Dear Mark and Sue
Re: 18.51 FGW service from Paddington to Oxford, 2/12/11. Amount of my day wasted: 26 minutes.
Dear Mark. Dear, dear, Sue. Dearie me.
Oh dear, what can the matter be? Can you guess, Mark? Fancy a wild stab in the dark, Sue? Yes! That’s it! It’s only the trains again! They’ve only gone and run late again!
You pulled off the double on Friday, Mark! You only went and did the old one-two! The pair! The comme-ci-comme-ca, as our beret-sporting brethren across the Channel like to put it. The achtung-baby, as our rather sterner (though admirably so when it comes to a timetable) cousins in the Ruhr Valley prefer to express it. The who-cares-cos-the-Germans-will-bail-us-out-in-the-end-anyway, as the rest of Europe currently have it.
Your trains delayed me on the way to work… and then they delayed me again on the way home from work. You wasted my time in the morning – and then you wasted my time again in the evening! Boom, bang! Bish, bosh! Achtung! Baby! Vorsprung durch technik! Das ist nicht gut!
Are you proud, Mark? I can’t remember if this has happened before (I would check, but, to be honest, I can’t be bothered) – but over the course of 64 letters and 15 hours in five months, I’d be surprised if it hasn’t.
But still: 12 minutes on the way to work and 26 minutes on the way home again – that’s pretty impressive delaying there, lads. That’s top quality delaying. That’s industrial size delaying! Weapons-grade delaying! That’s Train Operator of the Year standard delaying! Well done, Mark! Great work, Sue!
The 12 minutes in the morning we’ve already, of course, covered. And thankyou again for your reply. As ever, I very much enjoyed reading it. Those Network Rail johnnies are a rum lot, aren’t they? Don’t they know how to run a company properly? Anyone would think they thought that running a company properly in the modern world meant maximising profit, bumping up bonuses, massaging figures and spinning communications to make yourself look good – all the while fleecing your customers, your consumers, your contempt-ridden core market, for everything they’ve got! I mean – who would run a company like that, Mark? Who would put widening profit margins over improving service? In this day and age?
Amateurs, Mark! Amateurs! That’s what they are! They want to learn something from you and Sue. They want to learn how things work in the real world. They want a lesson in management and a crash-course in communication from the likes of you lads. That’ll learn ‘em Mark! That’ll learn ‘em proper-style!
But anyway, back to business. As I was saying – the morning’s woes have been documented already, the response written, the explanation (sort of) explained. Let us move on, Mark! Let’s get on to the next thing! Not fare well but fare forward!
You wasted 26 minutes of my time on Friday night, Mark! Twenty-six minutes during which I should have been at home, reading tales of Thomas the Tank Engine and Percy the Green Engine softly to my children as they fell asleep… or, if they had already dropped off by the time I got home, just drinking cheap red wine with the missus. Either would have been good. Either would have been preferable. She’d been to Aldi especially, Mark. She’d stocked up on their Value Range Mediterranean Red. It’s got bite, Sue! Kicks like a horse!
Instead, I spent most of those 26 minutes doing nothing outside Reading. And then doing nothing outside Didcot. I spent most of those 26 minutes wondering about all those other things I might have achieved with all this time you keep taking from me. Instead of doing nothing. Instead of watching my reflection grow irresistibly older in the grime-streaked windows of your trains.
(That’s “irresistibly” as in unstoppably, unpreventably, Sue. Not as in “I look ever more irresistible”. I don’t look ever more irresistible, Sue. Even I can see that. Many have resisted me in the past – and with each passing day and the ravages that a borderline dependence on Aldi Mediterranean Red inevitably leaves on a man, I fear the number of people managing to resist me will only increase. C’est la vie, as Irish pop moppets B*Witched so beautifully sang.)
Do you ever get that feeling, Mark? Do you suffer from intimations of mortality, Sue? Do you sometimes wonder what more you might have done with your time, if only you’d had the time? If only you’d had more time, more chances, more hours and minutes in your allotted days?
Do you look out of the window and wonder about a world in turmoil, and about whether you would be a part of all that change, given the chance? Do you sit and read of Arab Springs, and European uprisings, of protest marches and Occupy camps, of strikes and insurrection and people trying to make a difference to the way things are… do you read of these things and then turn instead to gaze at your own reflection in the train window, at the way your face becomes ever-so-slightly older, ever so slightly further away from the joy and optimism and possibilities of your golden youth, with every lost, passing minute? Do you ever sit on a delayed train and do that?
