Wednesday, 23 November 2011

22 November 2011. Letter 59

Dear Mark and Sue

Re: 08.06 FGW service from Oxford to Paddington, 22/11/11. Amount of my day wasted: 17 minutes.

Mark! Sue! How does the morning find you? Do you greet the day with hope and joy and with hearts lifted by dreams of limitless opportunity and infinite potential? Do your souls sing like birds in the brave morning light?

Or are you grumpy snooze-button merchants, throwing out surly hands to punch the alarm clock into submission, to silence the desperate clarion call for another weary day, to stifle the grim reveille that drags us from our sweet slumbers and into the gloom and trudge of another long and pointless period of consciousness?

Life is very long, Mark, when you’re lonely. Morrissey said that, as you well know. (You remember Jim Morrissey don’t you, Mark? We’ve discussed him before. Lead singer with chirpy cockney bubblegum pop outfit Jim Morrissey and the Swinging Smiths? Had a string of Stockhausen-Waterman produced hits in the 70s? Famously played their last gig on a rooftop in Jimmy Savile Row? Guitarist found dead in a toilet in Memphis, Tennessee, stuffed to the gills with squirrel burgers and barbiturates? Drummer only had one arm? Bassist sacked to be replaced by Sid Vicious? That’s right! That’s the one! Jim Morrissey! Had a well-publicised affair with Kylie Minogue! Enjoyed a Britpop chart battle with Oasis! Won the 2010 Eurovision Song Contest! Replaced Cheryl Cole as a judge on X Factor USA! Jim Morrissey! Good old Jim Morrissey!)

Well, let’s forget all about Jim Morrissey and his ‘life is very long’ codswallop, Mark! What does Jim Morrissey know about the price of eggs anyway? We must be of an altogether more positive bent! Not fare well, but fare forward! That should be our mantra.

(And besides – even if life is very long, we’re not lonely, are we? We’ve got each other! Mark, Sue: I’ve got you, babes! I’ve got you to hold my (metaphorical) hand! I’ve got you to understand! Oh! We happy three!)

So not fare well, but fare forward, Mark! Whether you’re a jump outta bed and greet the morning’s glory with a wide smile and a quick half-dozen jumping jacks kinda guy, or even if you’re an angry-haired, sluggish-limbed and snappy-mouthed Suzy McSnap first thing in the morning kinda gal… positivity is the thing.

It’s what the public expects, Mark. It’s all part of the job, Sue. Not fare well, but fare forward! Hide your pain and your despair, push down those feelings deep inside yourselves, bury them… and prepare instead a face to meet the faces that you meet. Keep smiling kids, because nobody likes a sourpuss.

Okay? Good. Great! Well done! Now we’re all feeling brilliant about ourselves, we can get on with the business in hand.

The trains, Mark! Les trains, Sue! Die zuge! Los trenes! I treni! The very symbol of an industrialised nation, dudes! The huffing, puffing, chuffing, steamy chariots of the Gods! Comites ire sicut vapor! (That’s Latin, Sue – the official language of Ancient Greece. It means: Proceed in the manner of a steamy chariot. You may want to use that as a slogan, as a motto, as something to project in 20-foot high letters across the fa├žade of the First Great Western Nerve Centre – hey, feel free! Go for it! You can have that one on me, just for old time’s sake!)

God knows I love a train, Mark! Lord knows I can’t resist a great big shiny engine, Sue! I’m a sucker for that shizzle! I spend an extraordinary amount of time and money expressing that love, Mark. I express that love by sitting on trains wondering why they’re not going as fast as they should be. Or standing on trains wondering the same. It’s like a drug, Sue! Might as well face it, I’m addicted to trains!

But sometimes, Mark, every now and then, Sue (well, about three or four times a week at the moment, to be honest) I grow a little weary of trains. Familiarity, as they say, breeds contempt. If pleasure remains, Mark, does it remain a pleasure?

