Dear Mark and Sue
Oh Mark. Ohhh, Sue.
This is the last time I will ever write to you. You have no idea how often I’ve wanted to write that! Here’s the thing: every time I’ve written to you, I’ve hoped it would be the last time. All I’ve wanted is for the trains to be on time, Mark! All I’ve ever asked is that you give me the service I’ve paid for!
These nine months and 97 letters past – these 97 times I’ve been on trains of yours that have not run according to schedule since the end of June last year… implicit in each of them is the fervent wish that I wouldn’t have to write to you again.
I’ve written around 100,000 words of complaint to you, Mark. That’s quite a lot of complaining in nine months, isn’t it?
Well, lads: I’m not going to write to you again. Not, I hasten to add, because you have finally got your acts together and started to run First Great Western in the way that you have so often promised you would… but because I’m not going to be catching your trains any more. My daily commuting days are over. I’m back to freelancing again, and on the odd day a week or so that I will be in London, I’m going to catch the bus.
Sorry about the £480 a month I’ll no longer be giving you. I’m sure you’ll claw it back somehow. Another above-inflation price rise? That oughtta do the trick.
Will you miss me? Of course not! I’ve done my utmost to humiliate you through every medium I could think of: on the internet, in newspapers, on radio and on TV. These letters featured on Panorama! Panorama, dudes!
I should think you consider that £480 a month is a price well worth paying to be rid of me. And think of all the time you’ll have on your hands now! We’ve wasted over 24 hours of each other’s lives since June! Think of how much time you’ll have to concentrate on making the trains run on time now!
After all: we shouldn’t forget why I started writing to you in the first place, should we?
I started writing to you in a blizzard of righteous fury and frustration, Mark. I didn’t start writing to you to entertain you, or make you smile, or even teach you a little about 80s pop lyrics – I wanted to waste your time, same as you waste mine. I wanted to embarrass you. I wanted you to realise that it wasn’t just me being uppity. I wanted you to see that, no matter how Sue and the rest of them spin it, all that nonsense about 90 per cent customer satisfaction ratings and the rest of it is just that: nonsense.
Where it matters, Mark, in the carriages every morning and evening, stuffed in and standing, herded and humiliated and subject to shocking levels of contempt and dismissed as mere human fodder by your company… right in there, where it matters most, the majority of your customers are not happy. Most of them are like me: seething, frustrated, sickened with the feeling that they’re being royally ripped off.
Most of them, of course, are considerably less childish and petty than me, and so most of them don’t write and tell you about it every day. Maybe they should.
Anyway. Rant over.
As this is my last letter I also wanted to say thankyou, Mark. Not for your management of the trains, of course, but for the simple good manners and gentlemanly conduct you’ve shown in writing back to me every week. Often in the face of, it has to be said, some rather extreme and protracted mickey-taking.
I have enjoyed your replies, Mark. And I appreciate every one of them. Good manners are important. Being a gentleman is important.
Sue… well, I’d like to think you at least helped Mark with his replies to me. I’d like to think, as Director of Communications, you did at least a little communicating with your customers, if only by proxy. And, also Sue: you did give me a birthday card. It’s hard to be cross with someone who gives you a birthday card, isn’t it? So thankyou too Sue.
And that’s your lot. No pop music references in this letter, no history lessons, no meteorology, astronomy or cobbled together bits of Shakespeare. And definitely no typewriting monkeys. This letter is just me saying goodbye (not “au revoir”) – and, hopefully, reminding you that there was a point to these things other than a bit of silliness.
Take it easy, Mark and Sue. Good luck with making First Great Western the kind of train franchise old Isambard Kingdom wouldn’t be ashamed to travel on. Seriously: good luck with that.
Goodbye, and good luck. And remember: not fare well but fare forward!
PS – Don’t cry too much. We never know what’s waiting round the bend, do we? The letters may be over now… but anything could happen next. Who knows: maybe even a book…