Tuesday, 31 January 2012

30 January 2012. Letter 79

Dear Mark and Sue

Re: 18.51 FGW service from Paddington to Oxford 30/1/12. Amount of my day wasted: 10

Mark! Sue! Ohhhh, Mark. Oh Sue, Sue, Sue. What are we to do? Wither goest us, Mark and Sue, in our shiny trains in the night?

We goest us nowhere fast, that’s where we goest. Or, to be less Shakespearian but more accurate (Shakespeare or accuracy, Mark? If you had to choose, which would you choose? Poetry or pedantry? I’m guessing… pedantry. Precision! Punctuality! Timetables, schedules and orderly conduct! Sue’s the artist of us three, the wordsmith, the communicator; Sue’s the the music maker, the dreamer of dreams. Let’s leave the poetry to the Director of Communications. Me and you, Mark: we’re all about the accuracy!) – to be less Shakespearian and more accurate, we goest places but we goest there slower than we’re supposed to goest.

Ten minutes is the tally for today’s letter, Mark. One whole sixth of an hour. Enough time, according to our previously discussed (but I’m going to keep bringing it up because I’m still rather proud of having thought of it) Barlow Standard, to fall in love 10 times. A double handful of loving! A Decameron* of desire!

My train home last night – the one I had to run for, bursting out of the Bakerloo line like a hare out of the trap, streaking across the concourse, burning through the skies at a hundred degrees (that’s why they call me Mr Fahrenheit), bobbing and weaving through the crowds at London Paddington, shimmying and chicaning through the tourists and day-trippers and beaten-down commuters, a blur of duffel coat and limited edition Adidas trainers and rather fetching red woolly hat that the current wife’s Aunty bought me for Christmas** - that train, that train I burst my lungs to make… it only ended up being delayed in the end didn’t it?

We started off promisingly enough (things always start promisingly, don’t you find, Sue? The beginnings of things – they’re usually alright. It’s once you get into things, once you get into the meat of it, the business end, that they tend to go wrong. Things always fall apart, Sue, the centre cannot hold) – we chuffed and huffed and puffed as far as the silvered outskirts of Reading with no problems at all.

And then – as so often happens – we faltered. We fatally paused. We stopped. We took a good, long look at Reading, Mark, and we decided we weren’t going to budge for at least as long as it takes to fall in love 10 times, according to the parameters set back in 1992 by Mr Gary Barlow.

It was my first day back at work after a week off, Mark! It was only the second train I had caught in seven days! And it was delayed! That’s not great service is it? Those aren’t great statistics! One delay in two?

And here was me thinking we’d turned a corner! Here was me thinking we had put all of this silliness and mutual time-wasting behind us! Here was me thinking that, after the Panorama investigation of last Monday, we were all going to agree to be good boys from now on! (And good girls, sorry Sue. Good boys and good girls.) Here was me thinking that…

Oh! What’s this?

I’ve just reread your reply to my last letter, Mark! You didn’t watch Panorama?

Really? You didn’t watch the Panorama investigation into the state of Britain’s railways? You, as Managing Director of First Great Western, didn’t watch a programme exploring the very business that you’re supposed to be the boss of? Made by the BBC’s flagship investigative team? Seriously?

Why on earth not, Mark? Did you not think there would be anything there to interest you? Did you look at the schedules and think: oh, a programme about the state of Britain’s railways, made by the BBC’s flagship investigative team, exploring whether passengers and taxpayers are getting anything like the service we’re all paying for… ppffftt. Boring. Nothing to see there. Nothing that will interest me. I’d much rather watch Don’t Tell The Bride instead. As Managing Director of First Great Western and the effective custodian of the legacy of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, I’d really much rather watch Don’t Tell The Bride instead.

Did you not at least video it? Or Sky+ it? Or catch it on iPlayer? Have you really no interest at all in what that Panorama investigation might have said about the state of our railways and the service that companies like First Great Western are providing to their customers?

No? None? Not even a little bit? Do you really, as Managing Director of First Great Western, not even care that much?

Crikey, Mark. I’m rendered speechless. I’m quite literally gobsmacked. (Okay, metaphorically gobsmacked. Figuratively gobsmacked.)

I’m quite literally gobsmacked!

And you know what else? I’m a touch cross too. I feel a bit let down. But that’s going to have to wait until my next letter. I’ve run out of time and I’ve run out of words, Mark. But that’s ok. The train I’m sitting on right now, as I write this, on Tuesday morning, with fingers shivery and blue, would also appear to be delayed. Looks like there will be another letter soon!

Until next time!

Au revoir!


*I love that word, Mark! Decameron! Nothing to do with our Prime Minister, Mark! Nowt to do with the chubby-cheeked, red-faced, port-swilling Eton millionaire we’ve got running the gaff and ensuring the neediest in society get as much of a fair deal as our bonus-guzzling banker chums! Nothing to do with him at all! I’m talking about the Decameron, Mark! The 14th century allegory by Giovanni Boccaccio! Bawdy tales of love, life and high jinx in medieval Italy! As told by 10 rough-and-tumble young roister-doisters! A regular laugh riot! You must have read the Decameron, Mark! No? No? What are they teaching in schools these days? Perhaps you should just ask Sue about it then, she’s bound to have a copy lying about somewhere. It’s a great read. A real page-turner. A bonkbuster, Mark! And who knows, maybe they’ll televise it soon. I don’t know why it’s not been televised yet: imagine Skins with spaghetti and codpieces and you’d be on the right lines. And who wouldn’t want to watch that? So much better than Don’t Tell The Bride!

**I look a bit like Where’s Wally in that hat, Mark. But that’s ok. I don’t mind that. He’s got a kind of ironic hotness to him hasn’t he? Where’s Wally I mean. Chicks dig that look, right Sue?

Friday, 27 January 2012

Another reply from Mark!

(I'm guessing he's more of a Celebrity Big Brother than Panorama kinda guy.)

Dear Dom
Thank you for your email. I am so sorry that our 18:51 was delayed last Friday
when our 18:45 to Swansea failed just outside of Paddington and blocked the
Unfortunately, I didn't get to watch the Panorama program in the end.
I hope you have had an enjoyable week off.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

20 January 2012. Letter 78

Dear Mark and Sue

Re: 18.51 FGW service from Paddington to Oxford, 20/1/12. Amount of my day wasted: 13 minutes.

Mark! Sue! Hey, you! How are you? How’s it going? How’s it hanging? What’s the word? What’s the score? What, in fact, is the actual Bobby Moore?

Hey, guess what? I wasn’t going to write to you this week. I know! I’ve got the week off, you see: and that means I’ve got a week without having to get on one of your trains. When I received your kind replies on Friday morning (two in one day, Mark! Sue must have really been cracking the old Communications whip!) I thought to myself: well, that’s that for a week or so. For one whole week, we’ll have to stay silent. For one whole week we’re going (in the words of Spandau Ballet) incommunicado.

