Richard Ingrams' Week: 'Tis the season to take the train if you can find one

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The Independent Online

For many years, the government of the day would spend thousands of pounds every Christmas on TV commercials warning of the dangers of drink-driving. And, as the years passed, the images got more and more graphic and disturbing.

At the same time, a regular, day-by-day score was issued of the number of people killed and injured on the roads on the holiday period, with comparisons being made to previous years' records. Perhaps they eventually realised that those shocking commercials only served to upset the viewers. But, for whatever reason, they don't seem to happen any more. Nor is there any longer that daily tally of deaths.

The problem is that Christmas is a time when people tend to drink more than usual, but also a time when they want to travel often long distances to visit family or friends.

There was always an obvious answer to this, which was to provide plenty of public transport over the entire Christmas period. Instead of which British Rail, as it then was, decided to shut down the whole railway system, first for Christmas Day and then Boxing Day as well. A much-reduced service was on offer during the rest of the holiday period.

Network Rail and the new train companies have now gone one better than this and decided to carry out major engineering work over the holiday. So, we have, for example, the extraordinary situation when Liverpool Street station in London will be closed between 23 December and 2 January while a bridge is repaired. Meanwhile, the entire West Coast Mainline is closed between 27 and 31 December.

The result of all this is an inevitable increase in the number of cars on the road and, with it, an inevitable increase in deaths.

No wonder they are no longer so keen to keep us informed about the score.

It'll be a cold, cold Christmas

Mr Barry George, sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of the BBC presenter Jill Dando, will be spending Christmas in prison.

This despite the fact that, last month, the Court of Appeal quashed the sentence and ordered a retrial.

The decision came as the result of an extraordinary and hitherto unexplained U-turn by the expert witnesses who had helped to convict him in the first place.

George was found guilty partly on the basis of a tiny speck of gunpowder, invisible to the naked eye, which had been found on one of his jackets eight months after the murder. But the appeal judges were now told that the tiny particle could have come from anywhere and that, as a piece of evidence, it was quite worthless. No explanation was forthcoming about how or why there had been such a dramatic change of heart by the experts.

At any rate, you might have thought that, on the basis of such an extraordinary volte-face, George would have been pardoned. But no. He will have to face a retrial.

The retrial is not expected now until next June, so this man, who has already served six years for a crime he almost certainly did not commit, will now have to serve another six months before he can hope to regain his freedom. But that thought won't bother the police and the judges too much. George, after all, is known to be a bit of a weirdo and he will just have to wait his place in the queue.

* That ebullient member of New Labour's awkward squad, Mr Bob Marshall Andrews, caused a bit of a storm when he recently described our new Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, as looking like "a pillock on his gap year". It's an apt description, not just of Miliband, but the new leader of the Lib Dems, Nick Clegg, who manages to look even younger than Miliband scarcely more than about 18.

This particular pillock, however, slipped up quite seriously when asked to display his general sense of rapport with the nation's youth.

Saying he didn't believe in God may have won him good marks for honesty as well as appealing to plenty of Guardian readers. But he was then asked by his BBC interviewer to give his opinion on one of the most important issues of the day. Asylum-seekers? Northern Rock? Global warming?

No. What did he think, he was asked, about the controversial decision by the BBC to censor the lyrics of "Fairytale of New York", the hit song by the Pogues and Kirsty MacColl. Radio 4 listeners must have gasped in shock and disbelief as Clegg mumbled shamefully: "I don't know the song."

Here again you might commend Clegg for honesty. But while it is one thing not to believe in God, to admit you have never heard a hit song by the Pogues that can only do him immense damage. Perhaps a gap year is now needed for Clegg to mug up on pop music, while the talented non-pillock, Vince Cable, is once again left holding the fort.

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