Dear Mark and Sue
Re: 19.21 FGW service from Paddington to Oxford, 20/7/11. Amount of my day wasted: 3 minutes.
Three minutes. "Oh come on!" you're thinking. "Give us a break! Cut us some slack! Three minutes? What's three minutes?"
Three minutes, Mark, is three minutes. Three minutes, Sue, is 180 seconds. It's one twentieth of an hour. It's half a cigarette. It's those first few sips of wine after another long day. A lot can happen in three minutes. A two-year-old boy who had been promised a kiss from Daddy before he falls asleep could drift off kiss-less (yes I know that's not a real word, Sue, but just roll with it, nobody likes a pedant) in those three minutes.
Three minutes, mes petites, can be an age, an eternity. It all depends on context. E, as I'm sure you don't need reminding Mark, totally equals mc squared.
Let me illustrate with a humiliating anecdote, if I may.
Have you ever been on the radio, Sue? I have. And let me tell you, three minutes on the radio can feel like an awfully long time. When you're on live radio, three minutes can feel like all the time in the world.
Do you want to hear about it, Sue? You do? Excellent!
So there I was, back in the year 2000 or so, brought in to the studio to grace the airwaves with my insight and analysis on the new Oasis album. All of London was listening, Mark! The nation's capital city was agog! What would I, self-styled voice of the nation's youth (and at that time rock and pop editor of the Daily and Sunday Express) have to tell this great city about les freres Gallaghers' latest? What would we all learn about Standing On The Shoulders of Giants?
London paused, Sue. London paused and cocked an ear.
And I... blew it. I floundered. Early on in my allotted three minutes, whilst trying to express my frustration with Noel's bandwaggon-jumping critics, I jumbled up the phrases "gets my goat" and "I have a beef with..." (I have no idea why those two phrases were in my mind to begin with) and I loudly declared: "That really gets my beef".
There was a terrible pause, Mark. And then I said it again. And then for three minutes I couldn't think of anything else to say. All I could think was: "what the hell does 'gets my beef' mean? Why did I say that? What kind of idiot am I anyway? Gets my beef? Gets my beef?"
Sue: it was awful. It was three minutes of abject misery. And it felt like an awful lot longer.
So please, don't tell me three minutes doesn't really matter. They do. Time is relative.
Oh: and as I write, on a train in the morning, inching past the golden suburbs of Reading, I see we're already seven or so minutes behind schedule again. Expect another letter later today. And if you thought being three minutes late got my beef...