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Home again (naturally).

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Apologies for the lack of blogging these past few days. After all the travelling I’ve been doing, this weekend’s been one for spending time at home and catching up with a shedload of stuff – some work, some pleasure.

As you can imagine, there’s been a huge amount of pictures to edit from the ‘3 peaks by rail challenge’. I finished those yesterday, so tomorrow many people’s inboxes are going to be alive with pictures. I’ve added a selection to my Zenfolio website which you can find here. I’ve also been busy sorting out the pictures from Pembrokshire. You can find the travel ones here and the rail ones here. Oh, I also managed to add a few more old rail slides today. I’ve had them set up ready for scanning but ran out of time. Now I need the desk space. Here’s a sample. The pictures were all taken in the Manchester area back in April 2000. My, how things have changed! People may complain about ‘Pacers’ nowadays but back then many services were operated by life-expired DMU’s like these.

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Unfortunately, the good weather we brought back with us from Wales was fleeting, to say the best. I spent several hours tidying up our garden which had run riot over the past week due to all the rain. This was done in muggy weather that never actually graced us with sunshine despite all the teasing. Afterwards, Dawn and I walked down along the canal into Sowerby Bridge to stretch our legs and enjoy a drink. We called into the Hogshead brewhouse.The pub’s started to serve all it’s own brewed beers in a 6 half pint paddle, which is a great idea. Here’s a look at what you can get.

This being ‘flaming June’ we got soaked walking back home as t’heavens decided to dump upon us! Because of the inclement weather we’ve had a quiet night at home in front of the TV. That’s a rare event as I watch so little of it, but we both enjoy ‘Killing Eve’. It’s one of those rare programmes that has everything – great actors, an excellent script and wonderful camera work.

Tomorrow I’m back to the grindstone, but (as usual) there’ll be a variety of work, so expect a few different blogs as I’ve got a backlog of stuff to write about.

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Rolling blog: Pembrokeshire travels by rail.

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My plans changed today at the last moment so I find myself sampling the railways of Pembrokeshire, starting out at Pembroke Dock.I’d no idea what to expect as I’d never been here before, so I was very pleasantly surprised to find that the old station building was not only intact – it was also in use as a bar and restaurant! In fact, it has been for the past 26 years, which is pretty good going when you consider the train service is one every two hours! The station Inn is one of those rare beasts nowadays as it’s also a live music venue (I’ll add a link to them later). There’s also a seating area outside for those who want to catch a bit of sun, which is what we’ve got today.

The sparse train service is relaxed to say the least as there’s a long turnaround time here. The inbound working arrived at 12:23 and it’s not due out until 13:09. I’m assuming there must be a crew messroom in the station building somewhere.

13:25

I’m now pootling my way along the branch which is actually very pretty as we pass castles, backyards and countryside whist stopping at a variety of single platform stations and level crossings where our driver still makes liberal use of the train horn – something that’s forbidden on many parts of the network due to complaints from those living alongside the line.13:44.We’ve now left Tenby, the major station on the line. It’s a town I’d never visited until this week but I can see the attraction. It has an interesting history, lovely beaches and good places to eat. Sadly, it’s a bit of a beer desert! Tony’s one of those towns that’s been taken over by the curse of ‘Doom Bar’. In many pubs it’s the only real ale you can find, which is why the arrival of the Tenby Harbour Brewery has been such a saviour!14:51.I’m now kicking my heels in Whitland, which is the junction for the Pembroke Dock line and the routes to Milford Haven and Fishguard. The station has two platforms, a BR(W) era signal box and rudimentary passenger facilities.

The single-storey modern station building is used as a base for Network Rail. At least there’s a platform canopy. Passengers on the Westbound platform have to make do with two bus shelters.

15:46.

I’m now on the 15:44 from Whitland which is heading for Milford Haven from Manchester. When you think about it, that’s quite a long trip. I wonder how many passengers (if any) do it point to point?

The line’s double track as far as Clarbeston Rd where the two lines diverge. The junction’s still controlled by an old GWR brick built signal box. The landscape around here puts me very much in mind of Devon & Cornwall, it’s gently rolling hills and rural nature are very similar, although they have a far better train service!

16:14.

