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Well ... why shouldn't I? If it's good enough for the new, exciting, immensely profitable privatised railways - Connex South Eastern springs to mind, not to mention Connex South-Central - it's good enough for me. I aspire to the condition of Connex. They are my heroes. Have you seen their new uniforms? Wonderful. Blue and yellow. Very smart. Everyone looks like provincial French traffic wardens, which is comforting when you're hanging around Victoria Station wondering what to do for the next hour or two and there's nowhere to sit because we don't want people sitting down at railway stations, do we? Ho dear me no. We want them milling around frantically, their serotonin levels plummeting as they spiral into the sort of savage knotted rage and anxiety which, if not salved by a nice sit-down, will drive them into the nasty shops which are a station's main reason for existence.
Perhaps you think that by going to the railway station and buying your ticket, you've done your bit as far as the rail-travel transaction is concerned, and now it's up to them to provide the train, as scheduled, to take you to your destination.
Poor fools. How wrong you are. Your part of the exchange is far more complex. Your purpose is to enrich a lot of terrible men with bad breath and share options, men who you will never see and never even know their names. But every time you buy a disgusting Donald Duck tie or a pair of badly made tart-red knickers or a soggy bun with ersatz cheese-'n'-ham or a reeking bestseller written with a mallet, the terrible men with bad breath and share options will give a little oink of pleasure and feel a tiny twitch in their damp and nugatory pudenda.
The longer you are trapped on the station, the better they like it, and to keep your rage at fever-point they employ, on a pittance, honey-voiced but slightly ipsy-la women (the slightest hint of Surbiton, dears; the slightest hint of FemFresh in the vowels) to make announcements, ostensibly soothing but secretly designed to promote rage and frustration.
As for the train companies, why should they care? They've got your money. If Connex South Eastern decides to cancel the 11.43 and does not tell you you can get the 11.35 instead, so be it. If Connex South Eastern decided to cancel the last train back to London and send a six-seater minibus which can't hold everybody, so be it. If Connex South Eastern then sends another minibus that gets lost somewhere between Faversham and Rochester, and vanishes, so be it. If Connex South Central decides to save money on maintenance so that the incoming train breaks down and there is therefore no outgoing train and the driver is stalking about shouting, "Bugger this; I'm off to work for regional railways out of Cardiff, thank God", and a simple enquiry from your humble correspondent produces a knot of red-faced men in smart yellow-and-blue uniforms, all anxious, not to defend the honour of the company, but to tell me that I don't know the half of it, these people couldn't run a bath let alone a railway ... why, so be it.
Why should they care? Why should a pack of French water-company executives lose any sleep (curled up on their huge lumpy mattresses stuffed with yellowing wads of cash and bearer-bonds) give a hang? They've got your money, and that's the main thing.
It's creeping everywhere. Last Saturday they closed the British Museum reading room, and a whole precious area of London will now disappear. The little antiquarian bookshops, the musty scholarly flats, the tea-and- bun shops: all those will vanish, you watch, as the area is "revitalised". The flats will be done up and bought by lawyers and PR scum and city filth, and the bookshops and tea-and-bun joints will be replaced by clothes shops and expensive tourist junk bazaars, and Bloomsbury will become North Covent Garden, and that'll be that. I won't quote the words of the British Museum director because they'd make you throw up, so fatuous and vulgar were they, but it leads one to the same conclusion as a morning spent on Victoria Station trying to get somewhere.
The conclusion is simple. We have become utterly subsumed in the business ethic. (1) Trains and scholarship must be converted to profit and retail trade. (2) Charge as much as you can for as little as you can get away with. (3) Where's the profit in honour? (4) If the customers complain, fob them off with an announcement. (5) Don't worry; Tony Blair isn't going to rock the boat.
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