Dear Mark and Sue
Re: 08.06 FGW service from Oxford to Paddington, 18/10/11. Amount of my day wasted: eight minutes.
Mark! Sue! What news on the railroad? Do our engines gleam, Mark? Are our pistons shiny and bright, Sue? Do our carriages stand tall in the morning sun? Do our brave ranks of locomotives make the heart sing for Isambard, England and St George?
Good! Excellent. Well done! Looks are important, Mark. Don't worry about the results, so much. Appearance is paramount! That's why we have Directors of Communications, right Sue? (Even when they operate largely by stealth. Even when they - and this is the really clever bit - don't appear to communicate at all!)
I've been thinking, Mark. I've been thinking about growing old and growing up. I've been occupied with intimations of my own mortality. (It's all part of this mid-life crisis I'm having, you see. The one that includes the pair of you, the vinyl record collection I brought down from the attic and insisted on putting on our new shelves at the weekend, and of course my burgeoning relationship with Brandy and Sandy, the 19-year-old stripper twins I'm bankrolling through pole-dancing school.)
The world is turning, Mark. The shadows are lengthening, Sue. The woods decay and fall. And at my back I always hear, time's chuffing steam train drawing near...
And I've been thinking. What do I really know? Now I'm a grown-up, I mean. Now I'm out of short trousers. What have I learnt? What is performance and what is just... appearance? What's real and what's just for show?
Obviously my extensive knowledge of particle physics is a given, and clearly my expertise on the fall of the Byzantine Empire (and its subsequent ramifications for the reign of Henry VIII and direct impact on Napoleon Bonaparte's assault on Edge Hill and the taking of Iwo Jima) is beyond question. Of course my in-depth studies of meteorology and my peerless musings on the poetry of Eric Cantona and the musical output of the Longsight area of Manchester 1986-96 have received plaudits worldwide. All of this is a given, Mark. All these things are known, Sue.
But, you know, apart from all that - what do I know? I mean, really? What do I really know?
Let me answer that with a story, Sue: let me shine a light into the murky, almost limitless depths of my ignorance.
The other day, Mark, I found myself chatting to a young lady. (I know, dude! She was totally hot, too! I mean, if only her name rhymed with Brandy or Sandy and she was one of three stripping triplets then she'd have been quite literally perfect!) Anyway, we chatted, and in the course of our conversation she happened to mention her fondness for ostrich burgers. Or emu burgers. One or the other. Either way, Mark, she was up for roasting the flesh of flightless birds. She was keen on plucking 'em and stuffing 'em and sticking 'em between two bits of bread and fully masticating 'em good 'n' proper.
And you know what I said, Mark? I said "Ostrich, emu, what's the difference?"
Oh, the shame! I blush, Mark! My head hangs! My tail slips forlornly between my legs! The shame!
It only turns out that ostriches and emus are completely different flightless birds! It only turns out that one's of the genus Struthio and the other of the genus Dromaius! I should have spotted that, Mark! It only turns out one has three toes and the other two toes! I should have known that, Sue! It only turns out one lives in Africa and the other in Australia! I should have... actually, I'm not so bothered about that, to be honest. Both are south of the M25, innit? Brighton, Marbella, Africa, Australia... what's the difference?
My point, Mark, was that it brought home to me, in what I can only describe as quite literally the starkest terms possible that, when it comes to the important things, I remain a child. A helpless, gurgling, empty-minded child. An idiot child, if you will. And all else is smoke and mirrors, Mark. It's sleight of hand and misdirection, Sue. Apart from those few areas of expertise mentioned above, I'm all about appearance - and not about performance.
What about you, Mark? Have you ever felt this way? Do you feel wide-eyed and helpless? Do you feel ignorant and naive? Like an empty vessel? Are you like me, Mark, covering up the faults with showiness and good looks and a bit of blather about the iambic pentameter? Did you know the difference between emus and ostriches, ostriches and emus? Is First Great Western really all about getting good results... or is it just about presenting results well?
Deep stuff, Mark! Eye-opening! Thought provoking! And I haven't even mentioned the Stone Roses reforming!