Let me explain. Let me fill you in. (Just the facts, Sue!) Yesterday morning, my train to work was delayed by 17 minutes. Again! I know! Seventeen minutes, Sue, during which I pondered the fog around the outer edges of London town. Seventeen minutes, Mark, during which I listened to Jim Morrissey and the Swinging Smiths and turned my mental gaze inwards to address the gnawing, nibbling, nit-picking little questions that seem to worry away at my consciousness.

Questions like: why do ducks duck? Why do flies fly? Why do bees be? Big questions, Mark. Important stuff, Sue!

Questions like: what’s happening in Egypt? Is the Arab Spring uncoiling, or being resprung? Questions like: where is the Occupy movement going? Questions like: how will the people of France and Germany respond to the Euro bailout plans and for how long will they be happy to allow their taxes to be spent on rescuing fare-dodging Graeco-Roman types by the Mediterranean and Aegean seas? Fanciful stuff, Mark. Trivia and tittle-tattle, Sue!

I also pondered questions like: why can’t I ever get to work on time? Or home from work on time? Questions like: is this all worth it after all? These lost hours and wasted days, these things I do for money, while the dregs of my best years dribble away like so much cold coffee down the drain? Questions like: is that the weakest simile I’ve ever written?

But that’s what listening to Jim Morrissey and the Swinging Smiths does to you, I guess. All this introspection – it can’t be healthy, can it, Sue? Mankind cannot bear very much reality, Mark! And neither can we!

Tomorrow I shall listen to something altogether more upbeat. Something like Jimmy Curtis and the Jammin’ Joy Divisions. Or Jimmy Radio and the Dancin’ Radioheads. Or, I dunno, Leonard Cohen.

But I digress! Again! We’re not here to discuss the contents of my iPod, or the central dilemmas of twenty-first century existence! We’re not here to talk about the collapsing European economy or the troubles in Tahrir Square! I’m not paying good peanuts for 36 typewriting monkeys to discourse on philosophy, politics and pop music!

I’m paying those monkeys to pen pithy, precise and pointed letters of complaint, Mark! I’m shelling out for those simians to rattle off razor-sharp prose! I’m employing those apes for a purpose, Sue! They’re all here, chained to my factory floor, yammering and jammering and jabbing at their typewriters purely for the purpose of pointing out to you lads just how it feels to have your time wasted, day in, day out, week after week, month after long month.

That’s what we’re all here to do, Sue! That’s what these letters are about, Mark! We’re not here to be educated, or elucidated, or entertained! Heaven forbid! We don’t want to learn anything, do we Mark! We don’t want to emerge from this process wiser, better informed or in any way enlightened! No sir!

We wouldn’t want to learn, for example, that there is a hill outside Rome – a big hill, mind, a proper hill – made entirely out of the broken shards of ancient pots. Those centurions and dodecahedrons, Mark, those toga-sporting, Christian-baiting, civilisers of the world, Sue: they threw out so many old olive oil pots they made a whole hill out of them! You can walk on it today, Mark! It’s… crunchy!

We also wouldn’t want to learn, for example, the true meaning behind the Temptations classic ‘Papa was a Rollin’ Stone’. It’s about Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown, Mark – and how he abandoned his hometown musicians in Detroit and skedaddled to Los Angeles – taking the Jacksons and the Supremes with him and leaving everyone else to fend for themselves. It’s 12 of the most bitter minutes ever committed to vinyl, Mark. It’s brutal.

We wouldn’t want to learn these things, Sue! I’m not paying my monkeys to entertain or educate you, Mark! What kind of monster would that make me? There’s laws against that kind of thing, you know! What next? Bear baiting? Badger boxing? Kangaroo fiddling? These things may be acceptable on the continent, Mark, but I’m having none of it. None of it!

Where was I? (I mean, where were the monkeys?) Ah yes. The trains! The trains, Mark! My monkeys are dying of boredom on your persistently late trains, Mark! Life is very long, Mark! Let’s not make it feel any longer, eh? Not fare well, but fare forward!

Au revoir!


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