Commuting days until retirement: 503
This morning’s train journey had something of a surreal air about it, and the oddities started at the ticket office. This was the day when I surrender my monthly arm and leg in exchange for a season ticket. There was one passenger ahead of me, already at the window, and it was clear from his tone of voice that all was not well.
‘But I need it to claim the expenses!’
‘Well look, I’ve done you a photocopy. ‘
‘But they don’t accept photocopies! I have to have the ticket!’
‘I can’t do that. It’s railway property.’
‘I only need my ticket!’
‘You don’t buy a ticket. You buy the journey.’
This last point proffered with smug satisfaction, as an argument clincher.
And after only a few more exchanges, to my surprise, the passenger gave up. I wouldn’t have. And the clerk in this office had always seemed quite affable – I hadn’t put him down as a jobsworth. I thought of the vast majority of tickets I have ever bought, which have ended up in the bin at home. Will the railway send the bailiffs round one day, to enforce a mass repossession of these cherished items? The sheer Orwellian absurdity is difficult to believe. If the clerk had just given back the ticket, would he have ended up hanging by the wrists in some fearful house of correction for errant railway employees? I can just imagine it, under one of the dingier railway arches near the back end of Waterloo, where screams are heard on dark foggy nights.
‘Now once again. Who do the tickets belong to?’
(Yelp of pain)
‘Yes, that’s right – they belong to us.’
I had to catch the later train – the earlier one would have been before the ticket office opened. So a few minutes later I was on it, standing room only. Once we were under way there was a beep and a throat clearing – the driver had something to say. Drivers on the PA system vary in my commuting experience, from completely taciturn (a blessing if you’re reading) to chronic verbal diarrhoea. This one was well to the latter end of the scale.
‘I have an announcement, particularly for those who have joined the train at the last two stops.’ (Pause for effect.) ‘The state of the train is not at all what it should be today. It’s filthy. I can only apologise for the state of it. Last night we had late night revellers using it as a pigsty. Frankly I’m embarrassed to be driving this train. It’s a mess.’
At this point, passengers are nervously catching each other’s eyes, in the British manner, not sure whether they dare to embark on a shared joke. They don’t quite manage it, not in my carriage, anyway. I look around, and it doesn’t look that much different from usual. I catch sight of one beer can under a seat, but that’s all. Meanwhile the driver is getting into his stride.
‘And this morning we had a cleaner off sick. So that’s why the train is in this state. It’s not good enough. It’s a shambles. You don’t deserve to be subjected to this.’
It seems as if our main function is to be witnesses to this man’s grief.
‘The only crumb of comfort I can offer you is that I will be making representations at the highest levels about this. It’s unforgivable and something must be done.’
Well, I hope for his sake that these higher echelons will have a sympathetic ear for him. But I rather suspect that they’ll be too busy counting their precious bits of cardboard.
Yes, Orwell does spring to mind. Especially his vivid pictures of everyday dreariness. I read your blogpost, went to the town hall for what I thought of as a minor administrative thing and…you can guess the rest, I think. But who cares. The sun is shining!
I wasn’t sure to whether to go for ‘Orwellian’ or ‘Kafkaesque’ – but Orwellian seemed to fit better. But as you say, the sun is shining.
“Sunlight destroys the interest of what’s happening in the shade” – Philip Larkin