Tuesday, 28 February 2012

28 February 2012. Letter 88

Dear Mark and Sue

Re: 08.06 FGW service from Oxford to Paddington 28/2/12. Amount of my day wasted: 13 minutes

Mark! Sue!

Hey you! What’s new? How do you do?

It’s been a long time, Mark. Sue: it’s been a long time since we rock ‘n’ rolled! It’s been a long time since we did the stroll! It’s been a long lonely lonely lonely lonely lonely lonely time! Yes it has!

Old Bobby Plant knew the score, eh, Mark? Old Bobby Plant and his shaggy-haired adventurers in popular music: Swingin’ Bobby Plant and the Flyin’ Led Zeppelins (that was their original name, Sue: not a lot of people know that. That was what Plant and Page wanted to call the band. It took an intervention by John Bonham and the threat by John Paul Jones to set fire to Jimmy’s double-necked Telecaster before they relented and changed their name to the snappier Led Zep. Good old Led Zep!)

Where was I? Oh yes! It’s been a long lonely old time! When did I last have to write, Mark? Was it a whole week ago? A week and a bit? Have you actually managed to make the trains run on time for a whole week and a bit? Unprecedented!

Give yourself a big hand, Mark! Take a moment to reflect on your achievement. Bask a while in the glorious sunlight of a job well done. Give yourself a big hand… and then pat yourself on the back with that big hand. Or if you can’t reach, get Sue to do it.

Sue? Stop communicating for just a second there and give Mark a pat would you? Ta ever so.

So well done for that. I’ve had no cause to waste any of your time for 12 days. Silence truly is golden, eh?

But then, like so much rain after sunshine, like the first frosts of winter after a glorious Indian summer, like the splitting head, broken fingers and inexplicable “intimate” itching that inevitably follows the heady carousing of a big night out in east Oxford (don’t ask, Sue, long story), the good times must inevitably be followed by the bad.

Nothing ever lasts for ever, Mark: and if a week and a bit without significant delays on the Oxford to London line seems like a good old run (and it is, Mark!) then, sadly, I’m here to tell you that today that run came to a stuttering, stumbling, stop.

What happened today, Mark, as we waited motionless on the line near Hayes and Harlington? What befell the service, as we sat around twiddling our metaphorical thumbs and watching through the smeared and smudged windows of Coach C as life passed us by? (Or as close to life as things get in Hayes and Harlington.)

Was it congestion again? Was it a signalling issue? A track problem? Did we miss our departure path?

Please don’t tell me it was anything to do with anything you, as Managing Director of First Great Western, might be responsible for! We don’t need that on top of everything else! We’ve got 99 problems, Mark! Don’t let that be one!

Because you are the Managing Director, at the end of the day. (And at the beginning of the day! And at the middle of the day! All day, as the Davies brothers so beautifully put it, and all of the night!) I’m only writing to you because you’re the Managing Director. Because the power and the responsibility lie on your broad shoulders. And yours alone.

If you’re going to get Sue to give you a big pat on the back when you go a week and a bit without delays, if you’re going to glory in the sublime sound of silence that accompanies a week and a bit without a letter from me, if you’re going to take credit for the good things… then you’ve got to take the blame for the bad.

Because, good or bad, in sickness and in health, either way up it’s all about you. As Danny McFly and the Brothers McFly so beautifully sang, it’s all about you, baby.

Please don’t let me be misunderstood here, Mark. Much as I rail against your railway, much as I moan about your mouldy old service and despair of all the delays you put my way… I am not actually anti everything First Great Western stands for.

I rather like travelling by train, as it happens. (When they run on time.) And as I think I’ve mentioned before, I have always found the vast majority of those who work for First Great Western to be friendly, helpful people. And when things go wrong – it’s not their fault, Mark. They’re just trying to do their jobs. They’re just trying to make the best of what is often a bad situation.

And that’s why I don’t have a go at them. These letters, Mark – they’re not having a go at anyone but you. Oh: and Sue, obviously. The drivers, the guards, the conductors and train managers; the station staff and ticket collectors and trolley people; the repairmen and maintenance staff and engineers; the people in your official complaints department to whom I always cc these letters*; Jo on twitter… the whole extensive FGW extended family. I’m not having a go at them. I’ve never had a problem with them.

It’s not their jobs to make the trains run on time, is it Mark? It’s their jobs to drive the trains, or repair the trains, or handle the admin, or serve up the cups of tea, or take the ear-bashing for other people’s incompetence.

It’s your job to make the trains run on time. That’s what you get paid to do. That’s what I pay you to do. And so I reckon that makes you the only one to blame here. Everyone else is just trying to cope.

The responsibility always lies at the top, right? That’s where the buck has got to end up. That’s where that buck has to stop.

Anyway. Well done on a week and a bit without delays, Mark. It may even be the first time that’s happened since last June (I can’t be bothered going back and checking, but do please feel free to correct me if I’m wrong). And wasn’t it wonderful not hearing from me for a week and a bit? Sure, your days may have been a little less pop-music-lyric infused, but, y’know, at least they were quiet, right?

Hey! Here’s an idea! Let’s try to do it all again this week! And next! Let’s try to keep running trains on time – and that way I need never write to you again! Oh brave new world, etc…

Au revoir!


*I’m imagining your Official Complaints Department is a pretty vast space, right? I’m picturing it right now – and I’m guessing it looks a bit like that scene in the Matrix where we see all the people in their pods, stacked end on end, one on top of the other, in vast rows and dizzying columns… a city of pods, a megalopolis of pods, stretching beyond the horizon. The whole human species, stored in pods, to the end of recorded time! That’s what I think of when I think of your Official Complaints Department. Only with telephones. And without that big feller offering Keanu different coloured pills to change the world, obviously.

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