Tuesday, 24 January 2012

20 January 2012. Letter 78

Dear Mark and Sue

Re: 18.51 FGW service from Paddington to Oxford, 20/1/12. Amount of my day wasted: 13 minutes.

Mark! Sue! Hey, you! How are you? How’s it going? How’s it hanging? What’s the word? What’s the score? What, in fact, is the actual Bobby Moore?

Hey, guess what? I wasn’t going to write to you this week. I know! I’ve got the week off, you see: and that means I’ve got a week without having to get on one of your trains. When I received your kind replies on Friday morning (two in one day, Mark! Sue must have really been cracking the old Communications whip!) I thought to myself: well, that’s that for a week or so. For one whole week, we’ll have to stay silent. For one whole week we’re going (in the words of Spandau Ballet) incommunicado.

After all (I thought, on Friday, when I received your two letters) – I’ve only got my train home tonight. And what would be the chances, what would be the odds, on that one train before a week without trains being delayed?

Seriously, Mark. What odds would you give me – on any given single train of yours being delayed? Twenty to one? No chance, you’d be bankrupt in a week! Ten to one then? Not very smart at all. Five to one? Evens? Odds on? Burlington Bertie, 100 to 30?*

Whatever odds you’d have been offering Mark, you’d have been foolish. Because of course the train was delayed. It was delayed by 13 minutes! You took 13 minutes of my life away on Friday, Mark – and, as all three of us know to the point where we’re almost certainly heartily sick of the whole business by now**, that means I’m here to waste 13 minutes of your lives in return.

It’s childish, Mark, of course it is. And it’s almost certainly not helping you improve your service (I think the last 77 letters bear testimony to that) – but you know what? It makes me feel better. Knowing I’m ruining a small part of your day, just as you’re ruining mine. It gives me a warm fuzzy glow inside.

So! Where was I? Oh yes! I wasn’t supposed to be writing to you at all this week! I’m off work, Mark, away from the office, far from the madding crowds and safe in the city of dreaming spires. I’m not concerned with the daily grind this week, I care not for the business of profit and loss and how best to edit a feature for the country’s biggest circulation Saturday supplement magazine. I am out of jail and out on bail and that’s the way it goes!

You know what I’m doing instead?

Instead of going to work this week, Mark (actually, you’ll like this Sue, it’s right up your strasse) I’m in the library. The library! Sshhh! Keep it down there! Enough with the rustling! Switch off that phone! Unplug your ears from that iPod! You can keep that kind of racket for the youth club!

What am I doing in the library? I’m writing, Sue! I’m finally writing that book I kept banging on about. Do you remember? The book! The book that I’ve been talking about for as long as I’ve been writing to you, the great 21st Century novel that’s going to change the way everyone thinks about everything. The book! A work to rival Ernest Hemingway’s The Gruffalo! A work to compare to John Steinbeck’s Babar the Elephant! A work to be placed alongside Scott Fitzgerald’s The Tiger Who Came To Tea! The book, Sue! Finally!

I’ve got all sorts of ideas for the book, Mark. I’m going to chuck the lot at it. In the finest literary traditions (I’m thinking the Reverend W Awdry, especially – now there was a writer) I’m going to bung every idea I’ve ever had into the sucker and watch it fly.

I’ll get in that stuff about the sloth we talked about, Sue (you do remember the sloth don’t you?); I’m going to use the Pyrrhic victory analogy we were all so fond of. I may even get some trains in there. What do you think, Mark? Trains? No trains? Do you think it would be possible to write a novel (something to be mentioned in the same breath as Norman Mailer’s Spot the Dog trilogy) combining the three conceits of trains, sloths and Pyrrhic victories?

You do, Mark? Oh, me too! And that’s why I’ve taken the week off work. That’s why I’m in the library right now, thinking it all through as I write this letter to you.

I’ll tell you what I’m not doing in the library, Sue. I’m not spending my time in this ancient building filled with important literature surreptitiously checking out the hot post-grad student chicks. I’m certainly not spending my time in this historic seat of learning sneakily scoping out those cool-but-nerdy types with the thick black tights and the glasses and the too-long fringes getting in the way of their laptop screens. No, Sue! Not even the pair opposite me! Not even that blonde one over there! The thought didn’t even occur to me!

That, Mark, would be unprofessional, and as we all three of us know, I am nothing if not professional. Why, I’m so professional I’ve even been on TV!

Did you watch it last night, Mark? Did you settle down to it Sue, bottle of pink fizz in one hand and Sky+ controller in the other? Did you both get in takeaways especially, picking at prawn crackers or shovelling up great forkfuls of Korma as the programme progressed? Did you get the neighbours round? Did you make an evening of it?

It was exciting, wasn’t it? Did you see the way I fed those ducks? Did you see the way I stared moodily out of the window? Mark: I nailed that staring out of the window shizzle. I owned that staring out of the window shot. If ever they want to film someone staring out of a window again, I reckon I’m the call they’re going to have to make.

I hate to blow my own trumpet, Sue, as you know: but allow me the indulgence of my staring out of the window skills.

But anyway – enough about me. Where were you? Mark! Sue! I waited for your appearance through all those long minutes when people were talking about stuff and there was no staring out of the window action… I sat through it all, all the bits between the staring out of the window thrills, waiting, anticipating your appearance – and where were you?

Did you respectfully decline the invitation to appear, Mark? Was that on the professional advice of Sue? If so, and if it was, you did the right thing, I’d say. Deflect the attention on to Network Rail. Make out like you’re as helpless as all the people you’re supposed to be providing a service to. Gloss over the huge gulf between your profit margins and what you’re giving us for our money. Blinding, Sue! You played a blinder!

But still, I can’t pretend I’m not disappointed. I was so looking forward to seeing your faces again. It’s going to be a long week without you, Sue. And if I only had a Panorama investigation of you as something to remind me… I wouldn’t spend my life just wishing. You know?

(That worked much better in my head. Memo to self: no Flock of Seagulls lyrics to go into the Great 21st Century Novel.)

Oh well. We’ve been beaten by the clock and the wordcount again. Parting is such sweet sorrow. Until next week, mes petites incompetents!

Au revoir!


*You know Burlington Bertie, 100 to 30 don’t you Sue? From the music hall song of, ooh, must have been 1900 I reckon. Composed by that Harry B Norris feller. Sung originally by old Vesta Tilley. Denotes odds of 10/3. Famously performed by Betty Grable, Julie Andrews and one of the Muppets. That’s the one! Burlington Bertie, 100 to 30! I’ll have a pony on Burlington Bertie, 100 to 30!

**Actually, I’m not sick of the whole business at all. I’m still enjoying it. It’s fun, isn’t it, Mark? Writing to each other like this! It’s pleasingly old-fashioned, it’s pleasantly civilised, it’s at once zeitgeisty and archaic, at once anarchic and gentlemanly (no offence Sue). And also, it gives me a chance to show off my Burlington Bertie knowledge. Everyone’s a winner, baby! That’s the truth!

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