No? No, me neither. What do you think I am, some kind of girl? Only a girl would think like that, right? Not us! I think of cars! And space rockets! And FHM magazine High Street Honeys! Right? We’re men, Mark! Blokes! Chaps! Geezers! Introspection’s not the thing! Big engines and chicks looking saucy – that’s what we think about!
I don’t think our best days are behind us, Mark! (I hope not, anyway – I’ll be honest, bar a few flashes of brilliance and the time I turned down the amorous intentions of Rachel from S Club 7, my best days were hardly the stuff of legend, they’re not exactly the kind of days that will be sung about in generations to come.) I think the best may be yet to come, Mark!
Alexander the Great didn’t even start conquering the world until he was in his mid-thirties, Mark! Kurt Cobain didn’t pick up a guitar until the age of 40! Lord Byron was illiterate until the age of 37, Sue! And it took a good four decades on this earth before a certain Jesus of Nazareth even dreamed there might be more to life than carpentry.*
So, there’s hope yet, Mark! There’s still time and the world for us to do great things! Age shall not wither us, Sue, nor custom stale our infinite variety! We can win this, lads!
Just so long as we don’t keep getting delayed, of course. Just so long as we get the chance to use the time we’ve been given.
So. Anyway. Twenty-six minutes. That’s how much time of mine you took on Friday night – and so, as sure as eggs is oeufs, here is a letter designed to waste 26 minutes of your time in return.
You’ll notice, of course, that you’re receiving this letter on Wednesday. There’s been a delay in my letters, Mark! Congestion! I’ve been away and, between you and me, I had better things to do than write to you. But better late than never, eh? That’s our motto! Maybe we should find out the Latin for that and use it in the old corporate branding, Sue? First Great Western: We’re better late than never! Melius tarde quam numquam!
I’m actually writing this letter on a train on Monday… but guess what? It’s not one of your trains! And I’m nowhere near either Oxford (home of the Cowley car works and the country’s largest in-pub necktie collection) or London Paddington (shining gateway to the Paddington area of London)! I’m in Manchester, Mark! I’m on a Cross Country train! It is, as noted author and businesswoman Katie Price declared, A Whole New World!
I’ve got my overcoat, Mark! I’ve got Joy Division on the iPod, Sue! I’ve got my nasal twang and my monkey strut and my Reni hat! I’m ready for Manchester, Mark! It’s like I’ve never been away!
Did I mention I was brought up in Manchester, Mark? Oh aye yeah. (That’s how they talk up there.) My formative years were spent skulking around the Stretford Arndale and trying to look cool in Eastern Bloc records. My golden age was spent shivering in queues for clubs outside Whitworth Street and eyeing up the baggy pants in Affleck’s Palace.
Those were the days, Mark! You should have seen me, Sue! With my Clint Boon haircut and my big flappy flares! With my “On the Seventh Day God Created Manchester” shirt and my bagful of hugely impressive 12 inch remixes of acid house classics! I was quite something to behold, Sue!
And now I’m back. Just for a long weekend. Seeing my mum, catching up on some home comforts, checking on the rain, topping up my northern insouciance. And I tell you what, Mark – have you been to Manchester recently? These Cross Country trains are quite nice, aren’t they?
Admittedly I’m not catching them every day – I’m not catching them at rush hour. But still. They seem pretty okay, nonetheless. Not overly crowded. And punctual too! Have I just got lucky, do you think, Mark? Is Cross Country usually as bad a company as First Great Western? Did I fluke it with this train? Are they normally as slow and cramped and unclean and unreliable as your trains?
Because I was thinking, Mark. You are not the only train operator in town. You’re not the only train operator running trains. And so if all your troubles and woes really are the fault of Network Rail, as you seem to keep suggesting; if your company really isn’t to be held responsible for the appalling service you charge so much for… if it is all about Network Rail – well then the same would be true for all the other train operators, right?
If it’s Network Rail that are the shambles, then their shambles would be affecting any company that tries to run a service, right? Not just you. All you train companies – you’d all be in it together! You’d all be as good, or as bad, as each other!
And yet, Mark, this does not seem to be the case! The 15 hours of my life you’ve taken from me in delays since the end of June, for example, would seem to mark you out as especially bad. And I was reading in my Super Soaraway last week that of the top 10 most overcrowded train services in Britain, all 10 are run by First Great Western! All of them!
How can this be, Mark? As I sit here watching the lowering skies over Levenshulme turn the drizzle into sleet, as I sit here feeling myself ageing with every lost, passing moment, I can’t help wondering… how can this be?
It’s a conundrum, Mark! A countdown conundrum!
*What’s that you say, Sue? They were all dead before they reached 35? What, even Cobain? Damn.