Friday, 9 December 2011

8 December 2011. Letter 66

Dear Mark and Sue

Re: 19.22 FGW service from Paddington to Oxford, 8/12/11. Amount of my day wasted: 19 minutes.

Mark! Sue! Lights! Camera! Action!


I’ve been thinking, Mark. I’ve been cogitating, Sue! All those blank-eyed minutes lost on your delayed trains… I’ve been using them to put the old noggin to use. I’m not as green as I’m cabbage-looking, Mark! Every now and then I like to put the brain into gear and take it for a spin. Just to keep it ticking over, like. Just to keep it from rusting up completely. You never know when you might need it, after all. You never know what emergencies might happen when a brain in good working order might be called for. Better safe than sorry, that’s my motto! Be prepared!

So, anyway. I’ve been thinking. I’ve been thinking: all these letters to you, this cataloguing of failure and delay, this sad tally of incompetence and frustration… what it needs is livening up, right? A bit of glamour, Sue! A touch of magic! Some pizzazz! A sprinkle of Hollywood!

What these letters need is to be written in a style much more suited to the sensibilities of the modern consumer! These kids, Mark – they’ve got the attention span of amnesiac, ADHD-afflicted, goldfish. They’re the post-MTV generation, Sue! MTV’s too long and slow and deep and wide for ‘em! They’re the ringtone generation, the twitter generation, the here-today-who-tomorrow generation. They need stimulation, Sue! And so do we!

These letters – sure they’re doing what they’re supposed to do… but they’re not exactly Hollywood blockbusters are they? If they were to be turned into a film, they wouldn’t star (for example) Bruce Willis, would they? They wouldn’t be directed by Quentin Tarantino. They wouldn’t be soundtracked by someone fast and shouty with electric guitars and synthesisers.

(Incidentally… the three-dozen typewriting letter-monkeys I employ to write these missives to you are currently very big on Bruce Willis, Mark. Do you remember I mentioned Monkey Film Club, the weekly DVD nights I’ve been laying on for them? Well it’s all Bruce Willis this, Bruce Willis that, these days. They’re blooming Bruce Willis mad, those monkeys! They’re bananas for Bruce! We must have watched The Fifth Element 15 times already! And as for the Sixth Sense… those silly monkeys still don’t get the twist. They still haven’t grasped it: everyone’s dead, Mark! Everyone except Bruce Willis! That’s why everyone can see the freaky little boy except him! Right?)

Anyway. The point being: this does not feel like a Bruce Willis film. My sad life being wasted gazing out of stationary train windows on stationary trains, late for work and late to come home again… it doesn’t feel like a Bruce Willis film. And I can’t help wishing it would.

Who’s being stimulated here, Sue? Anyone?

No. Thought not. So I’ve been thinking. I’m going to describe today’s delay in a far less high-falutin’ style than normal: I’m going to follow the lead of Monkey Film Club! (I’ve followed far worse leads before. Remind me to tell you about the time I nearly packed in my job to pick olives and “do a bit of DJing” in Ibiza. That was a bad lead to follow, Mark.)

No. Enough nonsense and onwards with the monkeys! I’m going to paint a picture of last night’s delay to my journey home in glorious Technicolor. Hollywood style. I’m going to tell you about the 19 minutes you took from me last night in a manner Bruce Willis himself would be pleased with.

Close your eyes and imagine, Mark. (Um, Sue, if he actually does close his eyes at this point then you may need to read the rest of this out loud. Sorry about that. Good communication practice though!)

It’s a stormy evening in London town, Mark. Against a black sky the wind whips and shrieks, the rain lashes against the jutting, jagging peaks of Fortress Wapping, and, all along the road by the river, commuters hurry towards the tube station with backs bent and collars turned-up. They look like scurrying beetles, Mark. Huddled against the elements, scurrying towards the warmth and light of Tower Hill station. They’re running down, Sue, to the safety of the underground.

All except one. He’s our hero, Sue. He strides through the storm with hair plastered to his head and coat-tails flapping like dark angel wings in the wind. He hath a lean and hungry look, Mark. Such men are dangerous! Such men are liable to write letters to senior management of rail companies.