After all (I thought, on Friday, when I received your two letters) – I’ve only got my train home tonight. And what would be the chances, what would be the odds, on that one train before a week without trains being delayed?

Seriously, Mark. What odds would you give me – on any given single train of yours being delayed? Twenty to one? No chance, you’d be bankrupt in a week! Ten to one then? Not very smart at all. Five to one? Evens? Odds on? Burlington Bertie, 100 to 30?*

Whatever odds you’d have been offering Mark, you’d have been foolish. Because of course the train was delayed. It was delayed by 13 minutes! You took 13 minutes of my life away on Friday, Mark – and, as all three of us know to the point where we’re almost certainly heartily sick of the whole business by now**, that means I’m here to waste 13 minutes of your lives in return.

It’s childish, Mark, of course it is. And it’s almost certainly not helping you improve your service (I think the last 77 letters bear testimony to that) – but you know what? It makes me feel better. Knowing I’m ruining a small part of your day, just as you’re ruining mine. It gives me a warm fuzzy glow inside.

So! Where was I? Oh yes! I wasn’t supposed to be writing to you at all this week! I’m off work, Mark, away from the office, far from the madding crowds and safe in the city of dreaming spires. I’m not concerned with the daily grind this week, I care not for the business of profit and loss and how best to edit a feature for the country’s biggest circulation Saturday supplement magazine. I am out of jail and out on bail and that’s the way it goes!

You know what I’m doing instead?

Instead of going to work this week, Mark (actually, you’ll like this Sue, it’s right up your strasse) I’m in the library. The library! Sshhh! Keep it down there! Enough with the rustling! Switch off that phone! Unplug your ears from that iPod! You can keep that kind of racket for the youth club!

What am I doing in the library? I’m writing, Sue! I’m finally writing that book I kept banging on about. Do you remember? The book! The book that I’ve been talking about for as long as I’ve been writing to you, the great 21st Century novel that’s going to change the way everyone thinks about everything. The book! A work to rival Ernest Hemingway’s The Gruffalo! A work to compare to John Steinbeck’s Babar the Elephant! A work to be placed alongside Scott Fitzgerald’s The Tiger Who Came To Tea! The book, Sue! Finally!

I’ve got all sorts of ideas for the book, Mark. I’m going to chuck the lot at it. In the finest literary traditions (I’m thinking the Reverend W Awdry, especially – now there was a writer) I’m going to bung every idea I’ve ever had into the sucker and watch it fly.

I’ll get in that stuff about the sloth we talked about, Sue (you do remember the sloth don’t you?); I’m going to use the Pyrrhic victory analogy we were all so fond of. I may even get some trains in there. What do you think, Mark? Trains? No trains? Do you think it would be possible to write a novel (something to be mentioned in the same breath as Norman Mailer’s Spot the Dog trilogy) combining the three conceits of trains, sloths and Pyrrhic victories?

You do, Mark? Oh, me too! And that’s why I’ve taken the week off work. That’s why I’m in the library right now, thinking it all through as I write this letter to you.

I’ll tell you what I’m not doing in the library, Sue. I’m not spending my time in this ancient building filled with important literature surreptitiously checking out the hot post-grad student chicks. I’m certainly not spending my time in this historic seat of learning sneakily scoping out those cool-but-nerdy types with the thick black tights and the glasses and the too-long fringes getting in the way of their laptop screens. No, Sue! Not even the pair opposite me! Not even that blonde one over there! The thought didn’t even occur to me!

That, Mark, would be unprofessional, and as we all three of us know, I am nothing if not professional. Why, I’m so professional I’ve even been on TV!

Did you watch it last night, Mark? Did you settle down to it Sue, bottle of pink fizz in one hand and Sky+ controller in the other? Did you both get in takeaways especially, picking at prawn crackers or shovelling up great forkfuls of Korma as the programme progressed? Did you get the neighbours round? Did you make an evening of it?

It was exciting, wasn’t it? Did you see the way I fed those ducks? Did you see the way I stared moodily out of the window? Mark: I nailed that staring out of the window shizzle. I owned that staring out of the window shot. If ever they want to film someone staring out of a window again, I reckon I’m the call they’re going to have to make.

I hate to blow my own trumpet, Sue, as you know: but allow me the indulgence of my staring out of the window skills.

But anyway – enough about me. Where were you? Mark! Sue! I waited for your appearance through all those long minutes when people were talking about stuff and there was no staring out of the window action… I sat through it all, all the bits between the staring out of the window thrills, waiting, anticipating your appearance – and where were you?

Did you respectfully decline the invitation to appear, Mark? Was that on the professional advice of Sue? If so, and if it was, you did the right thing, I’d say. Deflect the attention on to Network Rail. Make out like you’re as helpless as all the people you’re supposed to be providing a service to. Gloss over the huge gulf between your profit margins and what you’re giving us for our money. Blinding, Sue! You played a blinder!

But still, I can’t pretend I’m not disappointed. I was so looking forward to seeing your faces again. It’s going to be a long week without you, Sue. And if I only had a Panorama investigation of you as something to remind me… I wouldn’t spend my life just wishing. You know?

(That worked much better in my head. Memo to self: no Flock of Seagulls lyrics to go into the Great 21st Century Novel.)

Oh well. We’ve been beaten by the clock and the wordcount again. Parting is such sweet sorrow. Until next week, mes petites incompetents!

Au revoir!


*You know Burlington Bertie, 100 to 30 don’t you Sue? From the music hall song of, ooh, must have been 1900 I reckon. Composed by that Harry B Norris feller. Sung originally by old Vesta Tilley. Denotes odds of 10/3. Famously performed by Betty Grable, Julie Andrews and one of the Muppets. That’s the one! Burlington Bertie, 100 to 30! I’ll have a pony on Burlington Bertie, 100 to 30!

**Actually, I’m not sick of the whole business at all. I’m still enjoying it. It’s fun, isn’t it, Mark? Writing to each other like this! It’s pleasingly old-fashioned, it’s pleasantly civilised, it’s at once zeitgeisty and archaic, at once anarchic and gentlemanly (no offence Sue). And also, it gives me a chance to show off my Burlington Bertie knowledge. Everyone’s a winner, baby! That’s the truth!

Friday, 20 January 2012

Blimey! Another reply from Mr Mark Hopwood!

Mark's excited about Panorama on Monday too!
(The shame of it is that I'm off work all next week - so there won't be any further letters between us until at least Monday 30th. How will we both cope?)

