Dear Mark and Sue
Re: 08.06 FGW service from Oxford to Paddington, 15/12/11. Amount of my day wasted: 23 minutes.
Hey, Mark and Sue! What are you sad about? Every day you make the sun come out! Even in the pouring rain, I come to see you! Hope your feelings are the same!
(Too obscure? Oh well. I forget sometimes: not everyone’s from Manchester. Not everyone can recall Charlatans lyrics at will. Don’t feel bad. It’s not you, Mark and Sue, it’s me. I ask too much, sometimes, with my pop cultural references. It’s an habitual failing. It’s a hard habit to break.)
Anyway! Enough musical meanderings! I’m on another one of your delayed trains! In the cold gold glow of an Oxford dawn, I board your train already late! The train was delayed before I even got on it, to be honest, Mark. And now it’s creeping along the track, tiptoeing towards London as if self-consciously aware of the early hour, as if fearful of waking anyone up.
Sshhh! It seems to be saying. Don’t mind me! If I go really sloooowly, maybe nobody will notice me at all…
But forget all that, Mark! Forget it, Sue, because we have exciting news today!
The exciting news today, is that the train is in (wait for it) Reverse Formation!
I know! Dudes! Sweet! Reverse Formation! The front is at the back and the back is at the front! At its beginning is its end! Reverse Formation! Everything we thought we knew about the formation of trains is wrong! The rulebook’s being rewritten! Reverse Formation, Mark! Oh frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!
So excited was I about today’s reversely formed train, that I briefly considered composing this whole letter in Reverse Formation. I was going to write the whole thing backwards, Sue! I was going to start with “Au revoir!” and finish with “Dear Mark and Sue”.
But then I thought… perhaps that would be taking things too far. (I’d hate to take things too far, Sue!) I thought: sometimes you can be too clever, you know? And I’d hate to overegg the pudding. I’d hate to let the style obscure the substance. I’d hate to let form take over from content. I’d hate for this letter to become like what one of my most reprehensibly unreconstructed acquaintances describes as “Monet girls”: that certain sort of lady who looks beautiful from a certain distance… but up close is just a bit of a mess.
I’d hate that, Mark! I don’t want my letter to be a Monet girl! I want it to be like a painting by a proper artist! Like Harris. Or Hart. Or even Maker. (Have you ever seen Mr Maker, Mark? CBeebies, twice a day every day. Freeview Channel 71. He’s ace! Good at painting stuff and always cheerful. That’s what you want from your artists, Mark! A smile every now and then! Too many of them are too miserable for my liking! Oi! Vincent! Cheer up, son, might never happen! I said: cheer up! Cheer up! I said… what are you, deaf or summink?)
Anyway. Reverse Formation, Mark! I love a bit of the old Reverse Formation, Sue! It sounds so… epic!
Picture it now…
The Empire’s forces are too strong and our last rebel stronghold is under attack! We need to take the fight to Vader but how can we ever stand a chance against the mighty Death Star, Admiral Ackbar? “We shall use Reverse Formation, young Skywalker. Darth Vader will never be expecting that. With our X-wing fighters in Reverse Formation, the Dark Side of the Force will turn in on itself and the whole Alderaan System will be saved!”
Right then, captain Carlos Alberto Torres, how are we to annihilate Italy 4-1 in the final of this 1970 World Cup and so become the greatest football team the world has ever known? “The plan, young Jairzinho, will be to use Reverse Formation. With Reverse Formation we shall introduce the planet to samba football and change the game forever! Also – give the ball to the boy Pele whenever you can.”
But Admiral Willy Nelson – the Spanish Armada outnumbers us 500 boats to one! How will we ever defend England from their terrifying continental attack and save democracy? “Fear not, Queen Elizabeth II! I shall employ the little-known strategy of Reverse Formation! With Reverse Formation we shall give these paella-sucking savages the watery hiding of their lives!”
Hey Ringo! The music hall section in the middle of Day In The Life just isn’t working! Should we abandon the whole of the Sergeant Pepper album and get proper jobs? “No, John, no! Why not simply play it in Reverse Formation? And while you’re here – have I introduced you to my friend Yoko?”
