Natalie Haynes: You don't have to be mad to expect quiet on a British train – but it helps


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As a city-dweller, I'm used to noise. In fact, I even like it. I like the sound of trains whizzing past my windows, I like the occasional police siren outside adding texture to the detective show I'm watching inside. I don't even mind the disco cars that pull up briefly under my kitchen window, though I do vaguely worry that the driver can't possibly be paying attention to the road when he's using all his spare energy to stop his teeth jumping out of his head with every chord.

But there is one kind of noise which drives me beyond distraction, and that is the human voice, broadcast at Spinal Tap volume, telling me something that neither I, nor anyone else, will ever need to know. And then doing it again, every few minutes until the end of time, because it's a train, and that kind of behaviour is apparently OK there.

Chiltern Railways has earned a spot in a special circle of hell, after going into partnership with the previously blameless actor Tony Robinson, of Baldrick fame, to create a series of funny announcements for their trains. I honestly think that might be the most soul-sucking sentence I've ever written. Trains are places where you can relax as you travel. It's why they're better than cars, even though they're farther from your front door.

Yet the train companies who are guardians of this downtime are determined to make it as wretched as they possibly can. If they used only 10 per cent of the energy they expend making train travel vile on making it punctual, the Japanese would be gazing at us with thinly disguised awe.

The Chiltern train between Birmingham and London goes through beautiful countryside. And do you know what it doesn't need? A train driver zanily explaining that people with noisy iPods should get better taste in music. Why not just paste a sticker in every window saying that you don't have to be mad to travel here but it helps?

But don't think that's the only aperçu they have up their sleeves. "For any passengers who've not visited London before, do please prepare yourself for the capital's overwhelming calm and relaxing pace of life." I know. I can't start laughing either. Robinson has apparently spent a month helping the Chiltern drivers learning their lines, which has boggled my mind. A month? To learn this drivel? Couldn't that time have been spent more productively doing literally anything else?

Announcements are like weeds, they spring up in manageable amounts, then get louder, and more frequently repeated until someone (not necessarily me) cracks and causes a hostage situation. If Chiltern insists on this most tiresome plan, the only person laughing will be Richard Branson, as we all swap to the Virgin route.

Too much nostalgia on the silver screen

Is time travel getting closer? I only ask because this summer's cinema releases make me feel like I have gone back to my teens (or twenties, if the lighting's harsh). There's a Men in Black film out in a couple of weeks, the new Ridley Scott Alien movie next month, a reimagined Spider-Man, a new Batman, and the first Hobbit movie to come as well this year.

Critics were quick to dismiss the nostalgia theme at this year's Oscars as an art-house indulgence, but the blockbusters have swiftly followed whereThe Artist and Midnight in Paris led. I can't decide if it's a sign of progress, since the Nolan Batman films are easily the best big or small-screen versions of the Batworld to date, and there's a lot to be said for improving a franchise.

Or is it rather a sign that movie studios are so conservative in their tastes that unless a film is a remake, sequel or prequel, they won't take a risk on it at all? Tina Turner may not have needed another hero, but I think I might be ready for some new ones now.

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