Dear Dom

Thank you for your email. Our 08:06 was delayed by a points failure on it's 'up' journey, so was late turning around and departing again. The next train, the 08:21, was the one you caught and I can imagine how difficult this journey must have been, especially as it's formed with less carriages.

I'll certainly be watching the show on Monday with interest.

Yours sincerely

Mark Hopwood
Managing Director

A new reply from Mr Mark Hopwood!

Dear Dom

Thank you for your emails.

The delay on 10 January was down to a station dispatch issue (which is being investigated by our Station Manager), compounded by a points failure at Didcot. On 12 January, there had been an earlier train fault which caused congestion and on Monday, our 08:06 was late into London following Network Rails improvement works over running, again causing reactionary delays throughout the morning.

I hope you will accept my apologies.

Kind regards

Mark Hopwood
Managing Director.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

17 January 2012. Letter 77

Dear Mark and Sue

Re: 08.06 FGW service from Oxford to Paddington, 17/1/12. CANCELLED. Amount of my day wasted: 30 minutes.

Oh Mark! Ooh, Sue! How are you? It’s cold isn’t it? Brrrr! Are you cold? Is Jack Frost nipping at your toes, Mark? Have you got the chills, Sue? Are you both wrapped up against the elements? Are you muffled and swaddled and swathed against the biting wind, the bitter embrace of the season? Do you wear your winter coats, your scarves and hats, your Christmas jumpers? Are we sporting thermals today, Sue? Do you rock a Long John, Mark?

I hope so! Oh, my chilly-fingered friends! Oh, my frozen-toed frères! With our streaming noses and red cheeks and breath that billows around us like steam from endlessly boiling kettles! We are cold, are we not? January has found us, Mark! The winter has come for us at last!

I don’t mind telling you, Mark – I, for one, am freezing. I’m brass monkeys, as our friends in the north inexplicably like to express it. (What is that all about, Sue? You’re the communications expert – what, precisely, are they trying to communicate, when they say it’s brass monkeys? And who on earth first thought of that comparison? Have you ever even seen a brass monkey? A monkey? Made of brass? What the dickens are they on about?)

I am cold today, Mark. I don’t mind telling you. I feel so extraordinary! Something’s got a hold on me. I get this feeling I’m in, well, not motion exactly… I get this feeling I’m in stasis. I’m still, Mark. Still and cold.

Still, apart from the shivering, obviously. Ooh, I’m shivering! I’m shivering and shaking! I’m buzzing like a fridge! I tremble like a flower!

Do you want to know why I am so particularly cold today, Mark? I’m particularly cold because I happen to be sitting on a particularly cold, particularly slow train currently chugging its slow, sleepy way through the petrified countryside between Oxford and Reading. It’s stopping at every frostbitten station along the way, Sue. Places with names like Appleford.

And nobody thought to turn on the heating on this particular train. Nobody thought: you know what? It’s minus three outside. Let’s turn the heating on. People might be cold. Let’s turn the heating on, for our passengers, for the ones paying us to run this train in the first place. Nobody thought: let’s think of our customers, and turn the heating on, because it’s minus three outside and some of them might not want to sit in the cold all the way to London town.

It’s a slow train, Mark; and it’s a cold train.

Why am I on this train? This slow, cold train to London? An excellent question, Mark, but one, I fear, that begs an answer that is unlikely to paint you in a very good light.

Sit yourself down, Mark. (What’s that? You are sitting? Good! Excellent!) Make yourself comfortable, Sue. Crank out the La-Z-Boys, send out for coffee, order up some Hobnobs, hold all the calls, stop all the clocks, set your phones to silent and settle in for a stretch. It’s going to be a long one, Mark. It’s going to be loooong, Sue.

I’m sorry to say that you’ve wasted rather a lot of my time this morning. And so I’m going to have to waste rather a lot of yours in return. It’s what the late Rolling Stones bassist George Harrison called “karma”. I’ve called the Karma Police! You get what you give. You reap what you sow. Settle down, Mark and Sue, and get ready to reap.

So. I am on this particularly slow, particularly cold train, because the train I was supposed to be on this morning was cancelled. You cancelled my train, Mark! Why did you cancel my train? As if getting to work on such a day as this wasn’t difficult enough as it is. (Waking up and getting up has never been easy, Sue.) As if wrapping up and muffling up and dragging my numbed feet through the streets to the station in the struggling light of dawn wasn’t hard enough, Mark – in these frozen mornings in mid-January. As if your trains weren’t unreliable enough. Now you’re cancelling them?

And so I stood on Oxford platform as the mercury dipped below minus three, Mark, swearing under my breath and stamping my feet and trying to think of a New Order lyric I could slip into the letter that would I be writing to you today; and so I stood there, chilled to the bone with all the other swearing, foot-stamping, New Order lyric-remembering other commuters, and I thought to myself: why have they cancelled my train? And I thought to myself: is this ever going to get better, Mark?

I mean: seriously. Is this ever going to get better?

Something has to be done, surely? We can’t go on like this, Mark. We can’t go on together, with defective trains.

Or rather: you can’t go on like this. Treating your passengers, your customers, the ones who pay your wages and keep you in profit, the ones who keep your profits high and your bonuses handsome, the poor saps who stump up above-inflation price hikes year after sorry year for a service that never gets noticeably better… you can’t keep treating them like this, Mark. Can you?

You’re taking our time, Mark, and you’re taking our money. And you’re treating us with nothing but contempt. Are you not just a little bit ashamed? Sure, there’s an excuse for every delay, there’s an explanation for every cancellation (that’s what Sue’s for, right? That’s what she does)… but are you not just a little bit ashamed that it should be like this, day in, day out?

Do you never get pangs of conscience, as you view your various spreadsheets in the First Great Western Tower of Power, as you study first the columns showing increasing company profits, and then the columns showing ticket price rises, and then the columns showing absolutely no improvement to the reliability of the service whatsoever? Do you never feel just a little bit bad about that?

I hope you do, Mark. You seem like a decent chap. You take the time to write back to me, after all, which is definitely the sign of a decent chap. And when I met you that time, back in the salad days of August, the dog days of our summer, you seemed like nothing less than a thoroughly good bloke. So I hope you do feel bad about the state of your company Mark.

Because you know what? I’m beginning to get a little bit tired of it all myself. Have you noticed? After 77 letters and around 50,000 words in less than seven months, are you beginning to pick up on the fact that I’m starting to get a touch touchy about your shambolic excuse for a train service?

Is my frustration becoming evident? Is my snarkiness boiling over into outright ranting? Do I rave, Mark? (We’ve discussed this before, Sue! Not that kind of raving! Not the glowsticks and the deep trance, not the white gloves and the bottle of water and the disco biscuits and the happy hardcore kind of raving! None of your on-the-terrace-at-Space action here! None of your memories of the Hacienda in ’88 now! Not that kind of raving at all!)

