Thursday, 13 October 2011

13 October 2011. Letter 41

Dear Mark and Sue

Re: 08.51 FGW service from Oxford to Paddington, 13/10/11. Amount of my day wasted: 38 minutes.

Oh Mark! Oh Sue! Oh dudes! What will become of us? Where do we go from here? Is it down, as the hugely-underrated (but not by me, Mark! I liked them! I'm not ashamed to say I still like them! And I speak as the former rock & pop editor of no less a musical authority than the Daily Express! You better believe it!) 80s soul-pop purveyors Haircut 100 opined, to the lake, I fear? (I think it must have been a metaphorical lake, Sue. "Lake", if you will.)

I do hope not, Mark. I don't want to go down to the "lake". I fear the "lake"! I've been to the "lake" before and let me tell you, Mark, it's a horrible place! A dark and dank and dismal place! There is weeping and gnashing of teeth, down at the "lake"! There are ululations! I hate ululations! Mark, Sue: let us never speak of the "lake" again! For the love of God, talk to me not of the "lake"!

So, if not the, you know, the (whisper it) L - A - K - E, then where do we go from here Mark? Downhill, it seems. Downhill fast. Or rather, downhill slowly. All these delays - they're not getting any better. They're getting worse, aren't they?

Do you remember those heady early days of summer, Mark? Those budding June mornings and purple-hued June evenings, when I would write to you after delays of five, or six, or seven minutes? It all seems hopelessly idealistic now, doesn't it? These days, Mark, I don't even bother registering delays of five minutes. These days, Sue, anything under seven minutes hardly shows up on my radar. (That's a metaphorical radar, obviously, Sue. I don't have an actual radar. Be sensible!) These days, mes petites antagonistes, it's all or nothing, isn't it? A week of relatively good service followed by a week of utterly appalling service.

These days, you're rocking the double-or-quits line, when it comes to delays. You're either not delayed at all... or you're delayed by a proper amount of time.

Thirty-eight minutes, Mark? You delayed me by 38 minutes this morning! And now I've got to bang on here for long enough to waste 38 minutes of your time in return? Are you having a laugh? Are you having, as our Lambeth-walking friends from the gutters and slums around Bow Bells like to put it, a turkish bath? Thirty-eight minutes? For goodness sake, Mark!

I am less than 82 per cent happy with your service! And less than 82 per cent of me is happy with your service! (Sue! Clever, eh!) And despite your much-trumpeted award (given, as you've so helpfully pointed out, in February 2010 - so presumably that was for the preceding year? So - 2009 then?)* I'm afraid that right now (ie, October 2011) you're really not coming across like the Train Operator of the Year (ie, this year) in any significant way. Or even in any insignificant way, if you want to be pedantic about it.

So. Why was I so delayed this morning? What's the reason for my lost 38 minutes?

The irony, Sue, as you'll be sure to appreciate, is that I don't normally even catch this train. I had a lie-in this morning, Sue! I didn't need to be in London until 10.30 - so I eschewed (love that word, Sue! Eschewed! Es-chewed! Eschewed!) my usual train, kept my head under the duvet, ignored the plaintive wailings of my wet-pyjama'd children, and caught an extra half hour of zeds! How sweet it was to sleep this morning, Sue! You should have seen it!

And you know what that meant, Mark? That's right! It meant that by the time I got to the station, fully 45 minutes later than usual, I was still riding that lie-in high. I was surfing on the crest of a totally rad easy-start-to-the-day wave. I was good to go, hot-to-trot, ready to roll and keen as mustard. I was cool, Mark. I was cool and the gang. I was Coolella de Vil!

Moseying through Oxford station, Mark, winking at the pretty girls and fist-bumping the boys and blowing kisses to the babies, I cast a casual glance skywards, towards the winking monitors, the tidy screens with their lists of the comings and goings, their toings and froings... and saw my train was running late.

What? Late! My train was running late, Mark! The (metaphorical) lights went out! The (figurative) walls came tumbling down!

And that's when I did some quick thinking, Mark. That's when my brain sprang into action, when all my neural pathways sparked and hummed and fizzed into life and came up with a brilliant solution! The 08.51 was expected at 09.11, Mark... but the 09.01 was running on time! Bazinga! I'd jump on that, pen a quick couple of paragraphs to cover the 10 minutes delay, and still make it into London's fashionable Central London in order to make my appointment with the MAJOR HOLLYWOOD SUPERSTAR I was supposed to be interviewing.

Oh, did I mention I was interviewing a Major Hollywood Superstar this morning? No? Well... I was. And I was supposed to be at his hotel at 10.30.

Mark: I caught the 09.01 train. And the 09.01 train ran late. It dawdled. It dribbled. It dossed around near Didcot. It idled and sidled through Slough and Southall. It did something close to nothing near Hayes & Harlington. I arrived into Paddington at just shy of half ten. Thirty-eight minutes later than I originally planned to.

Dude! I was going to be late for the Superstar! I was going to keep the Superstar waiting!

It was not going to make me look very professional, Mark. It was not going to make me look like a man who is used to consorting with Tinseltown talent. It was not going to create an impression of easy familiarity with red-carpet-treading film royalty. It was not going to make me look like a very good journalist, in short. It was going to make me look like the kind of person who can't even catch a train on time - never mind handle the rigours of a top-class cultural interrogation with a Major Hollywood Superstar.

For the second time this morning, Sue, the adrenaline kicked in.

I was up and out of my seat before we passed Acton, Mark! I was into the vestibule quicker than you could say "vestibule"! I was poised by the door before the train had come to a complete stop! And then... Boom! Out of the door! Wallop! Down the platform, quick as my limited edition Adidas Franz Beckenbauer trainers could carry me! Shwing! Through the ticket barriers! Zoiks! Dodge the tourists congregating gormlessly on the other side of the ticket barriers! Badabing! Power through the station! Sling! Down the steps to the Bakerloo line!

Sue: I was like the Green Hornet, dude! I was burning up Paddington station on the pineapple express! I was... superbad!

And you know what else? My Major Hollywood Superstar was running late too. The thing is: he's a Superstar, Mark. He doesn't do on-time. He makes his own rules. Petty considerations like clocks and hours and the passing of the sun across the sky mean nothing to him. He's Hollywood, baby, he calls the tune, time-wise. All we can do is dance along.

I got my interview. I won't get sacked. It's all turned out ok. (Thankyou, Sue. That means a lot, coming from you.) But, still. The principle remains, does it not?

You are not Major Hollywood Superstars, Mark and Sue! The ordinary rules of time do apply to you! The minutes and the hours by which us ordinary folk divide up our lives must also divide yours! Or to put it another way - when you say you're going to run a train according to a particular time or schedule, and when I pay you to do just that, and when the results of all that has an impact on me being able to do my job, just do it, alright? Just do your jobs. Thankyou.

Au revoir!

Best Storywriter, St John Fisher Primary School

*In September 1981 I was awarded "Best Storywriter" in my Primary School - thanks mostly to my (then) magnum opus "The boy with the wiggly pencil". If you can still be calling yourself Train Operator of the Year fully one year and eight months after receiving that award and two years after the year to which the award would seem to be referring, I see no reason why I shouldn't continue to call myself Best Storywriter. Right? Cool. That's what I shall do, from now on. (And I should also point out that the film rights to "The boy with the wiggly pencil" can be made available, should the right offer come in. Federico Fellini has already been in touch via twitter. And Roman Polanski's people have made advances - though they were talking about changing the title to "The 13-year-old girl with the wiggly pencil" and I'm really not sure about that at all.)

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