Wer’e now West of Haverfordwest, a two platform station whose brick built buildings look like they date from the early 1950s. Unlike many stations it still sports a goods yard, although I’m pretty certain it’s only used by the occasional engineers train.

16:58.

I’ve arrived at Milford Haven, just over a mile from where I started. It’s another badly truncated branch line that’s seen far better days. After getting a few shots at the station (most if which is now shops) I’ve wandered through the harbour to explore. The inner harbour basin’s full of yachts whilst the quayside is lined with mock warehouse buildings that are a mixture of residential and retail. It’s a far cry from the harbours origins as a massive fish dock. I’m observing all thus from a modern restaurant/bar called The ‘Harbourmaster’ which straddles the yacht basin and the real docks on the other side of the river under the former refineries. The fact they’re mothballed now is evident from their chimneys which are all dead. Tankers still dock her, but only to fill the storage tanks on land.

HS2 antis get stitched up by Boris Johnson!

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I can’t help laughing, I really can’t! Those of us who’ve observed the formerly occasional London Mayor Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson for years have known that you can’t trust him as far as you can throw him. HS2 antis however, have always been good at grasping any straw. So much so they could have thatched the dome of the O2 arena with them by now.

Today, the predictable has happened. The Birmingham Mail has carried an exclusive story from the Tory leadership hustings in Birmingham. Written by Johnathan Walker, the piece reports that Mr Johnson said: “I have already asked provisionally Douglas Oakervee, who was the original chair of Crossrail, to have a look at the business case for HS2 and to think about whether and how we proceed.”

Chair of Crossrail eh? Hang on a minute, Oakervee was ALSO HS2 Ltd Chairman between Apr 2012 – Dec 2013! Does anyone honestly think Oakervee, a man who’s been building major civil engineering projects (including railways) around the world for decades, and who’s seen their transformational impacts, is going to say “HS2? Nah, scrap it”.

Furthermore, Johnson is also quoted as saying “I worry about cancelling a big national project of that scale without anything else to replace it.” Now, given Johnson’s penchant for large infrastructure projects that he can put his not inconsiderable ego – sorry – name to, does anyone seriously think he’s going to cancel HS2?

Even some HS2 antis are beginning to realise that they’re on to a loser as Johnson isn’t the only Tory leadership hopeful to row back from opposition to HS2. I predict further wailing and gnashing of teeth from what’s left of the StopHs2 camp as it’s clear the political support of regional leaders like Birmingham’s Mayor Andy Street (a fellow Tory to Johnson) and Labour Mayors in the North is firmly behind HS2. If he manages to become PM, Johnson’s going to need some good news pretty fast – and cancelling HS2 isn’t it. It might satisfy a tiny bunch of Nimbys and the lobbyists of 55 Tufton St, but the political shit-storm it would unleash in the Midlands and the North (not to mention in London) is the last thing Johnson would need.

UPDATE.

My old friend Alan Marshall has been in touch to remind me of something…

“Despite Boris seemingly (or reportedly) being very anti-HS2, in fact when he was Mayor of London he was very much for it . . . so much so that in 2015 he set up the Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation to exploit the opportunities arising from the OOC interchange with the new Crossrail station to be built on the GWML. What’s more, he made himself the first chairman of the OOPRDC”.

No HS2 = no OOPRDC = no 24,000 new homes and no 55,000 jobs…

Rolling blog: a new adventure begins…

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09:39.

The 3 peaks by rail adventure’s over for another year and no doubt many of us are still on a bit of the high as it’s such an amazing experience to be part of. Here’s the Railway Children team on the train last night. For once, I’m actually in the picture, rather than taking it. Everyone’s hard work has raised over £225,000 for the charity.

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Last night I stayed in a hotel in Crewe as I’m on the move again today, this time to join my wife Dawn and her parents down in Pembrokeshire, where we’ve booked a holiday cottage for a few days. It’s going to take me most of the day to get to Carmarthen, where they’re meeting me, as my first train off Crewe isn’t until 11:11. I’ll blog about the trip as part of it is on the scenic Central Wales line from Shrewsbury to Llanelli.

11:20.