Do I rave, Mark and Sue? Is it any wonder if I do?

Anyway. Raving or otherwise, let’s get back to the present. Back to life, as Jazzy B and his noted soul-funk collective so beautifully put it, back to reality. Back to the here and now.

My train was cancelled this morning, Mark. And so, after swearing and stamping my feet and all the rest of it, I joined my fellow sufferers and got on the Chugger, the little train that stops at every tin-pot hamlet and one-horse town along the line to London. I did that because that’s what the man on the tannoy told me to do. They even held the Chugger back in the station past its scheduled departure time so that everyone who normally gets on the (cancelled) 08.06 could get on it too.

That was clever of them, wasn’t it, Mark? Hold a two carriage Chugger in the station in order to accommodate all of its usual passengers – plus everyone who normally gets the eight carriage fast service! Ten carriages into two does go, Mark! Abacus, schmabacus, as the Ancient Sumerians might have said, 5000 years ago, when first pondering the complexities of mathematics. Ten into two does go! Abacus schmabacus!

And so in we squashed: ten carriages into two. Into the coldest place on earth we went, Mark. Into conditions Captain Scott would have shied away from; into a train that Ernest Shackleton would have chickened out of… into the polar express (or rather, polar Chugger) we dutifully went.

And I opened my laptop, Mark. With frostbitten fingers I began to type.

And crikey, this train is cold, Mark! It’s colder in here than it is outside! I type this letter to you with my digits turning blue, with extremities numbed and nerve-endings dying and toes no doubt blackening and dropping off. And you know what, Mark? The air-conditioning is on. It’s not only cold in here – but someone thought it would be a good idea to turn the air-conditioning on, to actually blow out more cold air into the already freezing carriages. Seriously, Mark!

A boy could get paranoid, Sue! (Have I used my paranoia jokes before? What’s that you say? I have? Well you would say that, wouldn’t you? Anyway, I saw my doctor about my paranoia – he asked why I was really there and what did they tell me to say to try to catch him out? He said people were always coming in saying they’re paranoid and he wanted to know who was co-ordinating it all.)

A boy could think you’re doing all this deliberately, Mark! A paranoid boy, obviously, a boy with issues and hangups. Not a boy like me. Not the kind of boy who would keep writing letters to you like this. Not a normal boy. A paranoid boy, with hangups and issues. That kind of boy could begin to think that all these delays, the cancellations, the freezing, overcrowded trains with the air-con blasting out… that kind of boy could begin to think you were doing it all deliberately.

Absurd, right? Crazy! Crazy as a coconut! Of course it’s not that. Of course you’re not doing it deliberately! You’re not actively malicious, are you Mark? You’re not intentionally cruel! I’ve met you! You’ve written to me! You’re not the kind who could smile, and run late trains as you smile.

So… given that you’re not doing all this deliberately, actively, intentionally, what does that leave us with? If it’s not deliberate, what is it?

If it’s not deliberate, Mark, these delays and cancellations and overcrowdings and price-hikes (actually, that bit is deliberate, isn’t it?) and stupid decisions like cooling your trains down on the coldest day of winter – if it’s not deliberate, it must just be… incompetence.

Right, Mark? Does that make sense, Sue? If you’re not running such a shoddy, shambolic, sorry excuse for a train franchise deliberately ineptly – then you must be running it incompetently. That it’s bad is beyond question (see the previous 76 letters for evidence of that). The question is why it’s bad. And if you’re not making it bad on purpose, then it must be bad by accident.

As you know, Mark, I’m a journalist. I write stuff for a living. Someone asks me to write something about someone, and I think for a bit, research for a bit, stare at the blank page for a bit, and then start writing. And when I’ve finished, I give what I’ve written to the person who asked me to write it, and if that person is happy with what I’ve written, I get paid. And then they might ask me to write something else.

If I write something they’re not happy with, they might come back to me and ask me about it. “Why did you write this?” they might say. Or, “What’s your evidence for writing that?” Or even, “Why do you insist on trying to get New Order lyrics into a piece about noted French/Argentinian actress Berenice Bejo?”

And if I say I wrote it that way deliberately and they still don’t like it, they might point out why it doesn’t work and tell me to do better next time and (if they’re nice) they might still ask me to write something else.

But if, for example, I couldn’t even see that what I had written was bad, if it was simply the case that I am, in fact, a bad writer… well then they’re not going to ask me to write anything ever again. If I’m incompetent, Mark, I don’t get paid. Simple as that.

It’s not a revolutionary concept, Mark. It just happens to be a concept that works in pretty much every part of society except, apparently, the part that involves running a train franchise.

Oh, Mark. Ooh, Sue. What are we to do? How can we take this mess and sort it out?

Do I need to shout louder, Mark? Do I need to holler from the rooftops? Do I need to do more than I’m doing already? Do I need, Mark, to use the power of television?

Okay then! You got it! I shall go on television, Mark! I shall get myself on the gogglebox! I shall invade the living rooms of the nation, Sue, and make my point in High Definition and Surround Sound!

Let’s do it! Let’s do it… next Monday! Let’s do it next Monday, the 23rd of January! Let’s do it next Monday, the 23rd of January at 8.30pm! On BBC1! Let’s do it on a programme called Panorama! I’m there, Mark! I’m already there!

Au revoir!


PS – I got the New Order lyric in, by the way, Sue. I got two New Order lyrics in! And then I got carried away and also got in lyrics by Radiohead, David Bowie, Elastica, Elvis Presley, Joy Division, Soul II Soul and The Avalanches. Plus nods to the New Radicals, Lou Reed and Florence and the Machine. Oh dear. Sorry about that. I’d never get away with that in an article about noted French/Argentinian actress Berenice Bejo. But did you spot them all, Sue? That’s the real question! Did you spot every single one of them?

Monday, 16 January 2012

16 January 2012. Letter 76

Dear Mark and Sue

Re: 08.06 FGW service from Oxford to Paddington, 16/1/12. Amount of my day wasted: six minutes.

Mark! Good morning! It’s Blue Monday, Mark, the most depressing day of the year! How do you feel? How does it feel, to treat me like you do? When you’ve laid your hands upon your keyboard, and told me how late your trains are? I thought I was mistaken, Mark! I thought I heard your words! Tell me: how do I feel? Tell me now. How do I feel?

Oh, indulge me, Mark! It’s the beginning of the week, it’s the most depressing day of the year, my train is late again… indulge me if I attempt to shoehorn a New Order lyric or two into our correspondence. To be perfectly frank with you, Mark (and you, Sue: I shall be both perfect and frank, where you’re concerned. Never anything less than perfect, and never anything other than frank! If not actually Frank, as it were), it’s amazing I haven’t misquoted a lot more of New Order before now. They are officially the third best band out of Manchester ever, after all. (And therefore the sixth best band of all time out of anywhere.)

