Friday, 24 October 2014

Training Day

Technology, for all its faults and trolls and Gangnam Styles, has done a lot for us, it must be said. There’s the way you're reading this for a start, and the fact that, after you've disposed of our brief moment together, you could learn how to tie a bow tie, or how to cook dauphinoise potatoes, or join ISIS. That’s how great our possibilities are. But there’s one thing that technology can’t really conquer, and that’s the warmth of a face-to-face conversation.

Having offices in three cities, as we do at where I work, a decent conversation is never beyond the realms of possibility. In fact, it’s encouraged. I’ve been to an all manner of towns and cities in my short time as Junior Undersecretary to the Head Tea Maker, and I've thoroughly enjoyed flying the nest to meet and greet people all over the country.

The only problem is, being a business; they want you to take the train.  

Yes, train, that great leveller of peoples (except those in first class).

When Isambard Kingdom Brunel created the Great Western Railway, it was the marvel of the world. Unfortunately, it seemed that we've been so suckered in to congratulating ourselves about this, we haven't bothered to really move things on. Everything about the modern train is detestable. From the seats with room enough only for ant legs, to the tray so small that, unless you want to write on the back of a postage stamp, you're fucked, to being served a lukewarm mug of water which apparently has been shown a teabag and didn't like it’s presence.

Then there’s the unwritten policy that nobody ever talks, and to do so will result in your immediate and involuntary disembarking. Why does no one speak if there is nothing worth shutting up for? Viewers of Top Gear will know that the only way to get Jeremy Clarkson to shut up is by playing the sound of a glorious V12 thundering through a tunnel in Italy. If the train made a glorious puff of steam every now and then, people’s silence would be justified. So why doesn’t everybody drive?

It used to be so beautiful...

“I prefer to work on the train, so I'm not wasting time”, sneers a colleague proudly, in front of her boss.  

But our world is so constantly connected that it’s widely accepted by scholars that if you don't have the Internet, you might as well sit on your hands and count to a billion, so useful are you to the bustling beehive of business. It’s actually unusual if you aren't hooked up to some digital dialysis of civilisation – I don't know how some people manage it. But trains do offer Wi-Fi. At extortionate rates. Even BT, who are recognised, not just throughout their industry, but the entire cosmos for their commendable levels of bastardness, offer free Wi-Fi to their customers.

“I’m saving the planet”, claims a Jesus-like figure from across our open-plan office.

Really? How much power do you think it takes to move a hundred tonne train at a hundred miles an hour? Less than it takes to move my one tonne car at 70? Plus my car is running for less time, because unlike you, I don’t drive to London and stop at Swindon, Reading and Didcot Parkway, I just go to London, like any sane person would. And where do you think all that power is coming from? It’s not exactly running on Kale juice and piousness.

“Look at those views, Biggins!” “Brittain, Sir” “Look at those views, Brittins!” says my boss in a hushed voice (in case the Silent Stasi catch him) on a train journey that even I couldn't talk myself out of, because yes I hate trains, but I also would like him to promote me at some point, “you wouldn't get that pottering about in a car, absolutely stunning!“ The train grinding to a halt then interrupts him. The captain comes on the crackling system “Sorry about the delay ladies and gentleman, there’s a beetle on the tracks, and, frankly, I'm not paid enough to become a murderer.”

We're now late for our meeting. But it’s not even our fault – and that’s another problem: trains remove accountability. “Sorry I was late – train was delayed/cancelled/made obsolete fucking years ago.” “Well, that’s alright we just lumbered through the make-or-break meeting on our own, failed miserably and now my wife will have to shop at Iceland, but we can't really blame you for that, if your train was delayed/cancelled/a waste of trillions of pounds.”

Whereas when I drive…

“Sorry I'm late, there was an accident on the M40 and I had to cut across two lanes to make the sliproad and find another route. I was speeding so fast, the cyclist I catapulted into the air hadn't even hit the ground by the time I went round the junction.” “Really, Brighton?” “Brittain, Sir” “This could have been avoided you know – why didn't you leave earlier?”

Firstly, I didn't leave earlier because if I wanted to make a 2-hour journey last three and a half hours, I would have taken the fucking train. Secondly, if I wanted to travel with my face full of the elbows of a Metro reader (which is essentially a Daily Mail reader with a sense of entitlement, as they are the same paper), my nostrils full of the stench of a Metro reader, and being hurtled facing fucking BACKWARDS BECAUSE THAT’S NOT AT ALL DISORIENTATING, I would have taken the fucking train!

More smug than all the "Apprentice" candidates put together. Prick.

“I can eat what I like and when I like on the train, and drink,” boasts one final hypothetical colleague.

Paying £3.99 for some rubbery cheese and furry tomato slapped between two pieces of soggy yeast does not really constitute ‘what I like’, in the same way that whenever someone else decides he can be bothered to drag a trolley through the carriages is not ‘when I like’. Unless you're a really forward thinking kind of guy, and decided to instead pay £3.49 for the same sandwich in Pret beforehand, because you think coffee stores like that are really fucking cool yet you're always really surprised when you don't see a Chandler/Monica type couple snuggling on the sofas. Oh, and good luck with your idea of having a whisky and ice before a meeting, you're not in fucking ‘Mad Men’ now.

Please don't mistake my hatred of trains for hatred of the tube. The tube is a most marvellous invention, and is the scene of some of the funniest and touching moments I've ever seen (as well as the odd drunk). Part of my reasoning for driving to London is so I can spend more time on the underground. I'll be old and very grey before I forget the time I saw an incandescent mother scolding one of her five children for licking the pole in the centre of the carriage on the circle line. If she had a bottle of Dettol on her, I imagine she would have emptied it into his mouth and made him swallow the lot, regardless of the longer-term effects.

But trains are simply the most detestable transport ever to have existed. They have the illusion of being executive versions of buses (you know, those things you have to take anyway when the bastard train is cancelled?). Buses, though, don't pretend to be something special, and they don't charge £160 to get to London. They're not perfect by any means, but they're alright.

So for god’s sake, if you're lucky enough to have a job that means you have to go somewhere, and you're the kind of person that cares about pretending to work hard, daytime drinking and saving pandas, GET IN A CAR. It’s got music, it’s got your CDs, and you can go absolutely anywhere in it. Fields, hills, towns, villages, pubs, friends’ houses, anywhere you want. If you're really lucky, you could travel with someone, and have a decent conversation, because there’s no stupid secret noise restriction in a car!

So how about it? There’s nothing embarrassing about it! Why should car drivers be vilified for wanting a little luxury in our otherwise short and despicable existence? Enough of being branded as a Clarksonian Luddite for simply enjoying a bit of pleasure behind the wheel! We're taking back transport! Get off the train, get smiling! Get back enjoying life again!

Wait a minute...

Where the fuck has this tractor come from?!