The new Caledonian sleeper service between Scotland and London has double beds, plush seats and everything you need for a prolonged stay. Fortunately, because that is what happened during the week when it broke down, and not for the first time, and punters were eventually turfed out at Stafford and spent the rest of the 260-mile trip on buses to Glasgow and Edinburgh. One unfortunate passenger tweeted that she felt like prisoner in an internment camp, which is no surprise because the Caledonian is run by Serco, which manages six prisons, including HMP Kilmarnock.

Passengers were promised a full refund, although you’d think from the experience they deserved a bit more. Under this crazed rail system Network Rail, which owns the track, pays out to the private rail companies for delays, payments which are not designed to cover passenger refund claims but, “to hold operators financially neutral to the long-term revenue impact,” in the industry gobbledegook. Compensation for punters is “determined entirely by train operators”.

Which means, in practice that, although all those with hands in the till are coy about the exact sums, the operators make in excess of £100 million a year more than they pay back to passengers, who get roughly 20p of every pound handed out to Brian Souter and Ann Gloag of Stagecoach and Rupert Soames of Serco.

Ron McKay: Who's funding who in the race to No 10, Swede and sour, tapping the market and World Cup goal


From the season after next the top French football league will be renamed Ligue 1 Uber Eats, after a €32 million sponsorship deal. In each game the ball will be brought on to the field by an Uber delivery driver. I understand that the SPL are currently in negotiation with Uber for a similar deal for our Premiership after the current one with Ladbrokes ends in 2020. The difference to France is that here the ball will be deep fried.


I am suffering from Adermatoglyphia. No, I didn’t know what it was either until a couple of days ago. I stumbled on it when my laptop refused to recognise me. I’m used to this from people I’ve known for decades but this was a real shocker. Bear with me, I’m getting to the point, although it’s slow as I’m still suffering from post-digital stress disorder, PDSD.

It started when I dug my fingers in the soil, as you do around this time of year getting back to nature, or vainly planting stuff you know is destined to die. My right index finger became badly infected, swelled up like a bursting banana and, to cut the tale of my travails short, I ended up in hospital for a couple of days.

Jump cut to the computer episode. It’s activated, like many of those modern devices, with a fingerprint. But it stubbornly wouldn’t come on. Which is when I discovered that, as all the skin on my finger had come off (together with the nail, but that has no part in this story), there was now no fingerprint. Which is when I discovered this rare condition.

In old movies criminals used to give their fingers acid baths to remove fingerprints, which always seemed both painful and counter-intuitive to me when they could simply nip out to B&Q and get a pair of gloves (which is what I should have done).

Anyway, no lasting harm, I’m told it will grow back, but in the meantime I obviously won’t be able to visit the States – which I had no intention of doing anyway, other than hooded and in chains – because they take your fingerprints as you go in and, I learn from my sufferers group, they turn you back if you can’t provide a full set.


I don’t know what they do about people with missing digits at US Homeland Security. Probably tag the person. Or saw the other ones off. But in Canada they preserve them and put them in your drink – and it’s not to ensure that other boozers don’t nick it. In Glasgow in the old days we used to spit in our pints as insurance before going to the toilet, but this is at another level entirely.

In the Downtown Hotel in Dawson City in the Yukon they serve a Sourtoe Cocktail in which floats a mummified toe. To join the club – and why on earth would you? – the toe has to touch your lips as you down the shot whiskey. So I guess the toe-st (sorry) beforehand isn’t “Down the hatch!”.

People have been preserving their digits and mailing them to the hotel. The latest to do so is British endurance athlete Nick Griffiths who lost three toes last year competing in the Yukon Arctic Race, the world’s coldest ultra-marathon. He had seen an advert which said, “Had frostbite? We want your toes.” The big toe is the money shot I’m told.

Apparently, Downtown now finds it pretty hard to come by toes because bounders keep nicking them from their drinks. I dread to think how they smuggle them out. The hotel now fines anyone who tries to steal one $2500, around £1500. They should be paying that to anyone who downs one.


So farewell then Esther McVey. Not many people knew you and you knew very little about almost anything. Apart from hair products of course. You wanted to cut £7 billion from foreign aid, more than half of the budget, and you cited as your example of how money was being squandered citing airports where the “runways were in the wrong direction” and couldn’t be used. Where was this? “It's in one of the... err... err... continents abroad.”

Most continents are. It was actually on Saint Helena in the far Atlantic Ocean, on what is a British Overseas Territory, and of the £285 million cost not one thin halfpenny came from the aid budget. The island is where Napoleon Bonaparte died. Along with Esther McVague’s dream.


I met Boris Johnson once in the Green Room of a TV studio. He was charming and funny in private as you might have expected, although I find his public views anathema. It was about that time that I had to read for review, speed read, what is his first and I think only novel, Seventy Two Virgins. The title comes from the number of young women a Muslim martyr is supposed to be given in Paradise. That would make for a tiring afternoon.

It was a bit of a romp (sorry again) about a group of Muslim terrorists invading the Parliament with, as I recall, one suicide bomber’s head flying off “as though kicked by Jonny Wilkinson”. And there was sex, likening that between a young Muslim man and an emancipated white woman as the cultural tectonic grinding between East and West. I don’t think it was nominated for the Bad Sex Awards either.

The hero was a bicycling young Tory MP, apparently a bit of a buffoon but with a keen intellect, classical education of course, and an assistant named Cameron. I wonder where these characters came from?