In fact… expect more New Order, Mark! If your trains continue to underperform so woefully, Sue, then expect plenty of New Order peppered throughout our further correspondence. As “Colonel” Tom Parker* so famously said: you can never have enough New Order, son. When in doubt, spin a bit of Lowlife and all will be cool.

But, as ever, I digress! I didn’t sit down to write to you today about New Order, Mark! I sat down to write to you today because one of your trains was delayed again. Specifically: the train I happened to be sitting on this morning.

At Didcot Parkway, Sue, in the freezing mist of a translucent dawn, we sat and watched the smoke billow around the cooling towers and we wondered just when our train would take off again. On Blue Monday, Mark, as the mercury struggled to reach zero and the guards on the platform stamped their feet and the crows flapped over the dead ground, we sat on the platform and waited.

What was it today, Mark? Was the train feeling a bit blue, too? Could it not summon up the enthusiasm today, Sue? Was it just not in the mood?

Poor train! Poor little engine!

Perhaps I’ve been harsh, Mark. Perhaps I’ve been hasty, Sue (not an accusation you’ll often hear leveled in these letters – hastiness). Am I being unfair? Should I cut your brave little locomotives some slack? Should I try to be a little more understanding? Should I understand that sometimes the little engines that could, simply can’t be bothered?

Let me think. Let me think long and hard. In the first month since my ticket went up by six per cent, in a month that has already seen me delayed five times in two weeks… should I be more understanding?

I think we already know the answer to that one, Mark. The answer is no. Why on earth should I? Make the trains run on time, Mark! Stop giving me Stockholm Syndrome! Stop making my Mondays blue!

Au revoir!


*Pop fact for you, Sue: Colonel Tom Parker wasn’t a Colonel at all. The man who masterminded Elvis Presley’s career was as much of a Colonel as I am. Or, in fact, as “Colonel” Sanders, purveyor of many a fine fried chicken breast, was. Although having said that, I’m not so sure about Colonel Sanders. Perhaps that’s something you could look into, Sue? Get your Communications Squad on it. Find out the truth: was Colonel Sanders a Colonel or not? Did his secret blend of herbs and spices include fictitious military honours? I look forward to hearing all about it, Sue!

Friday, 13 January 2012

12 January 2012. Letter 75

Dear Mark and Sue

Re: 18.51 FGW service from Paddington to Oxford, 12/1/12. Amount of my day wasted: eight minutes.

Mark! Sue! Thank crunchie it’s Friday! How are you? Feeling pretty good, I expect. Feeling pretty well. Looking good and feeling fine. Feeling how you like – and liking how you feel. Excellent. I wouldn’t have it any other way!

I’ll be honest with you both. I’m not feeling myself, today Mark. (Nobody else is feeling me either, Sue! That may be the problem!) Something feels off. Something feels different. There’s been a subtle shift somewhere, the delicate balance of my cosmos has somehow moved ever-so-slightly out of whack. There has been a disturbance in the natural order of things!

It’s been preying on my mind, Mark. It’s kept me awake at night, Sue, tossing and turning, turning and tossing and not feeling myself. Something’s wrong. Something’s not quite right.

And do you know what I think it is? I think it’s because this is only the second letter I’ve had to write to you this week. I think it’s because I had a stop-over in London on Tuesday night (it was my brother’s birthday, Mark! We went to his local pub and we talked about how brilliant it would be if Eric Cantona really had announced his candidacy for French President. We talked about that one subject all night. It was ace!). I think it’s because that thanks to that stop-over I’ve caught two less of your trains this week than I would usually.

In short, Mark, to be blunt, Sue: I think, as Puff Daddy so beautifully put it, I’ve been missing you. I think, after all these hours of mine you’ve taken, and all these hours of yours I’ve tried to waste in return, I’ve come, in a peculiar and perverse way, to assume the service I’m paying so much for actually will be substandard. I’m beginning to be surprised when the train is on time, rather than the other way around. I woke this morning and thought: how is it that the letter I will write today (concerning the delay last night) will only be the second all week? What fresh weirdness is this, that I should go a week with more on-time services than delayed journeys?

Odd, huh? Peculiar, no? Unsettling, don’t you think? It’s not natural, Sue. It’s unnatural, in fact. It goes against the natural order of things, for me to be surprised at a ratio of only one train in four being delayed. Surprised that it’s not more than one in four.

You know what it is, Mark? I think I’ve got Stockholm Syndrome. Do you know what Stockholm Syndrome is? It comes from a study conducted in the early 16th century by a quartet of Swedish scientists. It’s famous, Mark! It’s the cornerstone of all modern psychology – without Stockholm Syndrome it’s doubtful there would even be a Celebrity Big Brother, for example.

It was explained to me by a tall bloke outside a pub in the snow a couple of years ago, as all the best psychological studies should be. I shall sum up for you.

The point about Stockholm Syndrome is that it describes the strange phenomena where a hostage might express empathy, positive feelings or even loyalty towards his captors. Where the hostage mistakes a lack of maliciously directed active cruelty for actual kindness.

The scientists who came up with this, Mark – Dr Benny Andersson, Professor Anni-frid Lyngstad, Dr Agnetha Faltskog, and a young intern called Bjorn Ulvaeus – did so by cutting off all mass-transit routes in and out of the city of Stockholm (hence the name) and telling the citizens that the entire conurbation was under quarantine. They kept them prisoners in their own city for 22 months, Mark! Denied them all contact with the outside world. No electricity, no gas, no pickled herring, no saunas, no smorgasbords… not even access to Ulrika Jonsson.

The people of Stockholm, Sue – they reverted to savages. They roamed wild in the streets. Naked and feral. But after 22 months, Dr Benny Andersson, assisted by young Bjorn Ulvaeus, allowed one single train to run into the city’s mainline station, bringing a cargo of Volvo estate cars. Order was immediately restored. And for this single act of kindness after 22 months of torture and barbarity, those four scientists were hailed as saviours.

The rest, of course, is history. The station was named Waterloo, Andersson and Ulvaeus wrote a song about it, and the four scientists became the only people to win both a Nobel prize and the Eurovision Song Contest in the same year. (Gina G sadly missed out on Eurovision glory in 1996, following her Nobel prize for Literature.) They’re still commemorated on stamps over there, you know. Extraordinary.

But I ramble. Of course you know all that. The point is, Mark: do I have Stockholm Syndrome? Have I caught a dose of it, Sue? Am I now at the stage where I see a week where only 25 per cent of my trains are delayed as being like some wondrous gift from the gods?

