Monday, 24 October 2011

21 October 2011. Letter 45

Dear Mark and Sue

Re: 18.51 FGW service from Paddington to Oxford, 21/10/11. Amount of my day wasted: 33 minutes.

Mark! Sue! There you are! Thank goodness for that!

How the blue blazes are you, Mark? What's the word on the streets of Sue-town, er, Sue?

I do hope all is lickety-split and tickety-boo. I do hope all is ship-shape, Bristol fashion and best in show. I do hope this letter finds you, as it does me, in the pink!

I was so pleased to receive your latest response, Mark! I don't mind telling you: it fair made my day. Oh, who am I kidding: it made my week! I'm not ashamed of it, Mark! Every day, I sit poised over my inbox, clicking, reclicking, double-clicking and refreshing, hoping for some small sign you still care. Every day, I wait with held breath, with limbs all a-quiver and heart all a-flutter, desperate for word of your intentions towards me! Every day you don't write feels like a season in purgatory, Mark! A moment without word from you, Sue, is like a lifetime of silence!

So, yes. Thankyou for your last letter! It may not have been the longest, most comprehensive, or even the funniest letter you've ever written me - but that's ok. I know the pressure Sue's under every day, and we can't all communicate brilliantly every single time we communicate, can we? (I know I certainly can't.) The important thing is, you took the time and made the effort to reply to my concerns. For that I am genuinely grateful.

Your train service may be a disgrace, Mark, but you are gentleman enough to reply to my rants and rambles - and I do appreciate it. Please don't think for a moment I don't.

Anyway. Enough of the girly stuff. To business, Mark! To the deeds of the day and the matter in hand! Once more unto the beach!* Sharpen up a fresh pencil, Sue, and prepare to take notes! We've got 33 minutes to get through today. Thirty-three minutes of my time you wasted on Friday night - and 33 minutes I now accordingly intend to waste of your Monday afternoon.

It's a tall order - but we're pretty tall guys, you and I. Together we can do it. (Sue: you're no hobbit yourself. We're all three of us tall guys! Let's all have a big tall high five! Alright! Go Team Tall!)

So, Mark. Sue. Friday was not a good day for me. It should have been a great day! Stone Roses tickets were up for grabs! Two hundred and twenty thousand of the blighters! Surely, thought I, one or two tickets out of 220,000 should be gettable? Surely, thought I, one or two tickets out of 220,000 would be an achievable goal?

I'd even made preparations. I bunged the office intern the promise of a free drink to (wo)man the phones for me until I got in - just on the off-chance that all the tickets should go in the first 14 minutes they went on sale or something outlandish like that. I'd given her my ticketmaster passwords, my email log-ins, my credit card details... in short enough information about me for her to effortlessly thieve my identity and clean out my bank accounts. I told her if she got me four tickets I'd buy her drinks forever. (I didn't actually mean that, of course, but, hey, life is unfair and we all have to learn these lessons the hard way, right?)

She hadn't got tickets by the time I got in to work, Mark. I was forced to sack her on the spot.

And an hour later, after much refreshing of the internets, after repeated re-pressing of the redial button and a great deal of the kind of colourful language that is generally not encouraged in office environments, I remained ticketless. I'm not going to see the Stone Roses play at Heaton Park, Mark. I won't be one of 220,000 middle-aged Mancunian men in fading 20-year-old t-shirts getting drunk and over-excited and singing the wrong words to "I Am The Resurrection". (Or rather, I will be middle-aged and drunk and dressed 20 years out of date and singing badly... but just not in the presence of the Stone Roses when I do so. I'll be at home, like I usually am when I'm doing those things.)

Of course, none of this is your fault - but I feel it's relevant to the letter. Just to paint a picture of my day. Just to get an insight into the fact that I wasn't in the best of moods.

And let us not forget the real tragedy of the situation, Mark, the real victim of the piece. That poor intern, Mark! Because she couldn't get me those tickets, all her years of study and application have gone to waste. It's a crying shame. I feel terrible. Poor girl.

So. I get through the day without further negative incident. But not too much positive either, if I'm honest. And fast-forward eight hours or so and I'm running for a train at London's newly re-ceilinged London Paddington Station. Look at me go! There I am, Sue! Legs pumping! Chest heaving! Arms wheeling! Feet pounding! Watch as I bob and weave through the crowd, shimmying and chicaning past the commuters and tourists, powering down Platform 8 to get a place on the early train home!

