Dear Mark and Sue
Re: 08.06 FGW service from Oxford to Paddington, 28/11/11. Amount of my day wasted: 30 minutes.
Mark! Sue! How the blue bleezes are you? What’s strumming your ukuleles today? What’s banging your big bass drums? What’s squeezing your squeezeboxes? Get ready for a big long one! It’s a whopper today! Here it comes…
(I’m sorry for the obscurity of the greeting – I know you’re used to something more streetwise and slangy, something more zesty and zeitgeisty, something altogether more hip – and quite right too! We’re pretty hip cats, the three of us! Me and you, Mark, we’re funky-fresh and fly! And Sue’s no stranger to a buffalo stance! We’re down with the kids, right? Down with the kids, that's what I say! Down with the bleedin’ lot of ‘em!)
The fact is, I’m not feeling in a very streetwise mood today, Mark. I’m not feeling the word from the hood this morning, Sue (that rhyme works if you pronounce it in a Snoop Dogg-style southern-friend drawl: the woooord from the hooooood). You know why? Because it’s winter, my chilly-fingered chums, my tres froids amis! And whenever it gets to deep midwinter in the ancient valley of the Thames, my thoughts inevitably turn to folk music.
They do! I’m not joking, Mark! I’m listening to folk music right now! As I sit here and type, on one of your ancient trains, with nothing but the blasted heaths between Slough and Southall to distract me, as I mentally tick off the minutes of my once-promising life (I coulda been someone, Sue! I coulda been a contender, Mark!), the whole sorry experience is being soundtracked by the fiddly-dees and and fa-la-las of some good olde English folk music.
I love that crazy accordion stuff, Mark! I’m a sucker for a penny whistle, Sue! (But only in the winter time, mind. I’m not totally uncool.) I got my iPod winter folk playlist set up and everything – mostly a bunch of winsome Geordie chicks wailing beautifully about the sea, and a motley crew of bellowing Oxford boys making what sounds like zombiefied morris dancing music.
Quite a lot of the songs are about drowning, for some reason, Mark. A fair amount of them seem to touch upon themes of lost maidenhood, Sue. I’m not sure why this is: but either way it goes well with the season. Better than Snoop Dogg does, at any rate. Perhaps things are different in South Central LA.
So: you heard it first here, pop pickers! Punky-folky zombie morris music is the soundtrack du les winter jours! Plaintive Geordie sisters bemoaning the wildness of the moors and the wetness of the seas are the only way to sonically sum up the season! Get on board now, Mark! They’ll all be strumming along next year, Sue!
(Expect a lot of folk music to come, Mark. My favourite badger-themed weather website tells me that this winter is set to last a while yet. Maybe months! Perhaps until the spring even!)
My! What a long way of saying hello! My fingers fair ran away with me! (Or rather my 36 typewriting letter monkeys’ fingers ran away with them. Don’t forget, Mark: it’s the monkeys who write these things now! Blame the monkeys and their mad obsession with seasonally-themed mood music! Bad monkeys!)
So – seriously, how the dickens are you? Well? Hale? Hearty? Good! Excellent! Well done! Keep it up! That’s the important thing – keep the flag flying! Don’t let them get you down! We shall, as another kind of folk song goes, overcome!
But my monkeys digress. To business, Mark! Enough flim-flam! We’re serious men, and such merry-making demeans us and makes a mockery of our grave and sober natures.
You too, Sue! Though I wouldn’t dare to presume on the nature of your, er, nature. I wouldn’t dream of speculating on your relative seriousness or sobriety. I don’t feel I could – what with you never taking the time out of your busy schedule as Communications Director for First Great Western to actually communicate with me. I feel it would be presumptuous. But, for what it’s worth, you don’t feel like a serious and sober type to me. You seem like much more fun altogether. I hope you are, anyway. In fact, Sue, don’t tell me! I don’t want to spoil the surprise!
To business! Once more, we three meet again! Through thunder, lightning or in trains! When the hurly-burly’s done; when the battle’s lost and won, ere the train has been and gone!*
Mark! Sue! My train was delayed again! For a long, long time! It felt like an age, Mark! It felt like an aeon! It felt like an… era. Or error.
You totally went for it on Monday morning, Mark! None of your eight, 10 or 12 minute jabs, none of your six minute feints… not even those punishing body shots, those wincing uppercuts around the 20 minute mark…on Monday morning, as the fiddles reached a crescendo in my ears and a man sang something about whisky and drowning and lost maidenhood and my inner zombie morris dancer stamped his feet and rattled his bells and jigged along appreciatively, the olde English 8.06 locomotive from Oxford to London town stumbled, stuttered, sputtered and slid to a slow and shuddering stop.
Between Slough and Southall, Sue – somewhere near Maidenhead, Mark (which was a pleasing, if still ultimately annoying, coincidence, given the soundtrack) we stopped dead in our tracks.
And there, like a tantrumming toddler spread-eagled on the floor of Tescos (don’t ask, Mark – it’s just a phase the littl’un’s going through. One of many. And not even the most embarrassing. Please God I never have to tell you about his “willy time” trick. It’s mortifying) – like a tantrumming toddler with his trousers still thankfully on, we refused to budge. For longer than it seemed my patience could bear.
Not a jab, or an uppercut, or a deft one-two to the kidneys… but a 30-minute delay, Mark. A big, swinging, telegraphed haymaker of a delay. A mighty swing that sent me flying on to the canvas! (This is all a metaphor, of course, Sue. I feel my monkeys are getting the hang of these metaphors now! What do you think?)