Crikey, I hope not! What do you think? And while we're at it, has there ever been a better lyric in the history of popular music than: “the history book on the shelf is always repeating itself”?*

Au revoir!


*No, Mark. No there hasn't. That's as good as it gets.

A new reply from Mark!

Dear Dom

Thank you for your emails.

Thursday morning's delay was due to a freight train that had broken down, blocking the line. This was really frustrating. Thursday evening's delay was caused by an overhead line power failure, which resulted in a number of routes in and out of London becoming congested. Unfortunately, our 18:51 was one of the 303 services affected by this one disruption.

We have had a number of issues recently caused by freight trains failing or running late causing delays to FGW services and infrastructure issues are still occurring too frequently. I am ensuring that both Network Rail and freight companies take these issues seriously, but as our customer, I apologise for the inconvenience caused.

My replies might not be lengthy ( I am conscious not to make any further demands on your time) but I do fully understand your annoyance.

Kind regards

Mark Hopwood
Managing Director

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

10 January 2012. Letter 74

Dear Mark and Sue

Re: 08.06 FGW service from Oxford to Paddington, 10/1/12. Amount of my day wasted: eight minutes.

Good morning Mark. Good day to you, Sue. (A bit of formality never goes amiss, does it Mark? A setting of standards. A reminder that we’re British! Not for us the awful colonial “hiya”s and “hey”s and “g’day”s! Away with those horrid continental kisses and hugs and unnecessary displays of affection! We are British, and know that a simple Good Morning more than suffices!)

So how the devil are we today? Well? Good? Bad (that’s bad meaning good, of course)? Sorted? Sound? Smart? Up town and top ranking?

Are we filled with optimism this mild winter morn? Does the world not seem so bad after all? Do you think there might be hope for us? Do we turn the wheel and look to windward? All I ask is a tall train, Mark! And a star to steer her by!

Good. Excellent. I’m pleased to hear it. And you know what? I felt much the same this morning, in my moonlit kitchen before dawn, stirring my coffee and pouring my Cheerios (technically they’re not actually Cheerios as such – they’re the Aldi version of Cheerios. Called Cheery-ah!s or somesuch. Belts have to be tightened, Mark! The crunch continueth, Sue! And if I’m to be spending £30-odd quid a month more on my train ticket than I was last year, then savings have to be made elsewhere! And so the lavish extravagance, the positively Caligulan decadence of a Sainsbury’s shop is given up in favour of a trawl around the aisles of Aldi. I expect it’s the same for both of you, right? We’re all in it together!).

Where was I? Oh yes, I felt much the same, this morning! As I lathered myself up in Lynx Africa (the chicks go wild for that stuff, right Sue?) and listened to Chris Evans on the radio and sang along to Bowie’s Heroes (“I! I will be king! And you! You will be queen!”), as I dressed for work, as I prepared a face to meet the faces that I meet, I too felt filled with some kind of optimism. I felt like things might not be so relentlessly and remorselessly awful after all.

After all, Mark! You managed delay-free journeys on both Friday last week and Monday this week! That’s four journeys in a row, Sue! Perhaps, thought I, they’ve finally sorted things out! Perhaps they’ve got it together! Perhaps, inspired by the 199 days to go to the Olympics, or inspired by the news of the new High Speed Train link to Birmingham (start work now, Mark, I mean right now, right this second, and we could be on that first train as soon as, um, 2014. I know! That’s practically tomorrow, right? That’s virtually this afternoon! The time will fly!), or inspired by the inspiring return of Thierry Henry to the Emirates last night (one of the most decent and principled men in football, is Henry, Mark. Apart from when he’s cheating to deny Ireland a place in the World Cup, of course. Apart from the cheating, obviously, one of the most decent and principled men in football!) – perhaps, inspired by one or all of the above, thought I, Mark and Sue have only gone and done the Mussolini! Perhaps they’ve finally made the trains run on time!

And so I stood on the platform at Oxford station at eight am, Mark, feeling for once oddly hopeful and optimistic. And I waited for the arrival of my train. And you know what happened next? It turned up late!

Mark! That train begins at Oxford! That’s why I get it! It’s my only chance of a seat in the morning (even if it does make me habitually late for work as a result). Sue! I can see that train, from my spot on the platform! I saw it this morning, waiting inexplicably in the sidings as the minutes ticked by. And I thought to myself: that train should not be there, in the sidings, waiting inexplicably (or inexplicably waiting) as the minutes tick by! That train should be here, in the station, pulled up to the platform, welcoming me and my fellow travellers aboard! In fact, that train should have already done that stuff and by now be chuffing merrily to London town, taking me to a place where I can edit features for the country’s best-read Saturday supplement magazine!

In short, Mark, to cut to the chase, Sue, we were delayed. Slow before we even began. The race was over before we even started. We never got off the blocks.

And so, like the last dregs of coffee muddying the washing up bowl, like the last sad Cheery-ah!s tipped into the sink, like the last soiled suds of Lynx Africa slipping down the plughole, my erstwhile optimism dribbled away into nothingness.

I got on the train, Mark (eventually). I put my headphones on (an exceptional pair they are too, as recommended by Jam magazine, Sue, a one-off News of the World men’s supplement of exceptional quality that came out last March, produced by a small but wildly talented team of hip young gunslingers. Someone should offer the features editor of Jam magazine a job, Mark! A high-paying job! I hear he’ll be in the market soon, once he finishes his maternity cover on the country’s best-read Saturday supplement magazine this spring!), I set the iPod to the playlist labelled “Righteous fury and terrible vengeance”, I snapped open the laptop, and I started to write.

And here I am. And here it is. Hope it hasn’t spoiled your mood…

Au revoir!


Friday, 6 January 2012

5 January 2011. Letter 73

Dear Mark and Sue

Re: 18.51 FGW service from Paddington to Oxford, 5/1/12. Amount of my day wasted: 10 minutes.

Top o’ the morning Mark! What about you, Sue? How’s tricks? How’s the tracks? What’s the skinny on our service today? All good? All clear? All tip-top, ship-shape and Bristol fashion? Good! Good work! Well done!

Thankyou for your latest letter, Mark. Good to see the new year hasn’t seen you stray into unnecessary verbosity. Good to see that 2012 will not apparently lure you into overindulging on the old word front. Just the facts, ma’am! No unnecessary flim-flam, none of that flowery nonsense. Get in, get it down, get out. First rule of journalism.*

I’ve got a feeling you’d make a fine journalist, Mark. In the Redford and Bernstein mould. (You remember Redford and Bernstein, don’t you? They’re the Washington Post journalists who investigated Watergate and brought about the downfall of Abraham Lincoln, back in the early 1990s. Their exploits were later made into a film starring Dustin Hoffman and Edward Woodward – All The King’s Horses, it was called. Well worth checking it out. I must have watched it 500 times, Mark! I know every detail of that story like the back of my elbow!)

