Wednesday, 17 August 2011

17 August 2011. Letter 18

Dear Mark and Sue

Re: 08.06 FGW service from Oxford to Paddington, 17/8/11. Amount of my day wasted: six minutes.

Mark! Sue! Hey you! How's things today? I expect you're all a little woolly-headed, bleary-eyed and green around the gills this morning, eh? I bet you're all feeling it a bit... what with the inevitable celebrations yesterday's news must have brought. Did the party go on long into the night? Was the disco still going strong into the early hours?

Ooh, I'll bet it did - after all, somehow you've managed to pull off the trick of getting your own customers (the people to who you're supposed to be providing a service) to pay for improvements to your company! Leaving your profits undented! You win both ends up!

Mark, Sue: you have my congratulations - it's quite a move.

It's despicable, of course. It's a disgrace. A scandal. It's outrageous that you should even be thinking of raising the prices of your fares by (at least) three per cent above the rate of inflation at a time when your service is actually being held up as an example of how not to run a train company... It disgusts me, of course it does. But I can't help admiring the audacity of it. No wonder you all had a drink last night. You must be very proud of yourselves.

What's that you say, Sue? How am I feeling today? Lovely of you to ask! I feel, as John Lennon warbled, fine. Only delayed by six minutes this morning, so, y'know, mustn't grumble. And a lovely thing did happen on the train today, as we paused for breath near Didcot, as we took a moment to collect ourselves before the last limp into that station... a magical thing, happened, Sue! I saw a kite!

Not that kind of kite, silly! Not the Mary Poppins kind, the "up to the highest height" kind. I mean a Red Kite. A bird of prey! It was massive! It hovered above the corn fields, it paused... and hovered... and paused... and then... BAM! Dropped like a stone! Whoosh! Up it came with something in its claws and flapped hugely away. Mark! It was amazing! Worth six minutes of anyone's time.

Thankyou Mark. Well done, Sue. If you'd been running an efficient service I'd never have seen that kite. If you'd been doing your jobs properly, I'd have missed out on it all. Nature in the raw! I owe you one.

And you know what else? It also reminded me of a marvelous story I once heard. A story I'm going to have to incorporate into the novel I'm one day going to write (ah! The novel! Wait for another big delay, Mark, and I'll fill you right in on the novel. It's a cracker. A real page-turner. It's unputdownable!).

In fact, thinking about it, it's the kind of story one could hinge a whole novel around. It's a metaphor, Sue. It's what I believe they call a "conceit" in the old inky-fingered game.

So here it is. Here's my conceit.

You know the sloth, Mark? Big, lazy, south American beast. Lives in the jungle. Got a reputation for idleness. Got a rap for bumming around. Even has a Deadly Sin named after it. (That's harsh, isn't it?) Of course you know the sloth. But did you know how sloths die? What they die of?

They die of starvation, Mark. Sloths - they get up on their branch, they eat all the leaves around them... and then, after a bit, they get hungry, and look around for some more leaves to eat. And what do they do? They move, of course, they eat some more.

Except that after a few years of this, the average sloth gets to the point where he looks around, sees no leaves to eat within handy reaching distance and thinks... ah, screw it. Can't be bothered. Can't be bothered moving.

And that's how they die! They die of starvation. They die because they can't even be bothered eating, if eating means moving, ooh, a few feet along a branch. They would rather sit there and slowly starve to death than muster up the energy to shuffle a couple of steps to their left.

Isn't that amazing Mark? Isn't it awesome? Such dedication! Such clarity of purpose!

That's not laziness, Mark. That ain't indolence, Sue. Sloths have got a bad write-up on that front. That's something else entirely. That's extraordinary single-minded belief: that's what that is. To be so committed to your own bloody-mindedness that you're prepared to starve to death for it! It's totally Nietzschean!

One word, amigos: wow. When I think sloths, I think: "wow".

What do you think? Do you think "wow"? Do you think they'd make a good metaphor? Could I hinge a whole novel around that conceit? I'd sure welcome your feedback!

Au revoir!


ps - you may have noticed that this letter is longer than it really should be for a six minute delay. Let's call it about three percent longer than the rate of inflation, shall we?

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