Monday, 10 October 2011

7 October 2011. Letter 38

Dear Mark and Sue

Re: 18.51 FGW service from Paddington to Oxford, 07/10/11. Amount of my day wasted: 21 minutes.

Mark! Sue! What's the story? What's the Jackanory? What, in actual fact, is the Tobermory?

I'll be honest with you (I'm always honest with you, Sue. It's my only weak spot. Honesty? It's my heroic flaw! It's my Achilles' heel, my Beckham's metatarsal, my Gazza's cruciate ligament. It's the rod I make for my own back, is what it is. Why, Sue, if it wasn't for that meddling honesty...) - I'll be honest with you, I'm disappointed. I'm not angry any more, Mark; I'm disappointed.

Last week wasn't so bad, you know? It was okay! Actually, scratch that. It was better than okay! It was... tolerable! Last week was totally tolerable!

Sure, you screwed up Tuesday, but, you know, nobody's perfect, right? (Not even Achilles. Not even Beckham. Not even Gazza!) I don't mind telling you, I felt good about last week, Mark. Right up until going home time on Friday. Even as I ducked my head and scurried rodent-like out of the office at bang on six while the boss's back was turned. Even as I turned up my collar and sneaked into the stairwell while various "line managers" (what on earth is a line manager, anyway? What lines do they manage, exactly? Who invented this term, "line manager"? They must explain themselves! I demand an explanation! Bring to me your line managers and have them define themselves!) were distracted. Even as I set my teeth and powered my way purposefully through the Circle and Bakerloo lines to Paddington Station, gateway to the glorious West!

Through all of this I felt good. As Nina Simone herself was disposed to put it: I was fee-eee-eee-eeeling good. (The popular sci-fi-rock trio Muse later expressed the same sentiment, of course, though to my mind in a rather overblown and embarrassingly faux-operatic style. Nina Simone can be interpreted in many interesting ways, Mark, but channelling the spirit of Rachmaninov and Brian May is not the way to do it. I think we can all agree on that.)

So, to cut to the chase, Mark, at around 18.51 last Friday, things looked good and you were headed for a most tolerable one-delay week. Not bad, son. Not bad at all. (Admittedly, I did catch two trains less than normal last week, Sue, thanks to an unscheduled sleepover at my brother's house in London's fashionable West London. But still - fair's fair... and I'm nothing if not fair, Sue. It's my only other weak spot. Fairness (and honesty)? They're both my heroic flaws. And before you laugh, consider this. Achilles had two heels, Sue. Becks had two metatarsals. (He may actually have had ten - I can't be bothered googling to find out - but you know what I mean.) Gazza certainly had two cruciate ligaments. And I don't think I can put it plainer than that.)

Where was I? Oh yes: being fair and honest. Last week was what we'll call your good week. And then... and then... and then... oops! You did it again! You played with my heart, Mark. All your good work undone! All your progress, your achievements, your one-delay-in-three-and-a-half-days - torn and rent asunder! Cast upon fallow ground, like so much curds and whey!*

Oh I could talk now for a few hundred more words about how bored I was, then how I angry I became, then how disappointed I felt... but you've heard it all before, haven't you? You've heard it 38 times now! The record's wearing thin, Mark! The CD's wearing out! The MP3's gone DOA! Aren't you becoming tired of listening to this same old song? God knows I have. Getting these trains of yours, suffering the same delays expressed in the same old ways... It's like listening to Muse covering Nina Simone, Mark! It's no longer like watching a cultural iconoclast redefining both popular music and what it means to be a woman in three short minutes (okay, Sue, I know I'm losing control of this metaphor, but bear with me, I'm on a roll here) - it's become like watching a funny-faced man with silly spiky hair and an electric guitar flail about a bit like a big prawn. Whilst singing a Nina Simone song.

You know? You know what I mean? Thought you would. Clarity's the thing, Mark! Clarity, and fairness, and honesty. So, to be clear, and fair, and honest (and to use the oxford comma to - even if I say so myself - devastatingly effective, er, effect) I'm not going to describe how I felt sitting in carriage C of a stood-still train on a dark and dreary Friday afternoon in October... because we all know how that feels. We know this song off by heart.

On the other hand, of course, I do have some time of yours to waste, so I better talk about something. You owe me 21 minutes, Sue! We've got 21 minutes to go! According to my deeply-ingrained work ethic, that means a certain amount of words are required from me! I got responsibilities here! Duty - that's the thing! (Duty, along with clarity, fairness and honesty.)

Increasingly Mark, as I grow older, as I totter into the October of my years, as I race towards the inevitable mid-life crisis, I realise I'm defined by my wordcounts. Writing words - and then counting them - that's what I do, dudes! That's what I is! For example...

I was talking to someone, as it happens, on Saturday, Mark. (A bit of context, a little bit of scene-creation, just so you can fix it all nicely in your head: we were collecting woodlice together. We were rolling over logs and looking for the 14-legged, armour-plated, exoskeletal little so-and-sos. We were picking them up and putting them in plastic cups and showing them to four-year-olds. No idea whose four-year-olds they were, mind - but at least it kept them off the streets, you know? At least it stopped the little hooligans from looting Toys R Us.)

Anyway, do you know what he said to me, Mark? No, not that. Nor that either. Sue! He most certainly did not say that! Behave!

No, he didn't say any of those things. He asked me instead how many words I'd written in my letters to you these past five months or so. I said I had no idea (I have no idea, Sue!) - but I of course pointed out that every word was not only chosen carefully, chewed over, ruminated, cogitated and deliberated upon, but that no single word was ever used superfluously. Brevity, that's the thing, I said to him, Sue. (Brevity, along with duty, clarity, thingy and the other one. Honesty.)

Anyway, he did some mathematics then, Sue. I know! He's a clever chap! And do you know what he said to me then? He said that 37 letters, with an average wordcount of, say, 600 words per letter (the longest has, I believe, been nudging the 2000 word mark) made for a rough total of 22,000 words I've written to you!

Twenty-two thousand words!

Dude of Dude Hall!

I didn't even think I knew 22,000 words! Twenty-two thousand words, Mark! Did you know that's exactly the same number of words as there are in the Magna Carta? Or the complete works of Shakespeare? Did you know that's exactly the same number of words as there are in the Dead Sea Scrolls? Or the writings of Sun Tzu?

I had to go away and lie down, Sue! I came over all faint! I still haven't recovered from the shock!

Au revoir!


*That's from the Bible, that is, Sue. Crazy book! Exactly 22,000 words long, too. Spooky!

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