Tower Hill tube station is negotiated with ease, the Circle line to Embankment a mere formality. Our hero (let’s call him Bruce, for argument’s sake. Or Dom? What do you think, Sue? Bruce or Dom? Bruce? Ok, Bruce it is) does this every day. He knows just where to stand on the platform in order to alight near the stairs for the Bakerloo line at the other end. He’s smart, Mark. He’s wise. He’s so cool it hurts.

At Embankment he fixes his fellow passengers with a cold, steely gaze of ice blue. A sardonic smile plays around the corners of his mouth. None of these suckers is getting up that escalator before Bruce. Nobody beats Bruce to the ticket barrier.

Cut to Paddington station, quarter past seven pm. Bruce is in his usual spot near the barriers for Platform 3. The train is being “prepared”. Behind him swell the tired, the poor, the huddled masses, all waiting for the same train to stop being “prepared”. The man isn’t letting anyone through the barriers yet. Even though everyone knows this will be their train.

And then! They’re off! The train is boarding! The barriers open like the start of the Grand National and around three trainloads worth of people make a mad dash to get on the single train. It’s bedlam, Mark! It’s chaos, Sue! It’s like somebody’s kicked over an ants’ nest: there are bodies everywhere.

Bruce is right amongst it, in the thick of the action. As the music swells, he powers through the crowd, bouncing and weaving and thrusting on the balls of his feet. He’s tossing aside the elderly and shoulder-barging the pregnant away. He’s cutting up ladies with prams and chicaning through those struggling on crutches. He is Bruce, Mark! Look at him go!

Bruce gets his seat, takes off his coat and relaxes in his soiled white vest and bare feet. The all-action hero of Paddington Platform 3. A commuting colossus. Admiring glances come his way from adjacent seats, most notably from a couple of girls who kind of might sort of look a bit like Angelina Jolie ish in the right light and if you squint and maybe after a couple of drinks. Bruce raises an eyebrow in return, lips curling in that trademark half-smile, half-smirk again. Oh yeah, he thinks. I am Bruce. I’m Bruce, baby.

And then… well then there’s a bit of a lull in the action, Mark. What happens then is that the train is a couple of minutes late leaving Paddington (Bruce is unruffled at this point. He’s still relaxed about the situation) – and then seems to slow down between Slough and Reading. Bruce stares out of the window and wishes he’d picked up an Evening Standard.

At Reading (call it a good 10 minutes behind schedule now) Bruce is struck by a vague and nagging discomfort in his bladder. He should probably go for a wee, but then, after eyeing all those standing in the carriage, and knowing that the toilet will almost certainly be almost inhumanly indecent, decides to just cross his legs and deal with it.

By Didcot, Bruce is beginning to get angry, Mark. He really needs that wee now – but his train has got stuck behind a local stopping service. Bruce hates local stopping services. If there’s one thing that Bruce hates more than international terrorists or evil criminal masterminds or even Ashton Kutcher, it’s local stopping services. That smirk-smile is gone now. Those steely blue eyes are hardened. Bruce is getting ready to fight back.

ZIP! Bruce opens his laptop bag! FLIP! Bruce unpops the lid and powers on. WAIT! Bruce waits while Windows powers up. WAIT SOME MORE! Windows can take a while – too much “research” on the hard drive, probably. CLICK! Bruce opens up Word and starts writing.

Look at him go, Mark! Look at him write! His fingers are a blur! He’s got a delay worth 19 minutes to fill, after all!

Is there anything more masculine, Sue? Is there anything more thrilling, more action-packed, more nakedly virile than the sight of a man who really needs a wee sitting hunched over a laptop on a delayed train writing a bunch of nonsense about how unhappy he is?

No, Sue! No there is not! It’s totally Hollywood! It’s totally blockbusting! I’m feeling inspired just thinking about it!

Hey, monkeys! Fire up the top-loading VCR! We’re going for the full Die Hard Quartet tonight! Alright!

Au revoir!



  1. You know, a spoiler header about Sixth Sense would have been helpful, for those of us who haven't managed to get it from LoveFilm yet and who didn't need to know the twist.


  2. Oops! Sorry. But don't worry - they're not really all dead. I was just being silly.

    Samuel L Jackson, on the other hand, is the criminal mastermind in Die Hard 3. It's quite a twist.

    (Love all the kisses, btw, Anonymous. Gave me quite a funny turn!)