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.

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