Tuesday, 13 December 2011

12 December 2011. Letter 67

Dear Mark and Sue

Re: 18.51 FGW service from Paddington to Oxford, 12/12/11. Amount of my day wasted: 29 minutes.

Ah, Mark! Sue! There you are!

How are you? Where does the morning find you? Queuing for coffee and a chocolate croissant, are we? (I always ask for “chocolate croissant” rather than “pain au chocolate”. It’s faintly embarrassing asking for “pain au chocolate,” don’t you find, Mark? It’s all a bit, ooh, get him, the linguist! Easier by far to give it a bit of the old “chocolate croissant”. Given the choice between looking all fancypants and coming across as an ignoramus, I’d choose ignoramus every time. Wouldn’t you, Mark?)

Or have you been at your desks since the first crack of the morning? Have you been up with the lark, logged in and booted up and ready to roll before the first rosy-fingered touch of the dawn? Good for you! Well done! The early bird catches the worm, Mark! Although, of course, the second mouse gets the cheese.

Hey, wanna hear something a little far out? Although it’s morning as you read this – it’s still only evening as I write! It’s yesterday, dudes! I’m sitting on a train tap-tip-tappity-tripping these words out to you… and it’s still Monday evening! I’m sitting on a delayed train as we speak! I’m having to guess just how delayed it’s going to end up being… but seeing as we started off nine minutes late, I’m guessing it’s going to be, what’s the word? Substantial. Significant. Double figures at least.

What do you think? How many minutes will you take from me today? How much time of yours will I be forced to waste in return? Shall we play a guessing game, Mark? Shall we have a sweepstake, Sue? What fun!

Oh – hang on, you already know. It’s tomorrow where you are! You’ll have read the reports already, the morning briefings, the logs, tallies, rap sheets. You’ll already be fully up to speed (pun totally intended, Sue! I love a pun, as you know… did I ever tell you the one about the girl who went into a bar and asked for a double entendre? No? Oh well, another time, maybe).

It’s confusing, isn’t it? This time-displacement thing, I mean – not the running of an adequate train company. Though I imagine that’s quite confusing too, I certainly couldn’t do it. I’d get far too confused! Do you get confused, Mark?

That aside: this time-displacement thing – it’s confusing! How is Tuesday, Mark? What’s happened overnight? Have the hurricanes come? Do the winds whip our hair? Do the rains blanket us in grey and gloom? Are the snows upon us yet? Has Nick Clegg reappeared? Does Europe still have a currency to speak of? Is Monsieur Sarkozy still in a huff? (Hey, Sarko: it’s always gonna be chocolate croissant for us, me old china plate! None of yer fancy pain au chocolate here, merci beaucoup!)

Have we vetoed anything new overnight, Mark? Is there anything left to veto?

(I exercised my veto at the weekend, as it happens, Mark. Twenty-six of my mates wanted to go down the pub. I exercised my veto not to go down the pub. So they all went down the pub without me. But I bet it was rubbish – and I saved a few quid. So who’s the silly one now, eh? Exactly!)

Anyway: enough time travel and laboured attempts at political satire. We’re not here to discuss the space-time continuum, Mark – even despite Sue’s recent vay-cay in the fourth dimension. We’re not here to clumsily ape the searing social commentary of a mid-1980s, perm-haired, sparkly-suited Ben Elton. We’re not here to have fun, Mark! Heaven forbid! I don’t pay my 36 typewriting letter-monkeys to have fun! They’re here to work!

They earn their peanuts by carefully, precisely, pedantically and alliteratively (where possible) making the point, day after day, week after week, letter after letter, just what it’s like having your time needlessly wasted. They’re jibbering and jabbering and yammering and yelping and screeching and flailing at the typewriter keys solely to illustrate to you, as Managing Director of the company which is wasting so much of my time (over 15 hours since the end of June, Sue, as I’m sure you haven’t forgotten!) just how boring and tedious and frustrating and impotent-anger-inducing having your time wasted so pointlessly can be.

Nobody’s having fun here, Mark. Not me. Not the monkeys. (Their life is hellish, Mark, I don’t mind telling you. If anyone were to ever set up any kind of Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, for example, I’d find myself in a whole lot of hot water where the monkeys are concerned. But until someone does… well then the monkeys are mine to do what I like with! I’m like a God to these monkeys, Mark! Write faster, little monkeys! Write harder! Now dance for me! Sit! Stand! Beg! Roll over!)

I’m sure you’re not having any fun, Mark. I’m almost certain Sue isn’t. I expect even the people you employ at your official First Great Western complaints and customer feedback centre, to whom I always cc these letters, aren’t having any fun. I expect that you, Sue, the feedback people and the monkeys would all like nothing more than for these letters to stop.

Guess what, Mark! Me too! I’d love these letters to stop! I’m sick and tired of having my time wasted like this! I’m bored to tears with the wasted hours of my life spent on your trains! There are nights when I could scream with frustration at it! There are mornings I could weep into my copy of the Super Soaraway with the stupidity of it all! And every time I renew my monthly season ticket, Mark, every time I punch those four digits into the card reader and see my bank balance deplete by another £450 or so, I ask myself: is this what it’s all about? Alfie?

