Wednesday, 15 February 2012

15 February 2012. Letter 86

Dear Mark and Sue

Re: 08.06 FGW service from Oxford to Paddington 15/2/12. CANCELLED. Amount of my day wasted: 18 minutes

Ah, Mark! There you are!

Sue? Sue?

Sue? Anyone seen Sue? Anyone even heard Sue, recently? Anyone detected any sign of Sue, at all? Any indication that the Director of Communications for the almighty and all-powerful, the majestic and magnificent, the bold and beautiful First Great Western train company, keepers of the legacy of Isambard Kingdom Brunel and custodians of the great pulsing pulmonary artery leading into London from the west, may be doing any communicating? At all? No?

Oh well. I’m sure there’s a very good reason for Sue’s uncharacteristic shyness. I’m sure there’s a perfectly plausible explanation for the Director of Communications’ current incommunicado status.

In the meantime, Mark, let’s plough on! Let’s keep going and hope Sue catches up! Let’s leave a little trail of (metaphorical) breadcrumbs and hope she follows before the (still metaphorical) wicked woman of the woods tempts us into her (also metaphorical) house of sweets and gingerbread. Let’s hope those (metaphorical) birds don’t eat the crumbs before we’re trapped and locked up and fattened up ready for the (you guessed it – metaphorical) pot. Let’s – actually, I can’t remember what happens at the end. The children get eaten though, right? The children always get eaten, in the end. One way or another. It always ends badly (no metaphor there, Mark).

So, yes! Let’s skip along, Mark, you and I, like babes lost in the wood! Hand in hand through this mist and murk, together trying to see a way through the delays and cancellations and overcrowded carriages and defective toilets and lack of communication until we reach some kind of happy ending. Let’s hope we don’t get attacked by the Seven Dwarfs or pricked by a spindle or locked in a tower or mugged off by Rumpelstiltskin or whatever. Let’s hope none of that happens, because, frankly, I totally lost this metaphor about 150 words ago, and I’m struggling to think of an amusing way to work in Rip Van Winkle (just because it sounds a bit funny) and I’m failing.

So! Enough metaphorical mixology! Let’s concentrate on the matter in hand. Let us sit down, you and I, as the morning stretches across the sky… and discuss what on earth happened to my train to work today.

It disappeared, Mark! In a puff of metaphorical (sorry) smoke! Just like that! It wasn’t there! It ceased to be! It… oh, on second thoughts, let’s not quote Monty Python. I’m not sure it was funny first time around, was it?

Here’s what happened to my train this morning, Mark. There was no train. The whole thing was a total existential poser! If the 08.06 from Oxford to London is cancelled, did it ever exist in the first place? Just because I caught the 08.06 train yesterday, just because it is advertised on the timetable as existing… if it never actually appears, then can it be said to have existed at all?

But wait! It gets better! I tweeted about it, Mark: I tweeted the lovely Jo, who (wo)mans your twitter feed, which is not a job I envy, seeing as it seems mostly to consist of taking the brunt of all the abuse that should rightly be aimed at the people running the train company, like the Managing Director for example, I tweeted the lovely Jo, who I like because she once commiserated with me when I didn’t get Stone Roses tickets that time, and she kindly tweeted me back with the reason the 08.06 from Oxford to London was cancelled.

The reason the train was cancelled this morning Mark was… (you’ll love this): there was a shortage of trains. In other words: the train didn’t come because there was no train!

Trust me, Sue (Sue! Finally! There you are! Welcome! Come in, pull up a chair! Mark and I are just pulling apart a philosophical Gordian knot! We’re just wrestling with a logical conundrum! There’s tea in the pot, Sue, do help yourself. Or shall I be mother? Milk, Sue? One lump or two? Biscuit? Gingerbread man?) – trust me, Sue, men of less robust intellects than ourselves would have their minds blown by such a concept.

My train this morning was cancelled because there was no train. Stick that on an official looking bit of paper, Sue, add the word “discuss”, and you’ve got an Oxbridge entrance examination right there.

Except, when it comes down to it, perhaps the real question should be: are the philosophical and existential arguments that spring from the concept of a cancelled train that never existed in the first place really the most important thing here?

And the answer should be: no, believe it or not.

In our heart of hearts, from the heart of our bottoms, we three know that the only thing that really matters if the 08.06 from Oxford to London is cancelled is that a lot of people are going to be late for work. A lot of people who paid a lot of money to catch that train are now going to have to wait for later trains, or sit on slower trains, or try to do clever things with different trains involving changing at Didcot Parkway… and none of them will be getting the service they paid for.

