Tuesday, 16 August 2011

15 August 2011. Letter 17

Dear Mark and Sue

Re: 19.22 FGW service from Paddington to Oxford, 15/8/11. Amount of my day wasted: 11 minutes.

Buenos dias amigos! Donde esta? (That's Spanish, that is, Sue - I'm trying to keep things in a holiday mood for Mark. A little of the local lingo to make him feel abroad at home. Or at home abroad. A touch of the old "dos cerveza and a full English" if you know what I mean. It's good to make the effort. Broadens the mind, don't you find?)

Hey! No need to ask how you two are today! Today is a good day for all you funsters at First Great Western! You're getting your above-inflation price rises. Well done! You must be very excited - all that extra cash to splash out, all that wonga to burn! What are you going to blow it on, Mark? A shiny new engine shed? A sparkling state-of-the-art fleet of locomotives? Some working toilets on the trains you've already got?

The possibilities are endless. And coming so soon after your last above-inflation price rise, too! Truly: it's the gift that just keeps giving. Your passengers, I mean. Your customers. We're the gifts who just keep giving.

So anyway - you're welcome. Thank me properly another time. And in the meantime, I'd like to say thanks to you, Sue. Thankyou for your most recent letter. It was, as ever, beautifully communicated. Pithy, precise, pointed. Perfectly formed. A prose poem of communication!

I do feel compelled, however, in the interests of accuracy, to point out that it was also somewhat inaccurate. I hate to quibble over a mere 60 seconds (although as we have already discovered, according to the Barlow Standard, that is exactly the time in which it takes to fall in love) - but, well, I'm going to. That train was five minutes late, not four. I say tomato, you say, oh, I dunno, points failure, or somesuch.

I've been pondering this, Sue. I take my timings from the clocks at the station - I get off the train, I look at the clock, I know how late I am. (I've been getting quite pernickity about it too. Quite nerdy. Maybe it's a boy thing - is it a boy thing, Sue? Are all boys number-obsessed nerds? I don't think so. I think only about 87 per cent of boys are number-obsessed nerds. Maybe 88 per cent at most.)

So where do your timings come from? Do you time the train's arrival by when it stops? Like everyone else in the world? Or do you take your inspiration from athletics, and consider the (metaphorical) tape broken the moment the tip of the train's nose crosses the leading edge of the platform? I would be genuinely fascinated to find out.

Am I beginning to sound a little obsessed, Sue? Is your train company taking over my life, Mark? The truth is that I've had plenty of time to mull these things over. Last night, for example, I had eleven extra minutes in my otherwise stimulating and event-filled day, to think about the ineptitude of the service you provide. Eleven minutes during which I gazed out blank-eyed and bored over the rainy rooftops of Reading.

Have you ever been to Reading, Mark? Of course you have! It's the Rome of Middle England! All railroads lead to Reading! Reading, the city of visible history, where the past of a whole hemisphere seems moving in funeral procession with strange ancestral images and trophies gathered from afar! Of course you've been to Reading!

The things is: I like Reading too. It's alright, is Reading! But, and intending no offence to the good citizens of that town, it doesn't look so stimulating on a wet Monday night in mid-August. Not when you're standing on one of your chronically-overcrowded trains. Not when you're paying through the nose for the privilege. Not when you've just read in your evening paper that you're about to be asked to pay even more in the future.

I'm afraid that in these circumstances, Sue, Reading doesn't really feel like the Rome of Middle England at all. It just feels like somewhere you want to pass through on your way home.

Still. Let's not get too down about things. You kids have got shopping trips to plan! I hope there's going to be money left over for a nice bonus or two for the boys (and girls, Sue! Mustn't forget the girls!) at the top. Lord knows you deserve it, right?

Au revoir!


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