Thursday, 25 August 2011

24 August 2011. Letter 22

Dear Mark and Sue

Re: 19.22 FGW service from Paddington to Oxford, 24/8/11. Amount of my day wasted: 17 minutes.

Hail Mark! Ave, Sue! How are you both today? It's a wet one, isn't it? A rainy end to the summer. An inclement start to the bank holiday weekend. It's all downhill from here to Christmas, you know. No more breaks till Boxing Day. Oh dear. Sounds depressing, put like that. Let's lighten things up, shall we? Let's change the mood from sad to gladness...

What shall we talk about today? Well, we could mention the 17 minutes of my time you wasted last night, for a start. The 17 minutes extra I was forced to spend on one of your trains, watching the sun set over the rainy rooftops of Reading town. Seems a fitting subject, doesn't it?

I seem to have spent a lot of unwarranted, unplanned and frankly unwelcome time in Reading, recently. I've been spending more of my days there than either I or (I suspect) Reading itself are comfortable with. I'm running out of stuff to talk about, Reading-wise (don't worry, Sue! I've got plenty of other subjects to cover! Under your tutelage, under your firm and guiding hand, I feel I could communicate my socks off! I could communicate till the cows come home (metaphorical or otherwise)! I could communicate, as Jim Morrison so elegantly put it, till the stars fall from the sky. I got plenty more communicating in me, never fear!).

But I may be running out of stuff to communicate about Reading.

Actually! Wait! Hold the wedding, Mark! There is something still to say about Reading! There's something vital and important and historical and etymological to say about Reading! Something about history and British identity and the very things that make us what we are! I'm being serious! Pull up a chair. Pour yourself a mid-morning stiffener. Put on your attentive faces and listen...

Last night (and this morning, as it happens) the train was full of youths with rucksacks and wellies, Mark. It was jammed with youngsters sporting pack-a-macs and sleeping bags. It was crammed with kids buzzing on outdoor living and the potency of cheap music. They were all going to Reading, Sue! They were all going to gather in a field and listen to loud music and drink lager and try to get off with each and catch hypothermia and claim it was the best weekend of their lives. They were going to the Reading Festival!

An aside: I used to write the official programme for the Reading Festival, Sue. Did you know that? Back in my freelancing days, back when I was hacking and wheezing my way through Grub Street, back when I was a literary gun for hire. I wrote the official programme for the Reading Festival for three or four years.

And you know what? (I shouldn't be telling you this, really Sue... but just between us communicators, us happy conspirators) Here's the funny thing: I would write about these bands - breathless, adjective-riddled exhortations to their importance, their greatness, their fundamental must-see-ness - and I hadn't even heard of half of them. I know! Cheeky, eh! I would drop phrases like "soaring guitars", "driving rhythms" and "cascading waterfalls of sonic brilliance" as standard... without really knowing how the songs went.

Why? Because that's what the kids wanted to hear, that's why. I gave them what they asked for, regardless of the truth of the situation. How's that for communicating, Sue? How's that square with your experiences as Communications Director for First Great Western trains?

Anyway. The Reading Festival. Or more specifically, the young flibbertigibbets attending. Here's the thing, Mark - those kids, with their braided hair and their wellies and their tattoos - especially their tattoos, Sue - they represent something fundamental about the history of the British Isles. They do, dude! Like, SRSLY!*

Those tattooed teens - they are literally living representations of the very meaning of being British. (I know it's not got much to do with trains, but you owe me 17 minutes, so I'm going to tell you anyway.) And here's why...

So. Picture the scene. It's the year AD43, it's raining, and the Roman Legions, having defeated Napoleon and conquered Gaul, pitch up on the shores of Blighty. What do they see? Savages, Mark! Painted savages! Hordes of angry locals who had inked themselves blue and black in order to appear more intimidating to the invading armies. I dare say it fair gave the Emperor Claudius the willies, Sue! And who could blame him? Not me! Not you either, I'll warrant!

But that's what we did back then: we coloured ourselves, we patterned our skin, in order to appear fiercer and more frightening. We totally got tattoos, Sue.

So much so that those Romans gave us a name. They called us the Pretani. It means "painted people". Pretani. Pretani. And if you were one of the Pretani, you were... Pretanish. Prettanic. Say it quickly, Sue. Prettanic. Prettanic. Britannic. Britannic! You got it!

Britannic, British, Britain - it all comes from Pretani. Our whole nation, this royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle... is named after a bunch of tattooed hoodlums trying to frighten the Roman authorities.

We are the Pretani! We are the painted people! We are named after first century hoodies!

And those tattooed kids currently drowning in the mud of the Reading Festival, looking forward to hearing their cascading waterfalls of sonic brilliance... they are the heirs, the descendants, the modern incarnation of the original, pre-Roman, British nation! Every time a sulky teen gets inked, Sue, he's tapping into major historical heritage. These kids... they are the painted people! The Pretani!

It's even more of a mind-blower than the sloth story, isn't it? It's the sort of thing that makes you reassess what's what, right?

What do you think, Mark? Sue?

Is it enough to make you jack in this whole train management lark (it's not exactly going brilliantly anyway) and take up an Open Uni course in Ancient History? Is it enough to motivate you to finally knock Communications on the head and open up a tattoo parlour of your own, Sue?

Let's do it! Let's get tattoos! Let's get Prettanic!


Or we could just carry on as we always do. We could just let stuff happen to us, as usual. We could just sit in our delayed trains and pity the poor tattooed lambs, as they struggle through the mess and the mud with only debt and delays and the rest of their lives to look forward to. We could do that instead.

What do you think?

Au revoir!


*That's how they talk, Sue. They eschew vowels. I don't know why.

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