What do you think, Sue? Do you think Mark would make a fine journalist? You’re the creative talent, here, after all! You’re the Director of Communications! You’re the wordsmith! Even if you choose to do so mostly, it would seem, through non-traditional methods of communication (like, for example, by using words). But don’t worry, Sue! That’s one of the things I like most about you! It gives you an air of mystery! And Lord knows we all need an air of mystery, don’t we?

Well I do, at any rate. I need an air of mystery. Any pointers you could give me on that front would be much appreciated, Sue. Any help with cultivating the old mysterious air would be gratefully received.

But enough about you, Sue! Let’s talk about me! Or, as seminal 80s rap duo Salt ‘n’ Pepa almost put it: Let’s talk about me, baby! Let’s talk about me and me! Let’s talk about all the good things and the bad things that I may be! Let’s talk about me!

Ah, do you remember Salt ‘n’ Pepa, Mark? (Of course you do, Sue!) They were ace, weren’t they? Unashamedly ace! They had a DJ called Spinderella. Spinderella spin it up one time! That’s close to genius, Mark! And their album – A Salt With A Deadly Pepa! Brilliant!

It’s almost as good an album title as long-standing multi-instrumentalist weirdo band Sparks’ album title Gratuitous Sax and Senseless Violins. (Although Sparks did have a keyboard player who looked like Hitler, so they probably edge it. And, thinking about it, Sparks also released another album called Angst In My Pants – which is, on reflection, the single greatest album title of all time. Angst In My Pants! When I write the third volume of my autobiography, Sue (the tome covering 1993-97, the Income Support years) I’m totally calling it Angst In My Pants!)

Where was I? Oh yes: let’s talk about me! My train was delayed last night Mark!

I’d done that whole thing of slipping out of the office a few minutes early, too, nonchalantly whistling as I edged past my colleagues’ desks, meeting nobody’s eyes, casually inching towards the door like I was just drifting purposelessly, like the wind just kinda blew me that way… and then the minute I was out of sight legging it full-pelt for the lift, the lobby, the revolving door and the free air of Wapping.

I’d done it, because I wanted to make the 18.51 train, Mark. Because if I get the 18.51 train I can (usually) be home before 8pm and I can kid myself that I do have a life outside work.

Do you know how annoying it is to skulk out of work early (thereby risking the terrifying and near-Biblical wrath of one’s editor) and run – literally run, Mark! And at my age too! – for the tube, run again up the escalators at Paddington, shouldering and shoving the weak and the slow and the old and the infirm and the very young and the pregnant out of the way as you do so… do you know how annoying it is to have to do all that just to make a train that subsequently sits pointlessly outside Reading and Didcot for the best part of 10 minutes?

I’ll tell you, Mark. It’s really annoying. It’s disproportionately annoying to the length of the delay itself, if you follow. It assumes a significance greater than the mere accumulation of lost minutes. It becomes more than the sum of its parts, Sue. It becomes a symbol, a metaphor.

What for? For the cruelty of the universe itself and the ultimate futility of our brief, flickering and supremely insignificant existence in it, that’s what for. That’s what those 10 minutes really mean.

Right? No? Well maybe not then. Maybe that was a bit much. But it’s still annoying. It’s still really annoying. Isn’t it? It’s still needlessly annoying.

Oh – and before I go, Sue: is “accumulation of lost minutes” an oxymoron? I’ve just read it back and though it sounds fantastic (even if I do say so myself) I suspect that it may not make any actual sense. Not that it matters to me, like, but, y’know, would Bob Redford and Dustin Bernstein have let it go through?

Au revoir!


*Actually, technically this is probably the second rule of journalism. A very wise man (now retired) at the Daily Express once told me the first rule of journalism. If you can’t file a good story, he said, file a story. Worry about the whistles and bells later – but get the story in. Always get the story in. It’s a principle to which I’ve adhered religiously. Rarely are my stories good, Mark, but at least they’re always filed on time.

Just the facts, ma'am

Dear Dom

Thank you for your email.

Our 08:06 train from Oxford was held up by an earlier freight service which unfortunately struck a tree that had come down in the high winds. The debris was promptly cleared, but not in time to prevent a delay to your journey and I am sorry for your late arrival into London.

Kind regards


Thursday, 5 January 2012

5 January 2012. Letter 72

Dear Mark and Sue

Re: 08.06 FGW service from Oxford to Paddington, 5/1/12. Amount of my day wasted: seven minutes.

Hey Mark and Sue! Don’t make it bad! Take a sad train, and make it run better! Remember! To doo-da-dum-di-da-doo, rinky-dink-doo, to make it better…

Ah, Mark! The inspiring words of Paul McCartney! Macca! Fab Macca Thumbs Aloft, as Smash Hits used to have it. What a guy! What hair! Give him a ukulele and an industrial-sized vat of Just for Men and he’ll go on for ever! Second best lyricist in the Beatles, was Macca. (After Ringo. Have you heard the words to Octupus’s Garden? A-maze, as the girls in the office like to say. Oh! Em! Gee! George is third, of course – mostly for Here Comes the Sun. Which leaves sad John bringing up the rear. Poor old John. Never could get his tongue round a diphthong.)

Where was I? Oh yes! The inspiring words of Fab Macca! He knew a thing or two about trains, did Macca! Probably. Possibly. Perhaps. Actually, I’ve no idea if he knew a thing or two about trains or not. But you know what? I suspect that even if he didn’t know a thing or two about trains, he would at least have known enough to grasp the concept of the importance of running the things on time. Of sticking to the timetable. Of not charging more and more for a declining service.

Old Macca may not have been the world’s foremost economist (third best economist in the Beatles) or the planet’s premier locomotive historian (second best locomotive historian in the Beatles) – but even he would have grasped the basic fundamentals of what running a train franchise should be about.

Don’t you think, Mark? What about you, Sue? What’s the official line from the First Great Western Communications Hub on the influence of the Fab Four on customer service and efficient train management? I’d love to know!

Anyway. My rather long introduction to this letter (hello, by the way! How are you?) serves only to delay the inevitable point of the exercise. Mark, Sue: I write to you today on the occasion of my 72nd delay since the end of June last year. My train, meine kleine knockwursts, was slow this morning. It was held up, or held back.

It was tardy, it was overdue. It dawdled and dilly-dallied, dragged and lagged. It was late, Mark. It was not on time, Sue. It was – what’s the word? (Don’t you hate it when you can’t think of the word, Sue! There’s a word for that, isn’t there? For when you can’t think of the word? What is that word!)