Mark! Sue! I’m not getting the service I’m paying for! How many times, in how many different ways, do I have to say it? I’m not getting the service I’m paying for!

Je ne gettez-pas le service comme je payez-for! Mich nicht servicht-zie das ist ein kugelschreiber! Mi spendo, mi no servizio!

And, I’ll be honest with you, Sue: this morning was not a good morning to go cancelling trains. There are two reasons for this. And, because we’ve got plenty of time today, because I’m beholden to waste a big ol’ chunk of your time with this nonsense, just as you’ve wasted a big ol’ chunk of mine with your nonsense, I’m going to tell you about both reasons.



The first reason this morning was not a good morning to go cancelling trains is that, to be frank (can I be both mother and frank, Sue? Let’s find out!) I’m not feeling on top of the world, today. I’m not in my usual rude health. I’m no longer in the pink. There is a virus.

There is a virus, Mark! The offices of the country’s most-read weekly magazine (free with your Super Soaraway every Saturday!) are infected! The sickness spreads like a, er, disease! No one is safe!

Have you seen that film Dawn of the Dead, Mark? It’s like that. It’s exactly like that!

It started in the far corner of the office a month or so ago, when one of the feature writers phoned in sick. She couldn’t stop being sick, Sue! Curled up on the bathroom floor and cold sweating by the sink. Gasping on the lino and shivering over the porcelain. She said it was horrible! She said it was the worst she’d ever had it!

Within days the other feature writer was off too. Same symptoms. Same sickness.

And then the picture director called in sick. And then it hit the entertainment assistant. Last week the lifestyle assistant phoned in with it… and yesterday the lifestyle editor succumbed.

It’s coming for us, Mark! The sickness! The zombie apocalypse! It started in the corner with the feature writer and it’s working its way in mean, nasty little zigzags, across the office floor, through the picture desk, the entertainment desk, the lifestyle desk… devouring all in its path, ravaging and wasting and showing no mercy!

And soon it will be coming for me!

My desk, Mark! It’s the next one up from the lifestyle editor’s! I’m standing, as it were, at the doors of the shopping mall, baseball bat in hand, watching as the shuffling hordes of the undead beat a remorseless path towards me! For how long can I hold out, Sue? I already feel a bit peaky. I already feel a little uncertain around the old midriff. I’ve already got a bit of a shiver on.

Is it just the cheap wine (Aldi Mediterranean red of unspecified country and indeterminate grape, Mark. Kicks like a horse! Kicks like a big clumsy drunken Mediterranean horse!)? Is it merely the out-of-date pizza (Sainsbury’s Value range, Mark: and really, how out of date can pepperoni go?)? Is it simply the collywobbles, some psychosomatically-induced imaginary illness I have? Is it a phantom menace I feel? Or am I about to go under?

Am I to be the next victim of the office zombie plague?

I tell you what doesn’t help, Mark. Standing on a platform staring uselessly at the word “Cancelled” in the morning, trying to work out what the best way of getting to London and work and the source of the zombie infection, might be. That doesn’t help! That didn’t help me, this morning!

I got the chugger, in the end, Mark. The chuff-puff-huffer, the little engine that stops at every little hamlet and village and itty-bitty watering station on the way. I got to Paddington 18 minutes later than I should have.

But that’s not all, Sue! There’s a second reason why this morning was not a good morning to cancel the 08.06 train from Oxford to London.

This morning is the morning after the feast of St Valentine!

And I don’t know about you two, but in my experience nobody feels especially good the morning after the feast of St Valentine. Whether you’re lucky or unlucky in love.

Let’s face it: either things went well last night and now you’re hungover and tired and aching and missing a shoe and have the beginnings of an unfortunate rash and are wearing the same clothes to work as you did yesterday… or else things went badly and you’re hungover and tired and aching and bitter that the only reason you’re any of those things is because you ended up drinking cheap Aldi Mediterranean red and crying into your Sainsbury’s Value pepperoni pizza by yourself all night.

(Or, in one particularly extreme case, because you’re hungover and tired and aching and you’re the third-century Roman Emperor Claudius Gothicus and you wake up with the terrible feeling you may have just ordered the patron saint of lovers to be beaten and then stoned and then beheaded.)

The morning after the feast of St Valentine, Mark: not a good morning to cancel a train. Especially in the face of a zombie apocalypse. Even if the official reason for the train to be cancelled is that the train didn’t exist.

Still. Things could be worse, eh? We could live in the Falklands, couldn’t we? And then we wouldn’t even have the support of noted thespian Sean Penn! But that, I fear, is a story for another delay…

Au revoir!


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