Wednesday, September 24, 2008

[wordy wednesday] of trains, brains and the eye

Ian Grey makes some good points in his piece Kilts and Saris:

I find the whole happy clappy celebration of diversity stuff misguided and tedious in the extreme ... If I happen to meet people of different backgrounds that I find interesting, I may choose to find out more if they are willing to tell me. The last thing I want, however, is the Council telling me what to be interested in. I’ve now found out about a Demos pamphlet by Liam Byrne called A More United Kingdom, but by the amusing way, through post-publication blogger ridicule.

Demos, of course, is a most interesting group and you can read an abstract about Mulgan and the boys and girls here - just the sort of people to be dictating to us. However, this is not the main point of this post.

The main point is that, by buying Private Eye 1219 yesterday, savouring the idea of a good laugh after the jobsearching was done, I found it anything but amusing. In fact it was depressing in the extreme. This is not a commentary on the Eye itself which, despite the generally held opinion that it is going downhill, is still a fine publication but rather on the material it was writing about.

Yes, I know that "the incompetence of the FSA, the government and the banking sector" [p13] makes good copy and that Salford Council's allegedly mindless squandering of money on sacrilege [p11] is a ripe issue for castigation but somehow, with the British winter coming on and some of us having to actually be out on the street sometime late October, the tales of appalling wastage by Demos type people or the classifieds, pleading:

"Lady in financial distress - any help appreciated," or "Made redundant - 4k would help immensely in the coming winter,"

... have a certain depressing edge to them and lead me to paraphrase Richard Thompson/Fairport Convention:

The storming wind cuts through to my skin
But they cut through to my blood.
I would not be asking, I would not be seen
A-beggin’ on mountain or hill
But I’m ready and blind with my hands tied behind
I’ve neither a mind nor a will.

So, if I'm flinching when the Eye touches on these things in their witty way, what of my own daily dose of unwitty doom and gloom here on this blog? Hmmm - perhaps this blog should turn escapist and post on happy clappy topics instead.

One article in Private Eye did grab the attention though and that was "Signal Failures", on p10:

"The rail industry has had enough of passengers spoiling punctuality statistics."

Oh yes, oh yes. I've already had a taste of this with the changeover in Manchester, which was like something out of a Python episode. As the Eye points out, trains are allowed to be 10 minutes late but passengers daren't be even 30 seconds late or else that train is gone, mate.

In a sense, you can't blame it on the train, which has to run on aging tracks and uses a rickety infrastructure to hobble along, so it is no surprise that trains must remain stationary for lengths of time outside the main cities, for both those reasons and also to get an available platform which no one on the train, apart from the trolley boy, can inform you about ahead of time:

"What, am I a bleedin' mind-reader?" thinks officialdom, whilst actually telling you, in the sweetest voice and with a big grin on the face, "That's in the realm of speculation, sir."

The great joke, of course, is that the Man-Behind-the-Window at the ticket office in Hull [and they still do have men and women, real ones, doing that in a remote place like that], told you, in good faith, that you had 32 minutes between trains, more than enough to make the changeover.

What he did not tell you was that you would arrive at a platform on one side of the station, which then involved asking three officials [if you could catch them] on which platform your train departed, receiving three different answers and then having to rely on the TV screens which happen to have broken down that day until a little old lady tells you it always goes from Platform 13.

Thank you and where is that, perchance, as the platforms only go up to 12 in this part of the station?

"Well, you see that archway on the far side of the station over there, like? You go over there and you'll need to go up those stairs, along the moving walkway, down the stairs second on the left but mind you don't go down the right hand stairs and then you'll find it."

At this point, there are 15 minutes left.

Naturally the conveyor belt is broken but you make the platform in good time all the same and then the little matter of which part of the endless platform the train will actually stop at starts to dawn. Knowing you have a millisecond to catch the destination on the front before the train sweeps past, [there being no indication as to destination on the side and with the TVs being down], you take the chance to leap on and ask the passengers around you.

Suddenly, One Above sees your misery and miraculously provides a young lady in uniform to stick your head out of the door and ask if this is the right train, to which she replies:

"You could do ... but then again, I wouldn't risk it, if I were you."

... at which point you leap off the train and rejoin the jolly frenzy and anxious looks about you on the suddenly population-swollen platform, causing someone in prime position to join his train to snarl at you, which in turn causes you to gently caress your Beeching Axe, secreted in your jacket.

Of course, anyone in Britain reading this would know it already. So, let me think - happy topics? Happy topics? Now what can I dream up?


TBRRob said...

There must be some nice scenery up your neck of the woods.

Would that provide some happy thoughts.

CherryPie said...

I think we must have been reading different articles in Private Eye. I laughed my head off at the latest edition!

Trains, yes been there (several times).

I am with Rob, there must be some inspiring scenery near by.

James Higham said...

There is some beautiful scenery and it's hugely enjoyable. As for Private Eye, I'll enjoy it immensely again once I'm back in harness and can be amused from a height. :)

Anonymous said...

Welcome to the rabbit hole.

jmb said...

Well you remember the old saying, get the Germans to run the trains. Sounds like the Italians are running this lot, but without the charm and goodwill.

Colin Campbell said...

It has been a long time since I took a train in the UK. I rarely read good things. It sounds expensive and annoying. Obviously essential for many including my mum, who has given up her car and travels around the UK very cheaply on the train.

Talking of other British institutions, I haven't read Private Eye for many yonks either.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like you're in the North West now.