Delayed! It was delayed! My train today was delayed! And so, like sand through the hourglass, do the minutes of my life fall away as I gaze out of the window at the world happening without me and wonder about all that might have happened to me in the 17 hours (and counting) you’ve taken from me since the end of June last year.

What was the reason today, Mark? Was it Network Rail’s fault again? Was it your fault again? Have you not had a chance to spend all this extra money we’re giving you for the same tickets, for the same awful service, on improving your service?

That is what you’re going to spend it on, right Mark? All this extra money, I mean. You are going to spend it on making the service better? You’re not going to spend it on (whisper it) yourselves or anything, are you?

We won’t be expecting any reports of increased profits for First Great Western any time soon, will we? You can confirm that you won’t be using my money to fatten up you and your fellow executives’ wallets, right?

Good! Great! Well done! I can’t wait for things to start to get better, Mark! Really I can’t!

All together now! Naaaaa na-na, na-na-na-naaa, na-na-na-naaa, hey Mark and Sue…

Au revoir!


Tuesday, 3 January 2012

3 January 2012. Letter 71

Dear Mark and Sue

Re: 08.06 FGW service from Oxford to Paddington, 3/1/12. Amount of my day wasted: 11 minutes.

Mark! Sue! New year, new you! New year, new me! New year, new efficient, comfortable, reliable train service! Right? Right!

Oh, hold up. Wait a moment, Mark. Stop right there, Sue. Something’s wrong; something’s not quite right. The trains, Mark! The trains! They’re not quite right! They are, in fact, wrong. Still!

Mark: it’s only the third day of January. The new year is barely begun. And yet, already, Mark, I’m sitting on a stopped train (my first train of the year, Mark) staring at a platform in Didcot station, lashed by the rain and battered by the winds, grey and sullen and sodden in the dismal January morning light… and I’m wondering why I’ve been staring at this sorry scene for 10 minutes now. I’m wondering when this train might start moving again.

Are things to be as bad this year as they were last year, Mark? Have we learned nothing? I racked up 17 hours in delays over the last six months of last year, Mark. You took away 17 hours of my life in delays over the last six months of last year, Sue. That’s 17 hours on top of the scheduled journey times. That’s 17 hours I should have spent at work, or at home. Seventeen hours I should have spent in the loving bosom of my nearest and dearest… or at home.

(The jokes won’t be getting any better this year either, Sue. I’d apologise for that, but… well, they make me laugh and that’s what matters most, right? So long as one of us is having a good time. That was always my philosophy during my time as a Wedding DJ, and that’s my philosophy when writing bad jokes to the Managing Director and Director of Communications of underperforming train companies. That, plus lots of S Club 7.)

But this year, Mark! Oh, this year, Sue! I thought this year would be different! It’s 2012, my time-travelling comrades! We’re in the future! This is an Olympic year, a Jubilee year! This is the year of Mayan Prophecies and Presidential Elections! It’s the year I’ll be appearing on Panorama and the year I’ll get round to writing that era-defining book I keep banging on about. Anything could happen this year!

At least… such were my optimistic thoughts, as I shelled out an extra six per cent for my monthly train ticket this morning, Mark. It’s 2012, I thought! Mark and Sue are going to sort out their shoddy excuse for a train service once and for all! (Well – Mark will. Mark will sort it out, with sleeves rolled up and hands dirty, with brow furrowed and sinews straining… and Sue will communicate. This will be the year that Sue will communicate! O brave new world, that has such communicating in it!)

If I’m to pay more for a service that has to this point been demonstrably awful (seventeen hours delayed in six months!) then it stands to reason that with the above-inflation price hike will come a corresponding, widespread and comprehensive sorting out of that service. Right? Right!

Alas, Mark. Alack, Sue! Alas and alack! It seems, already, just three days into the new year, just one journey into the new year, my faith, my hope, has been for nothing. Is 2012 to be another year of disappointment, Mark? Will 2012 be another 12 months of commuting misery for me, Sue?

Oh well. I should have known. Resolutions never last, do they? New year, new you? Sounds like a great idea at five past midnight on New Years Day, when the bongs are still echoing and the fireworks are still lighting up the skies and the pina coladas are still flowing (what do you mean you don’t have pina coladas on New Year’s Eve, Sue? Have you never been to Scotland? They basically invented New Year’s Eve (I believe they call it Hootenanny) – and every year at midnight the Scottish tradition is to don the old hula skirt (they call it a kilt) recite a few verses by the famous Jewish poet Rabbi Burns, set up a limbo dance and sink a couple litres of pina colada, before all settling down to watch Braveheart and moan about Paul Gascoigne’s goal against them in Euro 96. It’s practically the law up there, Mark! It’s how they’ve been doing it for literally thousands of years.)

But the problem with new year, new you, is that in the unfeeling, unforgiving light of morning, it all seems like a bit too much bother to bother with. When reality bites, Mark, new year new you has a decidedly icky aftertaste. Much like pina colada. Or Braveheart.

So obviously your new year resolution was to make your trains run on time. Of course it was! It’s what you promise to do every year, isn’t it? And like the 40-Silk Cut-a-day fagash Lil who vows to never spark up again, like the 18-stone chocoholic who insists that comfort-eating is to be a thing of the past, like the dedicated dipsomaniac who solemnly pours the last of his bottle of Sainsbury’s Value Brandy down the drain… give it a day or two and all those promises have come to nothing again.

Lil’s back on the tabs, Mark, the big lass is face-down in a tub of ice-cream again, the Sainsbury’s Value Brandy has been replaced, replenished and regurgitated… and the trains of First Great Western are once again slipping behind schedule.

Nobody keeps their resolutions. Everyone falls off the wagon, Mark. People fail, Sue. Life is disappointment, mes petites pessimists, and anyone who says different is trying to sell you something.

So should I forgive and forget, Mark? Should I understand and empathise? Should I cut you some slack?

Of course not.

You’re charging me for this service, Mark! You’re charging me more for this service! You’ve just put up the price by six per cent! And I’m still delayed! Am I angry about that? Yes! Should I be more angry? Yes! We all should! We should be furious, Mark! It’s a disgrace.

Oh dear. There goes the new year optimism. And there goes my own resolution: to always look on the bright side. Looks like we’re as bad as each other, eh? Still – there’s always S Club 7 to cheer us up! Ain't no party like an S Club Party!

Au revoir!


A Christmas letter from Mark!

Dear Dom,

Thank you for your email and I am sorry for the delays to your journey.

Wednesday nights 19:22 service was held up by 5 minutes at Ladbroke Grove & a further 7 minutes at Kennington, both delays were residual & caused by an earlier mechanical problem.

Last Thursday a freight service failed just outside of Reading which caused significant disruption throughout the evening peak.

Thank you again for your emails & Merry Christmas & Happy New Year.

Kind regards