Friday, 23 September 2011

22 September 2011. Letter 32

Dear Mark and Sue

Re: 19.22 FGW service from Paddington to Oxford, 22/9/11. Amount of my day wasted: 46 minutes.

Mark! Sue! Wake up sleepyheads! It's a helluva day and we've got a lot to get through!

(Of course, Sue, I realise you'll almost certainly still be awake - you're on your bolly-days! Sleep is a waste of good karaoke time, right? You're a twenty-four hour party person! Across the promenades and vomit-strewn alleys of Naxos or Paxos, through the boulevards and back streets of Bodrum and Agadir, you'll still be going strong, dusk to dawn! More power to your Lambrini Bianco, Sue!)

Are you jealous of Sue's holidays, Mark? I know I am. And I know you've just come back from your own summer sojourns... but do you dream of just jacking it all in and taking to the road? Following the sun to see where it takes you? Wouldn't you like to get away, Mark? Kerouac's beckoning with open arms! Wouldn't you like to get away, give yourself up to the allure of Catcher in the Rye?

No? Suit yourself then. Maybe that's just me. Me and Sue.

So. Where to begin then, my chuffing and chugging friends? It was quite a night, last night, wasn't it? Oh! What a night! Late September and the 19.22 was right up the spout. (Of course we all know that my train wasn't the only train going nowhere yesterday... my twitter feed was full of ranting First Great Western passengers, Mark, stuck on various trains of yours up and down the line. And in Paddington station, Sue - the mood wasn't exactly sunny, if you know what I mean. The mood was... dark. Bleak. There were a lot of people there, and there weren't any trains for them to get on. People were getting delayed every which way last night, Mark. Nobody got home on time. Everybody was hurting. It was delayageddon! Delayapocalypse!)

As it turns out, Mark, I think I may have been one of the lucky ones last night. (Woop! Go me!) My journey was only delayed by 46 minutes. You only wasted three quarters of an hour of my time. But can you imagine, Mark, if everyone whose time you wasted last night was as petty and snarky and sheer bloody-minded as me? Can you imagine if all those frustrated commuters took similar action and wrote to you as I'm doing? You'd spend the rest of your life reading their complaints!

According to the principles set out in Einstein's special theory of relativity, you would, anyhow, right?


And because, of course, you're a forward-thinking company that values customer insight and feedback, you would actually read them too, wouldn't you, Mark? Because you're the kind of guys who pride yourselves on your communication (right, Sue? Sue? Oh dear, somebody give Sue a nudge) you'd feel you had a moral obligation to address their concerns, wouldn't you?

Of course you would, Mark. And quite right too, Sue! If you can't get the running-of-the-trains-on-time part of your business right, you can at least get customer service sorted, can't you? It's a start, Mark! It's the beginning of a good company.

And as Eric Cantona so succinctly elucidated: "What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from." (It was either him or T.S. Eliot, either way. I always get them mixed up, Sue! One of them was a tortured intellectual with a penchant for impenetrable philosophical poetics... and the other was T.S. Eliot! Wa-hey!)

So. Your good intentions are not in doubt. But for all that, the fact remains that I'm now having to waste 46 minutes of your time. It means a lot of words, Mark. It results in a trackless desert of print, as someone once said (George Gissing, I believe, Sue. Noted Victorian novelist and sometime consort of fallen women. Got kicked out of Manchester University for it too. Never really recovered, died in relative poverty. The most underrated writer of his age, for my money. Had a cracking way with contemptuous social commentary only ever matched by Orwell.)

To wit: it's going to take some investment, reading this, Mark. (And I mean the kind of investment that costs you something, not the kind you're used to, the kind your customers usually pay for.) I hope you're ready. Pour yourself a stiffener, son. Make yourself comfortable. (You may want to consider a nap first, Sue.)

