JANET STREET-PORTER: It may as well be lockdown three

JANET STREET-PORTER: The Passport Office is conspiring with Network Rail, Border officials and Just Stop Oil protesters to stop you leaving your street. It may as well be lockdown three

In case you haven’t got the message – lockdown three has arrived by stealth.

Earlier this week, as temperatures soared towards 40 degrees, doomy weather wonks told us to stay inside and draw the curtains. We were told not to travel unless it was essential.

The heat might have subsided, but our movements remain severely restricted.

Were you planning a trip this summer to see family and friends? You might want to think again.

Boris might have reluctantly bowed out, but some things (like Covid) just linger on, like that ancient packet of crisps you bought when a bit p**sed – only to discover they’re blue cheese and chardonnay flavoured.

In spite of Dumb Dom Raab going off message and telling us to ‘enjoy’ the sunshine, some of us are finding that simple pleasure very hard to achieve.

A major traffic jam on the M25 on Wednesday caused by the Just Stop Oil demonstrations

A specialist police climber removes a Just Stop Oil protester from the M25 on Wednesday

If you’re excited by the prospect of an hour loafing in the local park, alongside half eaten chicken bits and empty beer cans left over from the night before – ‘enjoying’ lovely summer weather is simple.

Clear a space amongst the fag ends and dog poo, brush aside the fox s**t and used nappies, lay your towel down on the brown hessian (which is dead grass due to council cutbacks) – and you’re good to go.

But if you fancy a trip to the seaside, or (God forbid) a holiday abroad where the booze is cheaper, and the sea marginally less polluted than the Kent coast – please think again.

Because a demonic combination of Network Rail, Border officials, environmental protestors and civil servants have all conspired together to make it virtually impossible to leave your neighbourhood.

Yes, lockdown three has arrived, and the only benefit is that you don’t have to wear a mask and can shout at the top of your voice as you drink to forget the financial mess we seem to be in.

Before embarking on any excursion in the family car, it’s best to check the websites of all major environmental protest groups to discover where they plan to attack (sorry, I mean protest) next. Ask any teenager for the latest information, because this mob continually re-group.

Air passengers queue upon their arrival at London Heathrow Airport this morning

Cars queue at the Port of Dover check-in in Kent this morning as the summer holidays begin

Extinction Rebellion and Insulate Britain are so last year. This week, climate activists from a gang called Just Stop Oil blocked three sections of the M25, causing huge jams and nine-mile tailbacks. They even had the cheek to ask drivers not to use the motorway at all until the end of Friday as they are planning three days of blockages.

Surely they are targeting the wrong people. Is it really the fault of motorists that the government doesn’t have a joined-up strategy to reduce car usage, and has cancelled subsidies on electric vehicles? And Liz Truss – widely tipped as the next Prime Minister – has pledged to retreat on green taxes in her ruthless bid for power.

Most people have reluctantly reduced their car journeys by half as fuel prices have soared following the war in Ukraine, even though they dipped by a few pence per litre this week. It’s food or family trips for many.

At this rate, the traditional British pastime of ‘piling in the family car for a Sunday picnic on the beach’ will be regarded as a quaint tradition from a bygone era, like eating jellied eels, playing hopscotch and picking blackberries by the side of the road. All part of my working-class childhood.

Another tradition – sunbathing – has been rubbished as ‘dangerous’ by medics and weather experts alike. Exposing yourself to any sun has been rebranded as major health risk, along with swimming in a river or any open water. As a child, I regularly splashed about in the Thames at Walton – it must be a miracle (and the fact I attended a church school) that has seen me survive until 2022.

Passengers wait at London Euston railway station on Wednesday amid major train disruption

If you are planning to follow government advice, save the environment and use public transport for your getaway, think again. Because of the recent weather ‘event’ – a ‘heat bomb’ – the railway network has ground to a halt. Heading north to Manchester, York or (God forbid) Scotland could involve a day camping at Euston or King’s Cross, waiting for that magic moment when the rail tracks stop buckling, overhead cables start to work again and someone rewires the plugs in the main signal box.

And if there are any fires within a mile of a major railway line, you can be sure that a new hazard – smoke – will see your train shunted into a siding.

Network Rail have announced a new taskforce to formulate plans for our train services to cope better with extreme temperatures. As it is, fog, leaves, rain and wind (normal ingredients in a typical British autumn or winter) all seem to bring things to a juddering halt year in and year out.

Travel in Italy, Spain or France, and be amazed that their trains are clean, air conditioned and run in extreme heat.

The overpaid executives at Network Rail earn way more than our Cabinet Ministers but seem incapable of bringing the system into the 20th century let alone the 21st.

As a train ticket to go tramping in the Highlands or surfing in Cornwall will cost you as much as a plane ticket to Florida or New York, it’s not surprising that a cheap flight to the beaches of the Med is so tempting.

People queue outside the Passport Office collections door in London yesterday morning

A member of staff speaks to people queuing outside the Passport Office in London yesterday

That’s if the civil servants in the Passport Office don’t wreck your plans.

If your passport has less than six months to run, or if you applied for a new one, forget about trying to holiday abroad. The backlog in passport applications has soared to an astonishing 550,000, with over 50,000 people waiting for more than TEN WEEKS.

If the Passport Office was a car, it would be a three-wheeled Reliant.

Something even Rodney Trotter would have rejected.

The boss of the Passport Office told a committee of MP’s this week that he made plans for a huge increase in applications a year ago – but still failed to explain the current mess. 

Some of his staff are still working from home and it emerged that the passport emergency hotline was closed this week, owing to hot weather. The company outsourced to run the service didn’t bother to turn up to meet the MPs to explain why.

Terry Thomas or Mr Pastry would probably do a better job than this mob – perhaps the contract was awarded because they met Matt Hancock or Dumb Dom at their local pub.

If you do manage to escape lockdown three and the Tory leadership contest to enjoy some sun overseas, you might have trouble re-entering the UK. If you’ve got a new shiny blue Boris-approved British passport complete with chip technology which is supposed to facilitate an easy journey through border control, start crossing your fingers and praying.

The new eGate machines hate the blue passports. I have been abroad three times with mine now, and every time the machine at immigration says NO. Each time I am ordered to join a queue and be interrogated to determine whether someone else with red hair and big teeth is posing as Janet Street-Porter, broadcaster and journalist.

It might be easier to buy a lilo and float in via Hastings or Bognor.

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