Wednesday, 16 November 2011

16 November 2011. Letter 54

Dear Mark and Sue

Re: 08.06 FGW service from Oxford to Paddington, 16/11/11. Amount of my day wasted: 13 minutes.

Hey there, Mark and Sue! Swinging down the track so fancy free! Nobody you meet could ever see the loneliness inside you!

Sorry. You know how you get the last song you hear before you leave the house in the morning stuck in your head for the rest of the day? Well I've got that today. Blame Chris Evans, Mark! Blame Radio 2! Blame the New Seekers and their catchy ode to the sadness inherent behind the sixties' dream! Blame the fact the New Seekers were always a poor man's Mamas and Papas, Mark! Georgy Girl - it's a tune, undoubtedly, but it ain't California Dreamin' is it? And, if I'm going to be brutally honest with you, Mark, I actually prefer the original Coke advert version of I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing, rather than the New Seekers' million-selling 1971 version.

Does that shock you?

Never let it be said that I'm frightened of controversy, Mark! Never let it be said that I'm unafraid to address the important issues head on, square-shouldered, straight-backed, stiff-legged and jazz-handed!

Which brings me neatly to... hang on! Wait up! Hold the wedding! Sue! You've gone on your holidays again!

Again, Sue? Once more? Encore une fois? Another fortnight off? Goodness me, you do alright don't you? You lucky thing, Sue!

Where have you jetted off to this time? Chasing the winter sun, are we? Or is it all about the snowy slopes and the apres ski? Have you gone on the piste, Sue? Are you on the piste right now? I envy you, Sue! Out in Interlaken in your salopettes and your Ugg boots! Gazing across clear alpine vistas in your bobble hat and mitts! It's a wonderful image, Sue, and one that I'm sure both Mark and I will bring to mind to help cheer us through the drab and drizzle, the gloom and grey and cloying chill of mid November in middle England...

Hang on (again)! Wait up (again)! Hold the wedding (again)! Sue! What's this?

You're away "from Saturday 17 September until Tuesday 3 October"? What fresh confusion do you bring us? What the Gregorian is going on? Sue! Dude! Saturday 17 September was two months ago! Tuesday 3 October, Sue, was even longer ago. Tuesday 3 October was back in 2006!

Have you discovered the secret of time-travel, Sue? Has that monkey business in CERN gone and displaced the space-time continuum and somehow sent you on a holiday that lasts five years backwards? And how does that work in terms of using up or accruing allotted time off work?

These are all questions that need answers, Sue! We need enlightenment! You need to know which direction through time and space you're traveling! Are you due back in work in a fortnight, or five years ago? I'm prepared to call on the services of Professor Brian Cox if needs be, Sue. I can get Patrick Moore on speed-dial! Answers must be forthcoming!

But anyway. I digress. (Again! All this digression, Mark! And me such a stickler for concise, precise, to the point prose! Whodathunkit!)

We're not here to talk about Sue's holidays in the fourth dimension, are we? (Though it does remind me of a good joke: What did the hungry clock do, Mark? It went back four seconds! No? Four seconds? Hungry? No? Yes I know it's a clock, Mark, that's the point! Four seconds! Well yes, obviously clocks don't actually get hungry as such, not having stomachs or intestinal tracts or indeed sentience... but let's just say for argument's sake they did get hungry, then... oh, forget it.)

We're here to talk about trains! We're only talking at all because of your trains! If it's not love, as George Papandreou, former Prime Minister of Greece and one-time bassist with seminal Mancunian indie band The Smiths, put it, then it's the trains that will bring us together. And so they have, Mark! (If only old George had been so perceptive in matters of economic policy then perhaps Monsieur Sarkozy and Frau Merkel wouldn't have been so horrid to him over that whole unfortunate Euro business.)

I'm writing to you because you're the Managing Director of First Great Western! And I'm writing to you because I'm a customer of First Great Western! And you're writing back for exactly the same reasons! It's, like, totally symbiotic, bro! I give you a large amount of money every month, you provide me with an advertised train service. I pays my cash, I gets my goods - and everyone with even the most basic understanding of the writings of John Maynard Keynes agrees that it's a system that works beautifully!

The only problem is, Mark, I feel you're not keeping your end of the bargain up. I'm doing my bit, alright! There I am, keen as mustard every month, plastic in hand and pin number ready, shelling out the readies for the railways... and not getting what I'm paying for.

Mark! I'm not getting what I'm paying for! Why aren't I getting what I'm paying for? How can you get away with not giving me what I've already paid for?

Is it a money thing, Mark? Are you feeling the pinch? Are we all in it together, as the multimillionaire old-Etonians of the Cabinet like to reassure the one million young people unable to get paying work at the moment? Is First Group struggling to find the filthies to kick their franchise into shape? I understand, Mark. I fully under...

Hang on (again again)! Wait up (again again)! Hold the wedding (again again)! Mark! What's this?

I read in my downmarket broadsheet rag this morning (the Super Soaraway inexplicably missed the story, Mark) that First Group are not feeling the pinch at all! Au contraire, as they say in Addis Ababa! I read that First Group's pre-tax profits have risen 56 per cent! To £127.8 million! In a downturn! In a recession! During a time of acute financial crisis!

Crikey, Mark! And that's before the planned nine per cent ticket price rises due in January! You boys are laughing! You're rolling in it! I don't know why you're not making trains out of gold, or ivory, or moon-rock! You can afford it! No wonder Sue can take another holiday - it's all gravy round First Group's way! It's all truffle gravy served in gravy boats of solid Kryptonite!

But given that... one glaring question does remain. If profits are up and prices are rising and forecasts are bright... why on earth can't you get the trains to run on time? These are the good times, Mark! Spend a little to make a little! You've got to - what's that word? Invest! Why not invest, Mark! Make your below-standard service at least... standard!

Or, to put it another way - why not give me what I'm paying you to give me? Why not stop trousering enormous profits and start treating your paying customers with a little respect?

Sorry, Mark. Do I sound a little cross? I am a little cross, dude! Nothing personal, like - but for goodness sake, Mark! One hundred and twenty seven point eight million pounds profit and you can't even run a train on time? Seriously?

Right. I'm off to listen to the New Seekers 1974 hit: You Won't Find Another Fool Like Me. Much underrated tune, between you and me.

Au revoir!


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