It was like Rocky IV, Mark! Literally! I mean – metaphorically! It was exactly like a metaphor for Rocky IV! There’s me, Apollo Creed, in my fancy stars and stripes shorts, prancing about the ring, still buzzing from James Brown’s performance of Living in America (“station to station!”), winking to the ladies and showboating for the boys, dancing around the canvas… and standing dead centre, watching me with contempt in his eyes… there’s your train, Mark.
Your train was Ivan Drago, Mark! Huge, blond, flat-topped, pumped full of Soviet super-strength. Watching me prance and dance and ham it up for the crowd – until, as if in slow motion, one mighty metaphorical fist goes swinging slowly back and… WHAMMO! BOSH! WHEE! CRUNCH! Face down in the dust. Out for the count.
Or something like that, anyway. You know what I mean. Apologies if the monkeys got a bit carried away with the Rocky IV metaphor there. (Last night was Monkey Film Club – they watched the entire Rocky series back to back. They’ve been somewhat overexcited since. Next week they’re planning on an Ingmar Bergman retrospective. God help us all.)
Although, given that Rocky IV is essentially a clunky metaphor for the Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe (and a rather pathetic fantasy of how the Americans might take it back) my monkeys can at least take comfort from the fact they’re in good company. If it's good enough for Sylvester Stallone, Mark, it's good enough for me and my monkeys. That's always been my motto.
What was I saying? Oh yes. Thirty minutes, Mark! What was all that about? Signal failures? Buckled points? Congestion? The annexing of Czechoslovakia?
For 30 long minutes I sat on your train, listening to some deeply uncool music, looking at the wastelands around Slough and Southall (so many, Mark! I had not thought Slough had undone so many!) and wondering just how I was going to write a letter long enough to waste 30 minutes of your time in return.
It’s no mean feat, Mark! Have you ever tried wasting someone’s time for that lo—actually, what am I saying? Of course you have! You’re an old hand at it! Dude – it’s what you do! Day in, day out, Mark! Wasting my time, morning and evening. And best of all, having me pay for it too! Nice trick, Mark! Sweet scam, Sue! You must give me some tips sometime. You must tell me how you’ve managed to pull that one off.
But I forget myself. Congratulations are in order! Your last letter was lovely, Mark! Better than lovely, it was splendid! It was brilliant! It was… exciting! You had a big announcement!
(I’ve just read that paragraph back to myself: sorry if it sounds sarcastic, It wasn’t supposed to sound sarcastic. It was supposed to sound excited. It was meant to sound puppyishly enthusiastic. It was meant to convey the same kind of optimism and energy as, for example, one might see displayed by 36 monkeys enjoying Sylvester Stallone battering the bejaysus out of Dolph Lundgren and thereby metaphorically liberating untold millions of oppressed Slavs.)
It was not meant to sound sarcastic, Mark. Your big news is indeed excellent news! More carriages is a good thing! A great thing! I’m all for it! The thought of actually getting a seat for every journey is amazing! Revolutionary!
Up till now, the idea of paying around £450 a month with no guarantee of ever actually sitting down just seemed the way things had to be to ensure that you chaps made enough profit for yourselves…
So yes! Yes to more carriages, Mark! Well done! I wholeheartedly approve! And I would also like to say thankyou. Thankyou for investing in the service you’re providing! Thankyou for taking steps to ensure more of your paying customers get the seat they’ve paid for every now and then. Huzzah! Hoorah! Hoopla!
Now is the winter of my discontent made glorious summer by this extra-carriage talk!
And let’s hope this is just the start, eh? Let’s make this a bright start! Let’s make this big announcement the first of many, many other wonderful big announcements! What do you think, Mark? Can we do it? Yes – as both Bob the Builder and President Nixon believed – we can!
I’m with Bob, Mark! I’m with Tricky Dicky, Sue! A brave future awaits – and I shall be there to greet it. I shall be on the platform with the other commuters, inching my way closer to the spot where I think the door might be, trying to make myself bigger so as to shoulder my way on first, pretending we’re all in it together but knowing that when it comes down to it, it’s every man for himself seat-wise…
I’m there, Mark! Along with all the other commuters, turning our faces to the light, shielding our eyes against the glory of the brave new world that awaits! I can’t wait! I literally cannot wait!
It’s a great start, Mark! It’s good work! And if it was to be followed by trains running on time and to their promised schedules, if it were to mean no more awkward excuses for turning up to work late most days, if it were to mean no more missing bedtime stories because the kids have already fallen asleep by the time I get home most nights… well, if that was to happen, Mark, I would be the happiest man in Coach C.
It would mean no more letters to you, Mark! It would mean the end of our beautiful friendship, Sue! No more wasting my time, no more of me wasting your time! I’m happy just thinking about it!
*Not bad, eh, Sue? Did you like it? It has a certain poetic frisson, no? “When shall we three meet again…” It’s from a play I’m writing – it’s the first lines of the play. I’m calling the play: MacDom.
It’s about a ticket inspector (MacDom) who meets these three weird sister chicks trying to pass through the ticket barriers using an off-peak super-saver return during a period when only saver-returns or anytime-returns are allowed, and in exchange for letting them off having to purchase a full-price ticket, they promise him that one day he’ll be station manager of all Scotland.
Anyway… I won’t spoil the whole plot for you, but suffice to say his wife’s a bit of an uppity madam, there’s a spot of trouble with an overkeen young train conductor called Macdandruff, a bit more prophesising, and it all ends in tears. Except for Macdandruff, who makes a wood move to Dunsinane (don’t ask how) and generally leads on quite a bit. I’ll be sure to let you have further extracts as and when I write them…