Wednesday, 13 July 2011

12 July 2011. Letter 6

Dear Mark and Sue

Re: 20.51 FGW service from Paddington to Oxford, 12/7/11. Amount of my day wasted: 30 minutes.

How the devil are you both? It's been a week! And what a week, Mark. Good lord, Sue: it's been kerr-azy. Crazy as a coconut! You wouldn't believe just how crazy even if I told you. Or maybe you would. Either way, you're going to hear all about it. This is a long one, kids, you might want to make yourself comfortable. Mark: crack open the hobnobs, there's a good chap. Sue: be a love and put the kettle on, eh?

So. You'll see from the line above that my train home last night was delayed by 30 minutes. Which is sort of true and sort of not true. I could have said it was delayed by infinity minutes. It was delayed forever. It never happened at all. It simply ceased to be. My train home: it disappeared!

Picture the scene. There we all were, your paying customers, tired but happy after another day's honest toil, safely seated on one of your trains, expecting a smooth, fast, efficient service home - why, even the lady with the trolley was smiling, Mark! The air... ooh it crackled with anticipation! It was heavy with intent! It was pregnant with all the endless possibilities that only a trip between London Paddington and Oxford (with stops at Slough and Reading) could bring! We were going home! We were all going home on a First Great Western train!

The world, Sue, was our lobster. Literally. Well, not literally. But, you know, metaphorically. Figuratively. The world, Sue, was our figurative lobster!

At least, that's how it felt, sitting on the platform at ten minutes to nine o'clock. And then... and then... and then we were all told by the trolley lady (no less) to get off the train, go back through the barriers and wait half an hour for the next train. With no explanation as to why.

And so we did. I still don't know why. And guess what happened next. Can you? No? Let me employ another metaphor.

Have you ever tried to fit two pints into a one-pint glass Sue? Have you? It's not a riddle. I mean, have you actually ever tried it? Because - and here's the thing - you can't do it. What you end up with is a load of mess. Just like if you tried to fit two trainloads of people into one train.

It was not a pleasant journey thenceforth, Mark. The world was not our lobster anymore. The world just looked a bit rubbish. And overfull. And smelling of uncleaned toilets.

And here's the irony.

I was actually considering being a bit nicer to you, Mark. I was going to let you off the hook, Sue. You see, last week was quite a difficult week for me. They shut down the newspaper I worked for. Can you believe it? I was on Sky News and everything! (Smoking a fag, standing outside the office, trying not to look like a public hate figure. How do you do that, Sue? Not smoke fags, obviously, that's easy. I mean how do you try not to look like a public hate figure? Do you do courses in that, as part of your role as Director of Communications? Could you squeeze in me and a few of my tabloid journalist friends sometime?) The attention of the world was focussed on my place of work! And the world wasn't exactly cheering us on, Mark. I'll be frank with you, Sue. Much of the world seemed to be booing.

So yes, tricky week. Lots of people I know got made redundant, lots of other people got suddenly terrified for their jobs too. And a whole newspaper was shut down, just like that. Heavy. It makes a boy think, you know? It makes a boy think: at a time like this, does anyone really give a tinker's cuss whether my trains are two, or eight, or 12, 15, 30 minutes late?

But then I got some messages from fellow First Great Western passengers. I heard tales from other disgruntled customers of yours. I was told stories of appalling service and contemptuous treatment at the hands of your company... and I thought: you know what? Sometimes it can feel like us ordinary worker ants* don't have a voice. Sometimes it feels like we're helpless before the big corporate cheeses that dominate our lives. Sometimes it feels like we don't actually matter all that much, like we're treated as disposable, manipulable irrelevancies by the Managing Directors of this world... and that can't be good, can it Mark?

So I figured that perhaps even my little rants might be worth something after all. I figured that anything - no matter how petty or annoying or frankly irrelevant - that impacts at all upon those responsible for treating the ordinary men and women who make your positions possible, who effectively pay your salaries, so dismissively had to be worth something.

What do you think Mark? Have I been reading too much George Orwell? (He was a big fan of the News of the World, by the way: look it up if you don't believe me.) Have I been listening to too many Smiths records? Or am I talking sense?

You know the answer already, don't you Sue! That's right! I'm talking sense! I'm totally talking sense! Go to the top of the class!

So! Sorry (I'm not really sorry) but I'm not going to let you off the hook after all. In fact, if anything, I may even be a teensy little bit more cross than before. Crosser. (More cross or crosser, Sue? How would you best communicate that sentiment?) And if you will go canceling trains and whatnot willy-nilly, what do you honestly expect? That I'd just learn to accept it? That I would factor your incompetence in to my daily routine?


But I hate to leave you on a negative. We'd been having such fun up till now! So here's some good news. Yes, the newspaper I worked for got shut down last week. But guess what! I now work for The Sun! It's super and soaraway! Whodathunkit! My commute will be unaffected! It's good news for me (I keep a roof over my head) and it's good news for you - because I keep shoveling hundreds of pounds your way every month. In the words of Errol Brown: everyone's a winner, baby, that's the truth.

So: until next time... au revoir!


*we're not really actual ants. That's another metaphor.

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