Friday, 6 January 2012

5 January 2011. Letter 73

Dear Mark and Sue

Re: 18.51 FGW service from Paddington to Oxford, 5/1/12. Amount of my day wasted: 10 minutes.

Top o’ the morning Mark! What about you, Sue? How’s tricks? How’s the tracks? What’s the skinny on our service today? All good? All clear? All tip-top, ship-shape and Bristol fashion? Good! Good work! Well done!

Thankyou for your latest letter, Mark. Good to see the new year hasn’t seen you stray into unnecessary verbosity. Good to see that 2012 will not apparently lure you into overindulging on the old word front. Just the facts, ma’am! No unnecessary flim-flam, none of that flowery nonsense. Get in, get it down, get out. First rule of journalism.*

I’ve got a feeling you’d make a fine journalist, Mark. In the Redford and Bernstein mould. (You remember Redford and Bernstein, don’t you? They’re the Washington Post journalists who investigated Watergate and brought about the downfall of Abraham Lincoln, back in the early 1990s. Their exploits were later made into a film starring Dustin Hoffman and Edward Woodward – All The King’s Horses, it was called. Well worth checking it out. I must have watched it 500 times, Mark! I know every detail of that story like the back of my elbow!)

What do you think, Sue? Do you think Mark would make a fine journalist? You’re the creative talent, here, after all! You’re the Director of Communications! You’re the wordsmith! Even if you choose to do so mostly, it would seem, through non-traditional methods of communication (like, for example, by using words). But don’t worry, Sue! That’s one of the things I like most about you! It gives you an air of mystery! And Lord knows we all need an air of mystery, don’t we?

Well I do, at any rate. I need an air of mystery. Any pointers you could give me on that front would be much appreciated, Sue. Any help with cultivating the old mysterious air would be gratefully received.

But enough about you, Sue! Let’s talk about me! Or, as seminal 80s rap duo Salt ‘n’ Pepa almost put it: Let’s talk about me, baby! Let’s talk about me and me! Let’s talk about all the good things and the bad things that I may be! Let’s talk about me!

Ah, do you remember Salt ‘n’ Pepa, Mark? (Of course you do, Sue!) They were ace, weren’t they? Unashamedly ace! They had a DJ called Spinderella. Spinderella spin it up one time! That’s close to genius, Mark! And their album – A Salt With A Deadly Pepa! Brilliant!

It’s almost as good an album title as long-standing multi-instrumentalist weirdo band Sparks’ album title Gratuitous Sax and Senseless Violins. (Although Sparks did have a keyboard player who looked like Hitler, so they probably edge it. And, thinking about it, Sparks also released another album called Angst In My Pants – which is, on reflection, the single greatest album title of all time. Angst In My Pants! When I write the third volume of my autobiography, Sue (the tome covering 1993-97, the Income Support years) I’m totally calling it Angst In My Pants!)

Where was I? Oh yes: let’s talk about me! My train was delayed last night Mark!

I’d done that whole thing of slipping out of the office a few minutes early, too, nonchalantly whistling as I edged past my colleagues’ desks, meeting nobody’s eyes, casually inching towards the door like I was just drifting purposelessly, like the wind just kinda blew me that way… and then the minute I was out of sight legging it full-pelt for the lift, the lobby, the revolving door and the free air of Wapping.

I’d done it, because I wanted to make the 18.51 train, Mark. Because if I get the 18.51 train I can (usually) be home before 8pm and I can kid myself that I do have a life outside work.

Do you know how annoying it is to skulk out of work early (thereby risking the terrifying and near-Biblical wrath of one’s editor) and run – literally run, Mark! And at my age too! – for the tube, run again up the escalators at Paddington, shouldering and shoving the weak and the slow and the old and the infirm and the very young and the pregnant out of the way as you do so… do you know how annoying it is to have to do all that just to make a train that subsequently sits pointlessly outside Reading and Didcot for the best part of 10 minutes?

I’ll tell you, Mark. It’s really annoying. It’s disproportionately annoying to the length of the delay itself, if you follow. It assumes a significance greater than the mere accumulation of lost minutes. It becomes more than the sum of its parts, Sue. It becomes a symbol, a metaphor.

What for? For the cruelty of the universe itself and the ultimate futility of our brief, flickering and supremely insignificant existence in it, that’s what for. That’s what those 10 minutes really mean.

Right? No? Well maybe not then. Maybe that was a bit much. But it’s still annoying. It’s still really annoying. Isn’t it? It’s still needlessly annoying.

Oh – and before I go, Sue: is “accumulation of lost minutes” an oxymoron? I’ve just read it back and though it sounds fantastic (even if I do say so myself) I suspect that it may not make any actual sense. Not that it matters to me, like, but, y’know, would Bob Redford and Dustin Bernstein have let it go through?

Au revoir!


*Actually, technically this is probably the second rule of journalism. A very wise man (now retired) at the Daily Express once told me the first rule of journalism. If you can’t file a good story, he said, file a story. Worry about the whistles and bells later – but get the story in. Always get the story in. It’s a principle to which I’ve adhered religiously. Rarely are my stories good, Mark, but at least they’re always filed on time.

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