time when the News of the World itself features as a story in some of the press on an almost daily basis. The former editor, Andy Coulson, is accused of lying and resigned as David Cameron's spin doctor. Another former editor Rebekah Brooks, now chief executive of News International and facing possible charges after admitting to MPs that she paid the police for stories, reminds us that a convicted criminal was employed by the paper despite his record. And all the time there has been the ongoing rumble of the scandal about phone hacking, now said to have been used by the paper to obtain information about family members of the Soham murder victims.

In the circumstances it may seem rather extraordinary to find Osborne in bed with News International. You could take that as another of Osborne's miscalculations, or perhaps a sign that the Coalition doesn't take the News of the World scandal very seriously – particularly when you notice former Lib Dem leader Paddy Ashdown contributing to the very same issue.

Hopelessly addicted to technology

"BlackBerry thumb" is the name of the latest health hazard. It is defined as a form of repetitive strain injury caused by the overuse of mobile phones to send emails and texts.

It has apparently become so widespread that some lawyers are hoping to cash in by claiming compensation for the victims. One of those hopeful lawyers told The Daily Telegraph that people suffering from BlackBerry thumb injury might not be aware that it could be "work-related" and hence a possible source of extra income for them.

Repetitive strain injury is already blamed on excessive use of computers, which scientists have also linked to glaucoma, stress and assorted mental problems.

As for mobiles, miscellaneous reports over the years have warned of all kinds of possible harmful effects, including heart and kidney damage, headaches, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's – not to mention cancer. Government scientists have repeatedly advised that children should not be given mobile phones because of the risk of possible brain damage.

Nobody, not even the parents of those children, has taken a blind bit of notice. The truth is that people are by now so dependent on modern technology that they are prepared to ignore all the possible risks to their health or security – even when they might affect their children.

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