Man is born free but is everywhere in trains.
I commute from a gentile little Sussex village into London daily, courtesy of Southern Trains. I thus am a regular customer of this strange, benighted organisation. Well the descriptive noun 'customer' indicates a degree of voluntary transaction, a choice. In fact I am probably more of a serf in thrall to a psychopathic and ruthless Overlord, forced to pay an extortionate tax in order to go about my business. An organisation that would better befit the pages of a James Bond novel filling the role of a 'Smersh' of the rails, instead of spies it would be-'death to commuters'.
I am now firmly of the view, after some years, that the incompetence displayed by Southern is no mere display of a fumbling, incoherent direction that places short term gains to shareholders over any long term investment in customer experience. Not the necessary outcome of the vile John Major's last big giveaway of the country's wealth to the Daily Mail and Financial Times readership in the shape of the country's track and rolling stock. Not a shambling example to the works of the creative mismanagement with which the private sector handles often handles public services.
No, gentle reader, the truth is far far worse than that.
Southern Trains is merely the mask behind a fiendishly contrived plot to drive the commuting traveller mad. Raddled with job insecurity due to missed appointments. Financially insecure due to rapacious increases in fares. Give them hope, particularly at times of holidays that they will rest that cold evening safe in the bosom of their family before the crackling fire then steal the hope away at the last minute.
The sophisticated psychological knowledge displayed by Southern is evidenced by the merciless attack on all the emotional centers of the benighted traveller.
The commuters of southern trains share the experiences of many innocent peanuts in that they are continually assaulted.
How shall we defend against this monstrosity.? How strike a blow for freedom? The answer? We shall not! We shall huddle like sheep in a storm dripping in the narrow central isle ( standing room only of course). And shall we storm the first class carriages half full with plump faced marketing executives and vacant bankers and cadaverous psychotherapists? No we shall not. We shall suffer either in silence or with a good humoured quip at the Eastern European person pushing the trolley of overpriced light refreshments up and down the train.
Southerns explanations for delay are as fiendishly plotted as a Ben Marcus novel. Suicides in Putney. Strange inexplicable fires in rail cuttings. Signal malfunction everywhere. And in one case I experienced-swans on the line!
But reality will out and after thousands of torturous commuting miles I am firmly of the view that Southern Trains is part of a vast and secret experiment to study how much abuse an ordinary human being can take without cracking.
Who is Southern Trains? Let us, in the immortal lines of Seamus Heaney's first successful poem do some 'digging'.
Southern Trains is owned by a Company called Govia (sounding like a city named by Michael Gove!) Formed from two lesser companies Go-Ahead (I'm not kidding!) and Kelsio which is a French transport company. The nefarious entity was spawned in order to take part in the pillage and rapine of the rail network privatisation in 1996 birthed out of the grey murk of the John Major administration which you may recall was in the process of being decisively ejected by the electorate and the privatisation was seen in many quarters as a cynical nod to the rapacious hedge-funds and commercial interests waiting in line to rip off the country's rolling stock and rail network. The cynics were proven right by history and rail privatisation is generally seen as a disaster for the railways and for the traveling public. Excuses for chronic delays such as 'leaves on the line' or 'the wrong kind of snow' have now become part of folklore and the rail companies themselves some of the most hated providers of services in the country.
The other thing about trains is how there exists the opposite size effect from clothing shops. I walk into a clothes shop now and it appears that the sizes are made for a race of giants. I look like a child wearing its fathers clothes, my hands and feet buried in mounds of material. On a train however the design template seems to be for a midget. The seats fit neither your nether regions nor your torso. One is held in a Foetal type curl unable to stretch out. The seat in front is inches away from your head. The train wobbles just enough to make writing impossible. Any uncapped drinks will spill.
And the design? I understand that one is confined by the tube structure but do they really have to be so very ugly? Plasticky? With such vile coloured schemes? The South Eastern fast link appears to have achieved a degree of comfort that makes first class redundant. Why can't the other train companies do the same?
Coffee?-don't touch it! Overpriced and poor quality. Drink anyone? You can't afford them! £5.00 for a small gin and tonic!
And when did it become part of the contract between train companies and traveller that a seat, far from being guaranteed as a minimum became a lottery with the consequence that a standing journey of an hour or more became commonplace, even on the Virgin line between London and Manchester? It rather grates therefore to see Branson's smirking face plastered all over the tele advertising more of his scams when you see entire families crouched in the aisle of his trains for more than an hour.
Why is it so impossible to think of a train interior as being beautiful and ergonomic and facilitative? Why is a train arriving on time such a relief?
Why did we allow our commute to be hijacked by these bandits?
Let's break the bonds of our chains!
Let us take back our trains!