Not a great start to the day. Apart from the fact it’s bloody cold here in Crewe my first trip has turned into a bit of a farce. I’m catching Transport for Wales’s 11:11 to Shrewsbury. It starts at Manchester Piccadilly and terminates at Newport but for some reason there’s had to be a set swap at Crewe. Cue the usual confusion and melee of passengers as people transferred between the two sets, even though the terminating train drew up right behind the other in the same platform. We ended up leaving 12 minutes late, which is making my connection at Shrewsbury rather tight with no time to stock up on food as there’s no trolley service on the 12:04 to Swansea. Luckily I’d planned for such eventualies and kept back a couple of cereal bars from the 3 peaks trip!

The TfW Class 175 I’m on has definitely seen better days. The seals on a several of the windows have gone, leaving them covered in moisture and virtually impossible to see out of, It’s also full of litter left behind by previous passengers. All in all, it doesn’t give a good impression.

12:00.

I needn’t have worried about my connection! I did a bit of checking at it seems the stock to form the 12:04 comes empty from Crewe where it’s been serviced at the Arriva depot there. It’s following on behind us, so it’s late too!

12:15.

We’re off! Possibly because the Great Western Main Line in Wales is closed for electrification works so there’s the dreaded ‘bustitution’ this service is full and standing. Here’s the scene on the platform at Shrewsbury before our train rolled in…

Mind you, as the 12:04 is worked by a single-car Class 153, that’s not too difficult. I’ll be on this train for the next 3hrs 32mins, all the way to Llanelli, where the Heart of Wales line joins the main line to Swansea.

12:30.

Fist stop was Church Stretton, a place Lynn and I used to come to for walking holidays as it’s an ideal base to explore the nearby Long Mynd and some of the other surrounding hills. We continued South down the double track main line as far as Craven Arms. This is the junction where the Heart of Wales line branches off, cutting through rural Wales to reach Llanelli. You know you’re on a country railway straight away by the noise as much of the line still uses jointed track and the noise the wheels make as they pass over is very distinctive.

To compliment my trip and make it more interesting the weather’s picked up. We’ve got a combination of stormclouds, sunshine or cotton-wool clouds.

Having passed through several request stops or first fall’s been Knighton. The station has a passing loop so we have to stop there for the driver to collect the token for the next single track section.

A few miles further on we called at Knucklas, a tiny station and small village that’s famous for its attractive stone viaduct with its castellated ends. I stayed here many years ago to get pictures and I really should come back to update them one day.

13:43.

We’ve arrived in Llandrindod Wells where we’re passing a Northbound service operated by a Class 150. The town’s one of the biggest on the line. There’s no wifi on the train and the phone reception’s pretty ropey around here so expect gaps to this blog!

16:04.

I’ve changed trains at Llanelli (God, it’s rough), now I’m heading to Carmarthen. I ran out of time and wifi to describe the beauty of some of the Heart of Wales line but I’ll certainly be visiting again soon. Right now I’m looking forward to discovering at least one new line as I’ve never travelled on any of the routes West of Carmarthen before which is a unique situation for me. Over the years I’ve travelled 95% of the UK rail network but always managed to miss this corner.

The good weather I had in the North of Wales hasn’t been replicated down in the South. Instead it’s cold, wet and windy. Even so, it’s lovely to follow the coast here. The industrial dereliction’s been left behind to be replaced by narrow beaches decorated with driftwood and wading birds. Finally we leave the coast behind to head up the side of a narrowing estuary that leads us into Carmarthen, where (hopefully) the others will be waiting for me.

Rolling blog: 3 peaks by rail, day 3.

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03:48.Here’s a bleary eyed good morning from the West Highlands! After a fitful night’s sleep we were woken up by the train crew volunteers who served tea, coffee and croissants along with hot bacon rolls. We’re due into Fort William at 04:19, when the fun begins. I’ll keep you posted…05:33.All the teams are on the mountain, the base camp is established and the banners and finishing line is being set up. Here’s some scenes at departure.

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The Rail Delivery Group team in good spirits as they begin their climb. From L-R Robert Nisbet, Jac Starr, Naomi Rial and Paul Plummer

The weather’s wet but the rain’s light and it’s forecast to cease later on. Now it’s just a question of waiting for anyone returning injured until the first teams make it back, which is normally around 10:00. That’s when my work starts as we get individual team photos one they’ve crossed the finish line, registered their time & checked in their kit.Here’s how the mountain looks right now.