So. Forty-six minutes. It's a good job we've got a lot of time today, Mark. There's a lot going on in the world, isn't there? So much... what's the right word? So much... stuff. So much stuff occurring! Europe's disintegrating, Mark! Satellites are dropping from the skies, Sue! Our whole monetary system is collapsing, Mark! And in Switzerland (Oh! Switzerland, Mark! The Swiss Integrated Transport System! The trains, Mark! I know I've said it before, but, oh! The trains!) - in Switzerland, Sue, scientists have only gone and trashed the laws of physics, haven't they? I mean: the fundamental building blocks of the Universe!

Where do we start? How, in the idiom of the train announcer, should we commence?

Let's start with politics. Politics, then science. Let's do it like they do on the Discovery Channel.

So. To Westminster! I've been reading in my Super Soaraway that none other than the (Conservative!) Secretary of State for Transport is describing the trains as a "rich man's toy". What do you think he meant by that, Mark? Do you think he meant that only very rich people can afford to use the trains now, thanks to the regular above-inflation price rises you keep inflicting upon us?

Course not. That's not what he meant at all.

Do you think he meant that running our rail transport system has become a game for rich men? That providing a so-called service for their customers has become little more than a game for rich men in charge of rich companies, motivated by profit and not by customer needs or satisfaction? Do you think that when he described the trains as a "rich man's toy" he meant that companies such as yours are basically run by so many Fat Controllers, idly fiddling with their Thomas the Tank Engines and Henry the Green Engines and Percy the (also) Green Engines, just, you know, for a laugh? Putting the money they make and the jollies they get above all else? Do you think he's been reading this and stealing ideas from my Grand Unifying Theory of Children's Film And Television?

Me too, Mark! I think he's got it dead right! I think he's hit the knob on the head! The trains have become a rich man's toy: and we, the customers, have become playthings in that rich man's game. Who'd have thought Mr Hammond could be so perceptive? Or so... revolutionary? He doesn't look revolutionary, does he Sue? And he certainly doesn't look perceptive. He doesn't look, for example, as perceptive as Eric Cantona. Or T.S. Eliot. Or even George Gissing.

You know who else he doesn't look as perceptive as, Mark? (You're going to love this link, Sue: straight outta Communications 101.) He doesn't look as perceptive as Albert Einstein. (See, told you! Brilliant, eh?) But then, as we found out last night, Old Bertie wasn't perhaps as perceptive as we all thought. E, as it turns out, might not equal MC squared after all.

I saw the news that those too-clever-by-half boffins at CERN had managed to make a neutrino travel faster than the speed of light last night, Mark. I found out, as it happens, at exactly the same time as I was sitting on one of your trains traveling at precisely the speed of nothing-at-all. The irony, as Alanis Morissette might have said, did not escape me.

And it's worrying news, is it not? It's properly scary stuff, Sue! If things can go faster than the speed of light, then (and I'll keep this simple for you Sue, in your, shall we say, "delicate" holidaying state) what that basically means is that every single law of physics is wrong. Cause; effect. That's what's under threat here. Your trains run late, I write a letter about it. That only happens because things can't go faster than the speed of light. Your timetables (such as they are) are all predicated on the fact that things can't go faster than the speed of light. Seriously, Sue! It's a mindscrambler! Even for those of us who aren't on holiday.

So: to reiterate. I'll say it again (or for the first time, if E really doesn't equal MC squared. Or the eighth time. Or the noughth time.) If things can go faster than the speed of light... why then time means nothing. The speed of light, Mark, is the speed of time. It's the speed limit of the universe. And if it's not - then the whole concept of time itself gets, as Professor Brian Cox might say, screwed.

Dude! Not sweet!

If time is screwed, Mark, then maybe I wasn't delayed at all last night! If Einstein's special theory of relativity is screwed, Sue, then the causality which means I write a letter to you every time you waste my time no longer applies! If there's no causality, Mark, then, as Subir Sarkar, head of particle theory at Oxford University, so pithily put it: "we are buggered"*

I hope that's not the case, Mark! I don't want to be buggered, Sue!

Au revoir!


*That's a direct quote, Mark! Look it up!

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