Dear Mark and Sue
Re: 18.51 FGW service from Paddington to Oxford, 21/12/11. Amount of my day wasted: 13 minutes.
Mark! Sue! Seasons greetings! Ho, ho, and indeed, ho! Guess what time of the year it is? No, seriously, guess. Go on, guess! Guess, Mark! Sue! Gue- oh, right. Yes. Christmas. You got it. Who told you?
Christmas time is coming, Mark! And that means only one thing. Mistletoe. And wine! Two things! Mistletoe and wine, children singing Christian rhyme! Three things, then. Christmas time is coming, Sue, and that means only three things: mistletoe and wine, children singing Christian rhyme, logs on the fire and gifts by the tree. So five things, then. Christmas is coming! The five things of Christmas are upon us! Sir Clifford knew the score, alright!
Hey, guess what, Mark! I’m on a train! And my train is delayed! And because I’m on a train and my train is delayed, I’m writing you a letter to tell you about it all. Because you’re wasting my time, I’m wasting your time in return! That’s what Christmas is all about, Mark – the season of taking. And just as the baby Jesus took the gifts of gold, frankinwhatsit and thingy off the three wise men, so I’m taking time off you. The same time you’ve taken off me.
Makes you feel all warm inside, doesn’t it? Makes you feel like a better person. Do you feel like a better person, Sue? You do? What’s wrong with the person you’ve got already?*
Anyway. Because it’s Christmas, Mark, and because I’m feeling an affinity for the baby Jesus, Sue, I’ve decided to give you an extra gift. My train home last Thursday – it was 17 minutes late. I know, dudes! Seventeen minutes! That’s not a trifling delay, Mark. That’s not an insignificant stretch of my day, Sue. That’s a weighty chunk of time, that is. Go on, feel it! (Metaphorically, Sue: we’re metaphorically feeling time here. You can’t actually literally feel time, silly! You can feel it passing you by, sure, you can feel its effects as it passes, its wrinkles and ravages, its destructive path through your sorry life, its scorched earth policy on your face and hair and fatally fading physical attractiveness… oh, you can feel the effects of time alright, but you can’t physically feel a chunk of time. Of course you can’t!)
Where was I? Oh yes. Feel my chunk of time, Sue! Go on, feel it! It’s pretty hefty, no? It’s… chunky! It’s got width and breadth and depth and girth, this chunk of time of mine. It feels… significant, doesn’t it? That 17 minutes of mine: it feels like a significant chunk of time. And now it’s yours. You took it last Thursday.
But! As I said, it’s Christmas! Or, as the more religiously-minded among us like to have it, it’s Winterval! It’s the holidays! It’s festivus! And because it’s that special time of the year, I’ve decided to give you a special present. My 17 minute delay last Thursday – I’ve decided not to write you a letter about it. I’ve decided to give you a gift better than any boy, girl, fat man from the North or wise man from the East will ever give you again: I’ve given you 17 minutes of time.
Use it wisely, young Skywalker. I mean, Hopwood. Don’t go throwing it away. Don’t waste it, whatever you do.
Anyway: you’re welcome. And I should stress at this point that my decision to grant you this bounteous bounty has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that I mostly spent the day after that delay in a state of alcohol-induced over-excitement at the office Christmas party. I would like to make it clear that my decision to gift you this most precious of gifts is in no way related to the fact that for most of that Friday I was too busy eating and drinking and making merry and shouting and showing off and showing out to bother sitting down to write a bunch of stuff to you about how rubbish your trains are.
No. That is not what I meant at all. That is not it at all. My lack of a letter following last Thursday night’s delay – it’s a gift. A Christmas gift for you, in the words of the great Phil Spector.
But then, you know what it’s like at a party, right? Nobody wants to see a man in a corner scowling at a laptop at the office Christmas party. Did you have a Christmas party this year, Mark? Did you deck out the First Great Western Operational Command Centre in boughs of holly? Was there dancing, Sue? Were the boys from the FGW choir singing Galway Bay? Were the FGW bells ringing out for Christmas Day?
Was it a terribly debauched affair, Mark? Was there bad behaviour, Sue? Red cheeks and regrets by midnight? Apologies and explanations muttered in the morning? Was disciplinary action required?
Good. Great! Well done! Those are the best kinds of parties, aren’t they? Fighting, snogging, rum and the lash! It’s not a proper party unless someone does something for which they’ll be forever ashamed, right? Who was it this year, Mark? Who got the tongues wagging this Christmas, Sue? Who got the party started right? Ain’t no party like an FGW party!
Or was it an altogether more sober gathering? Did you figure: this has been no year to celebrate? This has not been a year to remember for First Great Western. Did you look back on your performance over the previous 12 months and think: it would be shaming to pretend we have anything to be proud of here? Did you review your service for 2011 and come to the inescapable conclusion that to throw any kind of party would seem, well, unseemly?
I do hope not, Mark! I do hope you didn’t let the workers take the rap for the failings of management! It’s not their fault, Mark! It’s yours! They’re just doing as they’re told… it’s not like they run the company or anything, is it? No. Let the workers have their party, Mark! Let them blow off a bit of steam!
It was the same at our place, truth be told. It’s been an up-and-down kind of year where I work, as you can imagine. But the people I work with: we’ve done alright. We’ve done our jobs. What happens upstairs is beyond our control, or, to be honest, comprehension. Me and the girls have just got down to the daily grind,
(They are mostly girls, Sue. I work in an office full of girls! All the skirt! All the chicks, the babes, the ladies! All the honeys! The talent, Sue, the totty! The eye-candy! It’s a good job I’m such an enlightened man, Sue, it’s a blessing I’m so thoroughly un-sexist and pro-feminism! I only wish I could say the same for them. You wouldn’t believe, Mark, how many times each day I have to remind my colleagues that I am a person too, with feelings, with emotions, with a mind of my own… and not just something for them to stare at and daydream over. I may be a man, Mark, but I’m more than just a piece of meat, y’know? I expect you get that a lot too. It’s awful isn’t it? Those birds can make a man feel so… demeaned!)
But I digress! I may be little more than a tantalisingly unavailable fantasy figure to the girls at work, but where we’re concerned it’s all professional. Nothing but business, Sue! So: to business.
My train home last night was delayed by 13 minutes. And so I’m going to write you a letter lasting- what’s that you say? We’ve already used up 13 minutes? Good heavens! How did that happen? My tongue must have run away with me!
In that case, I shall simply wish you both a merry Christmas and a lovely, punctual, New Year. I hope you both get everything you wish for. And when next I write it will be 2012! And my ticket will have gone up by 30-odd quid a month! I can hardly wait!
*Sorry. That joke was brought to you by the year 1982. A good year – but not for jokes, sadly.