Wednesday, 14 December 2011

13 December 2011. Letter 68

Dear Mark and Sue

Re: 08.06 FGW service from Oxford to Paddington, 13/12/11. Amount of my day wasted: 10 minutes.

Mark! Sue! Greetings! Greetings and salutations! Are we well? Are we doing real good? Are we up and at ‘em? First out of the blocks? Are we feeling fast today, Mark? Are we feeling as fast as, for example, Mel Gibson in Gallipoli? What are your trains, Mark? Springs! Steel springs! What are they going to do? Hurl us down the track! How fast can they run? As fast as a leopard! How fast are they going to run? As fast as a leopard!

(Top film, Mark. A big hit at Monkey Film Club. It’s no Lethal Weapon 3, obviously, but it’s certainly no disgrace to the Gibson oeuvre.)

I digress. I write, Mark, not about fast trains, but about slow trains. About trains that are supposed to be fast trains and end up being slow trains. Your trains, Mark! (Yours too, Sue! There’s plenty train to go around! Unless you want to sit down, of course… in which case there’s not really enough train to go around. But still. No reason not to include you. It’s your fault, too, Sue! Please don’t think for a minute that I don’t consider the substandard service you’re delivering not to be your fault too!* I do, Sue! You’re Director of Communications for First Great Western trains, Sue! With great power comes great responsibility. Yoda said that. Though probably rather less grammatically.)

My train yesterday morning, Mark: it was delayed. Even as I was still reeling from the 29 minute debacle on Monday evening, my journey to work the following morning was delayed. By 10 minutes. And it says something when your first reaction is to think, “Oh, it’s only 10 minutes,” doesn’t it? It’s still 10 minutes, lads!

In Japan there would be mass hari-kari after a 10-minute delay. In Switzerland there would be instant economic meltdown. In Germany, a 10-minute delay to a train journey would spark a national questioning of identity akin only to the death of Princess Diana in this country, the assassination of JFK in America, or the introduction of the five-day working week in France.

And yet, here, today, where your company is concerned, a 10-minute delay is almost greeted with relief. Relief that it’s not a 20-minute delay. Or a 30-minute delay. Should we be grateful for the minor delays, Mark? Have we become the abused partner in an abused relationship, pathetically relieved that at least these bruises don’t show, afraid of making a fuss in case things turn worse?

Instead of mithering on about my messed-up journeys like I do, should I instead be counting my blessings, Mark? Should I be happy I get to work, or get home from work, at all?

Should I be thinking: I’m young! (I’m not that young, anymore, Mark. I remember Top of the Pops, dude! I remember taping the Top 40… on a Tuesday! Do you remember when the new pop charts were on a Tuesday? Why were the new pop charts on a Tuesday? Whose idea was that?) I’m healthy! (Barring the old gyp, the gripe, the general gamminess.) I’m loved! (You better believe it, Sue.) So what if my train is delayed every other journey or so? The world is my lobster, right? And not one of those sad lobsters you see out of the sea, with their claws all taped up, screaming as they hit the boiling pot… No, not a bad lobster! The world is my good lobster! What have I got to moan about?

Perhaps you’re right, Mark. Perhaps you’ve hit the knob on the head, Sue. Perhaps I should shut up and take it like a man. Perhaps I should accept that hoping to get what I pay for is an entirely unrealistic ambition. Perhaps I should learn that second-best (or third, or fourth, or whatever, in fact, I’m offered) is good enough. Perhaps the idea of a massively profitable company providing a service to its customers anything like what they claim to be doing is the stuff of daydreams and laughably ingenuous sixth-form-level idealism.

It’s certainly a poser, Mark! It’s given me a lot to think about, Sue! I shall chew it over in my mind the next time I’m staring blankly at Slough or Didcot, waiting for my train to start moving again. It shall become the central philosophical conundrum of my commute, Mark! Should the fact that things aren’t worse for me make me grateful for the fact that they’re not as good as they should be?

What do you think, Mark? How about you, Sue?

And also, while we’re at it, and referring back to my very first paragraph, because it’s been gnawing away at me this whole journey as I’ve been writing, is “salutations” actually a word? Greetings and salutations? Salutations. Sal-ewe-tay-shuns.

Is it a word? I’ve got the feeling Christian Slater says it in Heathers, but I’m not sure. Did I imagine that? Have I been imagining quotes from Christian Slater movies? Is that how bad things have got?

If you have the answer to that question, or any of the other questions I’ve asked in this letter, I’d love to hear it!

Au revoir!


*Crikey, there was an awful lot of negatives in that sentence, wasn’t there? All don’t this and not that. Not very clear communicating, was it, Sue? Tut! Not the kind of communicating you would endorse, I’m sure. We don’t do negatives at First Great Western, do we? We communicate the positives, right? Or we don’t communicate at all. Which may go some way to explaining your apparent writer’s block these last five months…


  1. Another great post, though I hate to correct you behalf of all us comic book geeks but the 'with great power comes great responsibility' quote should be credited to Peter Parker's uncle, not Yoda

  2. I think that of all the people who have said it we should probably credit Jesus of Nazareth who is quoted in Luke 12:48: "from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked."

    Voltaire once said something very similar as well, if I am not mistaken.

    Just thought I'd let you know