It was like Coe vs Ovett in Prague, 1978 Mark! It was like Ovett vs Coe in Moscow 1980! It was exactly like Coe vs Ovett vs Cram in Los Angeles 1984! (That was the year Sebastian Coe used a rude word after he won the 1500 metre Gold, Sue - I'm sure you remember. But it was okay - because he's a nice middle-class boy. If, for example, ooh, I don't know, Wayne Rooney, say, ever used a rude word on the football pitch, it would be an outrage! A scandal! I'd be disgusted!)

What was I saying? Oh yes - I made the train, dudes! I may have been in a no-ticket-induced bad mood, but at least I got the early train. I was going to have a rare night home before eight. I may have even made it back in time to tell a goodnight story. (Always bleeding Thomas the Tank Engine, Mark, but what can you do? My little boy is only two. And he's going to keep listening to Thomas until he learns to love him.)

And then... well, do you really need me to tell you? Can you not guess? Shall I give it some colour about sunset over Slough and the mists above Maidenhead and the dark skies through Didcot? Shall I get busy with the adjectives and the adverbs and the conjunctions and the conjugations? Shall I show you my diphthongs and show off my indefinite articles? Shall I? Shall I? How many ways can one describe the experience of sitting in a stationary train while one's life sighs slowly away? How often can I keep stressing the gradual collapse from frustration to resignation that your overly-long journeys are inducing in me?

The answer? Honestly? Quite a few ways, it seems. And remarkably often. It puts me in mind of something I once read, Mark. Let me illustrate.

It puts me in mind of the words of (I think) Martin Amis, Sue. (You remember Martin Amis, don't you? Nippy little left-footer, played on the wing for much of the late 70s and 80s. Handy in the box, by all accounts. Tenacious, tendency to showboat, but capable of game-changing moments all on his own. Crap at football, mind.)

Anyway - he once said that the whole history of literature, writing, words 'n' that, is the story of a gradual downward journey. Back in the day, Mark, when dinosaurs ruled the Earth, men wrote about Gods. Exclusively, pretty much. All them Greek fellers, Mark: they loved a bit of it. And it was all people wanted to hear about - Zeus this, Poseidon that, Aphrodite the other. Gods, gods, gods (and the odd demigod). That was the thing.

Race through the years a bit, Bruce Forsyth's on the stage of the Globe introducing hotshot new playwright Billy Shakespeare and it's all about Kings and Queens. Henry IV. Henry V. Whatsischops in Scotland. That one with the hunchback who needed a horse. "Give us Kings!" the mob cries! "We want more Kings! Even made-up Danish ones who mope about for three hours!"

And so it continues: as time passes, the subjects grow ever less lofty: from gods to kings, then great heroes, great lovers, then doctors, lawyers, the middle-classes, the masses... and finally the lowest of the low: the chick-lit heroines. Bridget Jones, Mark. The girls in those appalling Louise Bagshawe books.

Except that's not the lowest is it, Mark? (Not even Louise Bagshawe!) Because I've written something like 25,000 words now on what it's like to look out of a train window. Men used to write about Gods, Mark! And I've devoted 25,000 words to the experience of being bored in a stationary train carriage. What does that make me, Mark?

I'll tell you what it makes me. I fear it may make me the man who marked the death of literature, that's what.

The thought did not add to my good mood on Friday evening, Mark. I'd had a day in which I'd managed to not get Stone Roses tickets, ruin the career of a perfectly good intern simply because she couldn't get me Stone Roses tickets, look ridiculous running through Paddington station and to top it all, come to the realisation that I represent the death of English Literature. Dude. I was bummed out!

I went to bed properly moody, I don't mind telling you. The current Mrs Dom was most discombobulated.

So what am I to do, Sue? How can I regain my spark, Mark?

Should I take affirmative action, somehow? Should I finally start work on that novel I keep talking about? The one that's just waiting on the six-figure advance before I can be bothered beginning? Should I take up poetry once more? (I gave up poetry after The Incident, Mark. Don't ask me about The Incident! We must never discuss The Incident!) Do you think screenwriting might prove to be my saviour? Should I plunge once more, headfirst and thirsty and with mouth agape, into the murky waters of tabloid journalism?

I guess what I'm asking, Mark, is: should I pursue more important and meaningful ways of expressing myself? Rather than moaning to the Managing Director of a failing train company, that is?

Or, and this is a radical idea... should I just keep bullishly banging on and try and pin the blame for the death of English Literature on someone else? Like, for example... Network Rail? Whaddyathink, Sue? Can we communicate that bad boy?

I literally cannot wait for your answer! Tell me! Tell me now!

Au revoir!


*That's a joke, Sue. I know it's not really beach. It's "Once more unto the bridge," right?

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