Rather than hang around and be midge bait I’m going to walk into Fort William for a few hours.07:07.I’m now sat at Fort William station (which has just opened), using their free wifi to update the blog after having had a wander around the town. It’s not exactly the most exciting place at the best of times, but at 06:30 it’s deserted. I did find one thing of interest. A statue dedicated to the name whom, in 1911 drove a model-T Ford to the top of Ben Nevis!

Once the station opened I had chance for a mooch around with the camera and caught one of the two Class 37s that are hauling our 3 peaks train. As there’s too many coaches to fit on the platform one of the loco’s is detached to create a bit of extra space.

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07:52.I’ve moved on to the local McDonalds, which is where we take the walking wounded. There’s four of them from various teams, all somewhat dispirited, but not wanting to spoil their team-mates chance of succeeding. I’m sipping a much-needed caffeine (I got very little sleep last night) whilst I download a few more pictures to the blog. My time will be cut short as I’ve just had a call from Katie Mason, the Railway Children’s events organiser. The first team is expected down off the mountain by 09:30, so I need to head back in an hour.09:56.The first team (from DRS) crossed the finish line at 09:26.

19:54.

Sorry for the gap in blogging, but it’s been a day full of challenges for us all – not least physical one of the teams who’ve climbed the three peaks, but also the mental ones of the folk who’ve organised all the logistics. Either way, everyone’s knackered due to the level of commitment- and the lack of sleep!

We’ve had a fantastic day and we’ve got everyone off the mountain off safe – and raises a huge amount of money for the Railway Children. The different skill groups involved in such a complex event have worked brilliantly – and not for the first time

Rolling blog: 3 Peaks by rail. Day 2

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03:52.

Morning folks! At 03:30 our train sprung to life. People are waking up and springing into action as we’re on the move, heading back to Bangor to rendezvous with the walkers who are being bussed back from Snowdon.Dawn’s just breaking and the weather’s improved. There’s been no rain since we left Crewe yesterday, although as we head East the cloud is getting thicker and darker. Let’s see what the day brings…

04:18.

The train’s arrived at Bangor. Now we await the walkers, who should arrive in the next few minutes.04:42.All the climbers are back, on the train and we’re ready to leave. Due to the conditions it was a very tough climb and descent. A few folk are already limping, so I expect our on-board doctor and the two sports therapists will be busy for the next few hours.Whilst the weary walkers strip of their wet kit and relax, the volunteers are busy serving tea and coffee. Virgin chef, Ian Joesbury, who’s worked on every single one of these trains is preparing a cooked breakfast.

05:32.

The train’s approaching Chester and the two catering cars are a hive of activity as breakfast’s being cooked and 200 rounds of bread are being buttered to make sandwiches for packed lunches. It’s a production line where everyone knows their job. Here’s Molly laying out the breakfast platter, ready to be served.

Meanwhile, in the climbers coaches, people try to rest and get some sleep.

06:43.

We’re just approaching Preston, most people (apart from the train crew) are asleep or dozing. The weather’s taken a turn for the worse. It’s dark, wet and misty with visibility down to a few hundred metres. This time of morning the station’s almost deserted but we’ve stopped to drop off some rubbish and pick up a few more supplies.

07:17.

Breakfast is being served in the front three coaches. Meanwhile, climbers are still resting or getting ready in the back three.

08:35.

The train’s a hive of activity as everyone gets ready to hike. The weather’s broken and we’ve actually got patches of blue sky and broken cloud!

09:00.

We’ve swapped our mainline train for the narrow gauge ‘lil ratty’ to carry us from Ravenglass to Eskdale. We seem to have a rather unusual driver…

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11:48.

The teams are long gone from Dalegarth now and many have already started climbing Scafell. This year my job’s been different. We’ve had the potential to get some national newspaper coverage so my role was to get shots of the teams starting off, then hot-foot it back to the railway station café to use the wifi and get shots out to our PR people. I’ll catch up with everyone else later.

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12:34.

I don’t know what the weather’s like at the top of Scafell, but it’s bright and sunny where I am right now! Pictures emailed, I’m just waiting for my lift back to join the others at Scafell.

21:16.

