Monday, 12 March 2012

12 March 2012. Letter 93

Dear Mark and Sue

Re: 08.06 FGW service from Oxford to Paddington 12/3/12. Amount of my day wasted: seven minutes.

Mark! Sue! There’s a bright golden haze on the meadow! There’s a smell of sweet freshly cut grass in the air! All across the allotments, people dig and hoe and sow. The spring man springeth!

It’s lovely isn’t it, Sue? It gladdens the heart. And there’s more! There’s more to make the heart still gladder!

Guess what I saw, on Friday night, as I nodded off on the sofa, face down in my stir-fry and with the dregs of a bottle of Aldi Mediterranean Red staining the bowl of my glass? On the local news? Guess who I saw, straddling the local news like a Colossus, striding through a depot in Strathclyde? (Strathclyde? What on earth is a First Great Western depot doing in Strathclyde? Are there no depots a bit more local that would do? I’ve just about had enough of these Strathclydians, coming down here – or worse, demanding our trains be taken up there – stealing our jobs, taking our women, drinking our pints, fixing up our trains… who do they think they are, eh?)

Dude! I saw you! I totally saw you, Mark! There you were, on my television screen, in my living room, in glorious talking technicolour! You were on Oxford Tonight, Mark (beamed from Strathclyde) – and the wonder of it shook me out of my soy-sauce-and-cheap-plonk stupor and sat me bolt upright!

(I couldn’t see you, Sue, but I assume you were there somewhere, just off camera, whispering instructions, giving direction, making sure everyone was sticking to the agreed spin… I assume you were there, Sue, like a less-angry Alastair Campbell to Mark’s less-crooked Tony Blair.)

Well done, the both of you!

What were you talking about? Something to do with converting buffet cars to seating coaches? (That would explain the need to be in Strathclyde – they’re famed for their abilities to convert buffet cars to seating coaches up there. You just can’t get that kind of expertise anywhere south of Solihull.) Is that what it was?

Is that the big solution, Mark? Is that the easy fix to the problem of our collapsing rail network? It wasn’t about joined-up operator/infrastructure thinking, or proper investment, or upgrading, or not putting profits before service, or even admitting that the only people who have benefitted from the scandalous privatisation of the railways have been exactly the sort of people who would never dream of travelling less than first class in the first place?

It wasn’t any of that, after all!

It turns out all we had to do was haul our sorry stock up to Strathclyde, rip out all the coffee machines and little fridges full of triple-priced Mars Bars, bin all those little counter units and cupboards full of inedible sandwiches, bung in a bunch of seats, paper over the cracks, paint over the damp patch, stick a band-aid on the open wound, white up the sepulchre and Bob’s our uncle!

Brillo, Mark! Bazinga, Sue! To think the solution was there all along, situated between standard and first class, as they say, and available for hot and cold beverages, sandwiches and snacks! Or, er, not available for drinks and snacks any more!

I’m only sorry I won’t be around to witness the wonder of it all. The irony, Mark! The Morrisette-churning irony of it all! Ten thousand buffet cars when all we needed was a seat!

It made my Friday night, Sue! As my head dropped back onto my chest and the last of the red wine dribbled into a sad puddle on my lap and bits of stir-fry fell between the cushions on the sofa and the current Mrs Utton snored softly beside me, I fell asleep on my sofa with a smile on my face.

You’ve finally done it, Mark! You’ve fixed the trains. Now we can sit! We may be hungry, but we can sit! No longer will our trains be delayed! No longer will they turn up late, and go slower than they should, and arrive late, and make us late for work and make us late to get home and so be responsible for getting us a roasting from our editors or a sorrowful sigh from the ones we love!

Because once the buffet cars are converted, they will ensure that… um, they will be directly responsible for… er, they will…

Mark? Sue? You know these buffet cars you’re converting? They will make the trains run on time, won’t they? They will ensure that, as well as more people being able to get the seat they paid for (by my calculations, about half the people standing, on some of the services I’ve had to endure), those people will also get the on-time train they paid for, right?

Mark. Sue. It’s lovely about the buffet cars, and splendid for the much-underemployed buffet-car-converters of Strathclyde… but one nagging question remains. Will the trains run on time now?

Au revoir!


Ps – Oh, nearly forgot to mention. My train was delayed by seven minutes this morning. Those converted buffet cars can’t come soon enough, eh?

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