IT WAS when a sudden jerk delivered my nose into the armpit of another man that I rued two things. The first was the lack of a law compelling all men in Great Britain to shower and use underarm deodorant before going to work in the morning.
And the second was the lack of a law compelling all train companies in Great Britain not to be absolutely bobbins when it’s a bit chilly out.
I apologised to the man, although, quite frankly, he should have apologised to me and everybody else within sniffing distance. A bing-bong bing-bonged, followed by a moment of crackle, and then the tones of a man who regularly does this, but has never been on a training course to do this. “Mumble mumble adverse weather conditions mumble mumble severe disruption mumble mumble more information.”
I translated the announcement, the gist of which was that the train company had not anticipated cold weather in February and how could we possibly expect it to get all its trains to work and honestly I should count myself lucky to be on this train.
But the announcement was not needed. We were all very aware of the situation. Two train-loads of people were on one load of train owing to a cancellation of the previous train. It was an intimate business, I can tell you.
The people with seats were maintaining a lack of eye contact with those standing. Partly this was a sense of embarrassment – a form of survivor’s guilt, perhaps – but mostly because it is difficult to look people in the eye when one’s line of sight is blocked by a stranger’s crotch six inches away.
And yet, crowded as it was, there were not enough people to make it unnecessary to grip onto a safety rail. However there were too many people to make it possible for everybody to grip a safety rail. It was the opposite of Goldilocks’ porridge. One sudden brake, and the carriage would have looked like a Guess Who? board after an earthquake.
Now I understand that this country is not Sweden or Norway, where heavy snow is constant over winter, and where it makes sense to spend vast amounts of money on making sure that people can commute without having to qualify for the Winter Olympics. We don’t have that much snow in this country, especially these days.
But this is a Northern European country. Between November and March it can be quite brisk out there. Sometimes you might even need a coat, unless you are a person in your twenties on a night out in a northern city. And sometimes the ground can get a little icy. Sometimes, in fact, it even snows. This is something that we can expect from winter.
And yet, our train companies are somehow allowed to get away with the fact that their rolling stock and infrastructure fail when the temperature drops to a level that is within the normal range of climate of this country.
They cannot be blamed for the weather, but they can be blamed for lack of preparedness. I work in newspapers. You’ve probably noticed. If there were a disaster out of my control that seriously compromised the production of the newspaper I make, I would fight fires and do what I could to get the paper out.
After that, my boss would say, “Well done. You rose to the occasion beautifully, Bainbridge. Have a bun. No, not one of the nice ones. Now, what plans do you have to make sure that, if this unexpected disaster happened again, we would get the paper out smoothly?”
And if this unexpected disaster happened again, and the production of the paper were similarly compromised, I would be out on my ear or bottom depending on how I landed. Doubtless you would find yourself in a similar position in your own job.
But if I were sacked and found myself working for a train company, the first thing I would do is ensure the trains worked even if the tracks were a bit frosty first thing. I would make sure that my trains worked ESPECIALLY during the times that it’s more dangerous for people to be travelling on the roads.
In short, I would ensure that only a shower of flaming meteors would prevent my trains from getting from A to B Parkway (that’s several miles from B).
And after that I would put a Flaming Meteors Protocol in place. And ban people without deodorant.