It’s been a very long day with little chance to blog as we’ve spent most of the day in areas with no mobile phone coverage, never mind wifi access!

We’re now on the train on our way to the final mountain (Ben Nevis). Right now we’re at Carlisle whilst there’s a crew change on the train. The onboard crew served a fantastic two course meal to the weary climbers, many of whom have already hit the sack as we have a 4am start tomorrow. Here’s our train arriving at Ravenglass to pick us up after being serviced at Barrow.

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21:55.

We’re currently being held at Lockerbie and it’s time for me to call it a day. As usual, it’s been a brilliant one, even if slogging up fells with a 10kg camera bag (never mind all the other kit) is a young man’s game. I’ve really enjoyed the experience and will share more photos just as soon as I can. Stay tuned for day 3…

Rolling blog: off to the 3 Peaks by rail.

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12:17.

The weather here in the Calder Valley’s been awful today. We’ve had that fine drizzle that permeates everything most of the morning. I’ve been busy at home trying to catch up on a bit of work before heading out shortly to join the Railway Children’s annual ‘3 Peaks by rail’ madness. Stay tuned and I’ll try and blog through the day…

15:31.

I’m finally on my way after a bit of a stressful few hours trying to get everything I needed to do done before I left home. I’m now on the 15:22 from Sowerby Bridge heading for Manchester then Crewe where the train starts from this evening. I’m not alone. There’ll be people from all over the country making a beeline for the town as the various teams meet up. A number of volunteers are already on the train as the stock is being used for a tour by the Branchline society. This will raise even more money for the Railway Children, adding to what the 3 Peaks teams will gather.Sadly the weather’s not looking great. On the bright side, the flooding that closed the line between Crewe and Chester has abated and the line’s reopened, so we’re good to go!

16:20.

Because of the amount of kit I need for this event, I’m using wheels instead of legs. I’ll need to save those for later!

16:28.

Deep joy! At Manchester Piccadilly I found that the Transport for Wales 16:31 service to Crew is worked by a 2-car Class 150! The Conductor was very apologetic that “this throwback to the Thatcher era” (his words) was the only unit available! It’s cosy. Very cosy. But at least there’s a catering trolley- if you can fight your way through to it…

18:00.

The teams are here and having equipment checks. There’s plenty of time to meet and greet or take pictures.

18:00.

Everyone’s ready!

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19:56.

Due to technical issues with the stock and need to refuel the generator car at Gresty Bridge we were a few minutes late leaving Crewe, but it’s no real problem. We’re now bowling along the North Wales coast at 90mph as the first meal is being served.

The logistics of this trip are quite something. During the event the volunteers will wash 4,600 items of cutlery and crockery. 1,140 pieces of fruit and cereal bars will be distributed along with 200 rounds of sandwiches and 380 servings of fruit juice. 200 bacon rolls will also be served. Everyone will get a full English breakfast, a two course evening meal and a three course lunch.

22:16.

At 21:33 we reached Bangor in North Wales and the teams transferred to road coaches for the last leg to Snowdon. As soon as they were gone the train moved off and headed to Holyhead where the locomotive can run round the train. The volunteers remaining on the train weren’t idle. They were busy collecting plates and cutlery, picking up all the rubbish, disinfecting and cleaning the toilets, making sure the train was fit to pick up the weary hikers in the small hours.

The kitchen wasn’t idle either. Fresh food was being prepared for the volunteers. Ian and his crew were preparing home-made pizza’s for everyone.

Having offloaded all the rubbish in the platform and with the engine having run round, the train’s been shunted into the sidings where it will wait to return to Bangor.

23:40.

Having swapped a few stories and jokes over food, the volunteers are all bedding down for the night on the train. All the coaches bar one are dark as the lights have been turned off to conserve the batteries.We start moving at 03:52 when we head back to Bangor to await the walkers. I’m hitting the sack too as it’s chance to catch a few hours undisturbed sleep. Part 2 of this blog will start early in the morning. G’night!