Reverse Formation, Mark! The most magicallest, most wonderfullest formation there is!
Reverse Forma- Oh! Hello! What’s all this?
This train has stopped, Mark. Something is afoot. I was expecting a delay of around 10 minutes today, I was weighting this letter accordingly… but the train has stopped. Time keeps ticking! The minutes stack up like Pringles in a tube! Once you pop, Sue, you can’t stop!
Except we have stopped. We’re stuck in that no-man’s land, that bandit country, that forbidden zone between Ealing Broadway and Acton. It looks grim out there, Mark. It looks cold and frightening. There be dragons, Mark!
Anyway. The badlands between Ealing and Acton are out there, and I’m in here and it seems I’ve got a little more time of yours to waste today after all.
Oh, Mark! Oh, Sue! Aren’t we the lucky ones! The monkeys aren’t going to be happy, mind; the 36 typewriting letter-monkeys aren’t going to be happy at all. Back to your workstations, little monkeys! Get band-aids on those blistered fingers and start typing again!
I’ve been thinking, as it happens, Mark. These monkeys. I grow weary of these monkeys. I might sack the simians, Sue. I might axe the apes. I might serve P45s to the primates. As Queen Victoria herself said: will nobody rid me of these turbulent monkeys?
Penguins, Mark! They’re the thing now! It’s all about penguins! I’ve got a contact in the same zoo in Baden Baden where they filmed all those episodes of Frozen Planet: he reckons now they’ve been busted, Attenborough’s got no use for them anymore. He can source me 48 iPadding penguins for a couple of Euros and a free plug on the blog.*
What do you think, lads? Monkeys or penguins? Penguins or monkeys? Funny-faced anthropological ancestors of ours… or iPad-wielding, happy-feeted, cuddly black-and-white pole-dwellers?
I shall welcome any thoughts you have on this, Mark. I will value all feedback, Sue… and I’ll let you know of my decision in another letter. But for the moment, the monkeys must keep writing. Needs must when the trains are stopped, Mark!
Besides: I can’t let them go just yet. Tomorrow’s their Monkey Christmas Party, Mark – tomorrow’s the day the monkeys get to cut loose, tuck into their festive dinners, pull their little monkey crackers and celebrate the end of another wonderful monkey year. They’ve got Secret Monkey Santa and everything, Sue! (They’ll all be getting bananas, of course, same as every year. That’s the problem with monkeys – no imagination.) And after all the eating and drinking and cracker-pulling and other monkey business, the Monkey Nativity Play. Never fails to bring a lump to my throat.
But I digress! Again! Once more! Encore une fois! I ramble and drivel, I veer from the point and stray from the path! You don’t care about the Monkey Nativity Play, Mark! Secret Monkey Santa holds no interest for you, Sue! You’re here, I’m here, we’re here, for one reason only.
Fate has thrown us together, comrades! For a single, noble purpose! To promote the work of Blind Willie McBeverage, the great-great-grandaddy of funk and soul!
Oh no, hang on. Wrong letter. Sorry. I’ll cut and paste.
Fate has thrown us together, comrades! For a single, noble purpose! To work out together how we might improve this laughable franchise we call First Great Western!
So. How should we do it? Shall we throw it to the floor? Shall we take turns to pitch our ideas? Good. Great!
Sue. You first.
No? Cat got your tongue? Come over all shy? Mind gone blank?
Ok. Don’t worry. Mark: why don’t you have a go? Tell me, Mark – how can we improve First Great Western? How can we make it the kind of train company we’d be proud to call a train company? How can we strive to run the trains on time? How can we make this impossible dream of running trains on time a reality? How do we dare to dream, Mark?
I look forward to hearing! Seriously! The train is inching forwards again, I’m only going to be, ooh, what, 20-odd minutes late for work today, and I genuinely can’t wait to hear your ideas as to how you might get the trains running on time for once.
Until then! And as they say in Baden Baden, “Hier in die augen, kid!” (Or according to Google translate they do, anyway.)
* Baden Baden zoo – it’s the best darn zoo in the foothills of the Black Forest! Come to Baden Baden zoo for all your zoological needs! Baden Baden zoo: sind wir in den zoo der konige!