Mark. Sue. My name is not even Alfie. That’s how bad things have got. I don’t even know anyone called Alfie. I’m not sure Alfie is a very good film, even. Is it? Is it really? (Not the Jude Law remake, obviously. That’s clearly just self-indulgent, ego-pandering, dismally-acted rubbish. I mean the original version.) I mean – it’s got a kitsch, retro, rose-tinted nostalgic charm… it’s got Michael Caine looking great in those glasses, but it’s not actually a very good film, is it? As a, you know, film. No. No it’s not.

Um, anyway. Yes! So nobody’s having fun. We’re not here to have fun! We’re here to do a job of work. I – or rather, my three-dozen typewriting letter-monkeys – are here to make a point.

We’ve just passed Reading, by the way. (When I say “just” I mean, yesterday, last night, at about 10 minutes to eight. Some 20 minutes later than we should have.) Oh – and when I say “passed” I mean, “sat still for five minutes”. So I’m definitely going to be late home. Again. We’re losing time, Mark!

I feel, however, that at this juncture I should make something clear. I worry you may be getting the wrong end of the stick. I wouldn’t want that, Mark. I’m just a boy, Sue, whose intentions are good: please don’t let me be misunderstood!

It’s not the commute itself I’m moaning about. It’s not the fact that I live a (scheduled) hour away from London that’s getting my monkeys all excited. That’s fine, lads. I’m happy with paying for a train that takes an hour to get to London.

It’s the additional minutes every day, the extra hours each month, that I’m concerned with. It’s the fact I’m paying for a service (paying handsomely, Sue!) that I’m not getting. It’s not the commute, Mark. It’s the delays on my commute.

After all. I chose to live in Oxford. I could have moved to, for example, Sevenoaks. Or Luton. (Maybe not Luton. Why would I want to move to Luton?) I chose to live in Oxford – and the one hour commute to London was factored into that decision. It was, I figured, worth it.

Oxford’s a beautiful city, Mark! Did you know the University is over 150 years old, for example? It was set up back in 1858! Perhaps even more extraordinarily, what we now know as one of the most respected academic institutions in the Midlands was originally created as an after-school club for the children of workers at the Morris Motors Works in Cowley.

From such humble origins has come an academic centre of excellence that has included amongst its alumni some of the greatest writers, thinkers and politicians of the twentieth century – including William Shakespeare, King Louis XIV, Eddie Izzard, Leon Trotsky, Colleen Rooney, Ho Chi Minh, George Harrison, Roberto Baggio, Chas and Dave, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Pliny the Elder, Enid Blyton and that saucy-looking blonde who does the numbers on Countdown.

Extraordinary, Mark. Humbling, Sue! I’ll be honest with you – I copied most of those last two paragraphs from Wikipedia. I didn’t even realise all of that myself: and I live there! I walk past the huge, towering, concrete prefabs of Christ Church College and Nelson Mandela College and Saif Gaddafi College every day… and I didn’t realise so much history was smeared into those sullen grey walls! Thank goodness for Wikipedia, Mark! As a journalist I don’t know where I’d be without it!

But I digress. I chose to live in Oxford, Mark. I chose a one-hour commute to London. That’s fine. That’s cool. (As Ho Chi Minh himself was fond of saying.) What I didn’t choose was all these delays. And when I cough up my four-and-a-half ton every month for the privilege of travelling by First Great Western trains to the capital and back each day, what I expect is a service that does what I’m paying it to do. Get me to the capital and back each day: one hour each way.

What gets me so cross, Mark, is the fact that it rarely actually does that. What gets me so hot under the collar is all these extra hours you’re adding to my journey. Hours that were not part of the deal. Hours that belong to me. That I could spend doing far more interesting, enjoyable or useful things. Or failing that, working.

(Ooh! Travel update! We’ve just passed Didcot now, Mark, and the train has stopped again! Goodness me, this is turning into a shambles! We started off delayed, we lost time before Reading… and now things have got worse by Didcot! We’re pushing 25 minutes behind schedule now, Mark. And the iPod has shuffled around to play some Joy Division. It’s funny how that happens, isn’t it? How one’s iPod can sometimes almost psychically reflect one’s mood? With 700 or so songs to choose from, at just the moment this already-delayed train sighed to a stop again, it picked Isolation by Joy Division! As opposed to, say, I Feel Fine, by the Beatles. Or Fiesta by the Pogues. Or Subterranean Homesick Blues, by Bob Dylan. Although that would have done, to be fair. Actually, that would have been better. Subterranean Homesick Blues! Why didn’t it pick Subterranean Homesick Blues? Stupid iPod!)

I don’t mind the commute, Mark. It’s just the delays that are doing my head in. Just so we’re clear. Just in case, after 67 letters, 15 hours and some 45,000 words, there was still any confusion as to what was getting my beef.

Oh dear, Looks like this has become another grumpy letter, Sue! Looks like this has become another ranty one. I am sorry if it’s bringing your Tuesday down. I do apologise if it’s spoiling the taste of your chocolate croissant. But then – you started it, lads. You started it, with your shambolic excuse for a train company.

But never mind! Because now we’re moving again, Mark! The low-rise tenements and squat red-brick terraces of Oxford University loom like the ghosts of industrialists past from behind the rainclouds! By my watch we’re coming into the station some 29 minutes late. And by my wordcount, this letter’s a little shy of where it should be for such a lengthy delay.

Aw, shucks. Tell you what – you can owe it. This one’s on me. I’ll add it to the slate. Don’t say I never do anything for you! Enjoy the rest of your mornings!

Au revoir


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