Sometimes I wonder…

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How on earth did the UK get in the state it is? How did we transform ourselves from the wonderful days of the 2012 Olympics, when we showed our best, most creative and tolerant side to the world into this mad little island? An island where racism is rife, and we look like we’re about to elect a serial liar and all round incompetent as our next Prime Minister. Our international standing is in tatters as the rest of the world looks upon us as if we’ve gone crazy, which isn’t far from the truth. We’re certainly deluded. The idea that we should be pursuing a no deal Brexit is absolutely barmy, as is the idea that we’ll be better off after Brexit. Many of the people vying for the Tory leadership are the living embodiment of this madness, yet many folk lap up the lies.

Once the circus come to an end the time of reckoning can’t be far off. But what damage will be done to our country? How I wish I was 30 years younger and could get the hell out of this place before that happens…

Instead, I find myself heading to Huddersfield to pick up a folding trolley I lent to ACoRP which I’ll be using to cart around all my kit for tomorrow’s 3 peaks by rail adventure. It will be a pleasure to spend the next two and a half days volunteering with so many positive people, raising thousands of pounds for the Railway Children charity. The atmosphere on the train’s wonderful and the camaraderie amongst the volunteers is excellent. I feel honoured to have been invited to be involved and I’m looking forward to my hat-trick of trips. The whole operation’s a logistical as well as physical challenge and it’s being made more complex by the weather, which is causing chaos across the rail network. The West Coast Main Line north of Penrith’s been closed by a fallen tree and the Crewe-Chester line’s closed due to flooding. This could be a problem for us as we’re due to pass that way tomorrow evening…

My trip to and from Huddersfield has been on one of Northern’s Class 144 Pacers. I’m making the most of it as these beasties will soon be but a memory. Driver training on the new CAF units is due to start at Huddersfield next month.

I know the majority of ordinary passengers loathe Pacers, but I and some train crews will miss them. That said, I suspect affections will soon be transferred as I’ve heard many favourable comments about the new trains from rail staff. It will be very interesting to see the reaction of passengers when they finally enter service.

Having picked up the truck I’m heading home on the same Pacer as I’ve got a busy evening ahead. I’ve shopping plus a load of work to do as well as packing for the 3 Peaks. It’s going to be a busy evening…

Meanwhile, back at home…

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It’s been one of those days! Todays been a catch-up, with crappy weather thrown in. Right now I’m in transition from sorting out all the work I’ve done over the past week to getting ready to a very different few days. Most of the day’s been spent editing pictures or sorting out my kit for the forthcoming ‘3 Peaks by Rail’ and holiday in Pembrokshire immediately afterwards. Plus, I’ve got to get the cottage ready for our house-sitters, Can someone please invent a 48 hour day?

Whilst all this has been going on I’ve been trying to keep one eye on the Tory party election circus which descended into dreamworld at an early stage and it’s never going to recover. The fact the Conservatives are reduced to having to choose between such a shower of shite says a lot about the nature of UK politics right now. Not that Labour has anything to crow about. What this country’s desperately looking for is a credible Government in waiting. That’s not ‘Magic Grandad’ and his crew. We’re caught between a rock and a hard place.

But back to the Tories.

The remaining 10 candidates have spent the past 24 hours laying out their stalls. Problem is, they’re bare of anything other than unicorns. The overwhelming majority of them are intellectually bereft snake-oil salesmen, but the fight between them is getting vicious. This isn’t people with a vision for the country, this is all about personal aggrandisement and to hell with everyone else. There’s only one person whom I’d class as anything different from the pack and that’s Rory Stewart, but even he remains wedded to the fiction that he can deliver a positive Brexit.

Meanwhile, the rest of them are still selling unicorns. Leadsom’s made the same tactical error as May did and is talking about ‘Red Lines’. Gove pretends he can renegotiate Teresa May’s agreement, despite the EU making it crystal clear that a change of Tory leaders changes nothing, so what bit of ‘no’ don’t you understand? They’ve pointed out that a change of personnel changes nothing

Then we have Boris Johnson, who is allegedly the Tory party ‘favourite’. Yep, the Tories are so screwed they’re considering electing a man who was twice sacked for lying as their leader and the next Prime Minister. This is how deeply fucked-up UK politics is right now. The man has now claimed that he’ll take ‘personal responsibility’ for Brexit job losses. The interview is a classic of intellectual vacuity. I’m sure that it will be great comfort to all those who’ll lose their jobs that Johnson’s taken ‘responsibility’. Just don’t try knocking on his door asking for your dole money…