My blog’s strapline is clear. I promised you funnies, but I also promised you rants, and I promised you gin. So far, there have only been the first of these, and not sensationally good ones at that. But after four hours stood on what passes for public transport in these lands, and more than a couple of compensatory glasses of junipery recovery-juice afterwards, I am going to deal with the last two in one fell swoop. Yes, it’s a rant, and a gin-fuelled one at that. Cover your ears, grandma, there’s gonna be some bad words flying.
Now, I am quite aware that this is a somewhat more public medium than that in which I usually indulge my rages, and even though the readership stats of this blog would probably be plotted somewhere at the top left extreme of an Argand diagram, I have to be aware of the rather strong libel laws in this country. I therefore stress that it is merely my personal view that all the evidence points to CrossCountry Trains not giving a flying fuck about their customers. It is simply conjecture on my part that not only this, they almost certainly do not give a sprinting shag, a running rogering or even a walking titty-wank about us either. I will concede that in my admittedly far from humble and probably dangerously distorted opinion they might just give a sauntering smooch for the comfort and well-being of the human cattle they cram onto their ill-kept machinery, but you probably would have to book it in advance.
But, after all, why should they? What possible need have they to look to the comfort of the poor wretches they squish together like amoebas at a cheese and cytokinesis party? Four hours in a train so packed that for periods of it the people are standing not only in the aisles but in the vestibules. A carriage that is so overheated — and this is far from an isolated incident — that I sweat profusely in a tshirt, having removed all my wintery layers. A train manager (hah!) who reacts to my question as to why the train is so overcrowded and uncomfortable with a contemptuous statement that “It is half term, the trains are always crowded at half term.” £106 for the privilege of enduring this, and no other fucking option open to me.
Privatisation, of course, brings the efficiencies of competition into the sluggish public sector. This has been the mantra of all political parties since those first heady days of Thatcherite free market exaltation. But there is only one stretch of track between Bath and York, only one train may run on it at a time and, the way that the privatisation of our rail works, for almost any given stretch of that track or any other, there is only one franchise licensed to operate upon it. If I wish to get between these two ancient towns, then the only realistic prospect is for me to squeeze myself into the equally medieval-standard offering presented me by CrossCountry.
There is competition, I hear the cry go up. There is competition between the franchise holders for the licence to exploit — sorry, operate — a portion of the network. Indeed there is. But then this is nothing more then than the selling of monopolies, a trick as old as the Plantagenets, and one rarely noted for its concerns with the users of those monopolised services. When Charles I was running out of cash and resorted to the sale of monopolies to fund his wars (sound familiar?) one doubts that he troubled himself greatly about the masses who would actually need to purchase the fruit of those patents, and why should he have? He was granting a right to extort cash, it is with the interests of the extortioner that he will have concerned himself, not those of the extortionees who, by definition, were there to put up and pay up. And so it is with rail. Under the myth and fantasy of free market dogma, the government cyclically grants some bunch of incompetent and indifferent nincompoops the right to abuse the fare-paying public for a period.
My housemate owns a bar. He is in competition. If on a Saturday night he were to put on no more staff than a Monday afternoon, if his staff were rude and indifferent, if when his customers complained to him that his rooms were overheated he were to shrug and say that there was nothing he could do about it, then they would take their purple drinking vouchers elsewhere. Yet CrossCountry have no need to put extra carriages on trains during busy weeks, seem utterly uninterested in dealing with the constant overheating issues in their metal tubes of hell, and appear to specifically train their staff to be casually indifferent to the discomfort and displeasure that surrounds them. Their duty is to their shareholders, to maximise profit. They are not in competition for my travel budget, and they damn well know it. And so they will continue to ratchet up the prices, squeeze us in tighter, and twiddle their thumbs over the heating failures routine in their rolling stock. Free markets FTW, hey?
Libel, Stuart, libel. Control yourself. Very well. This has been opinion, and gin-fuelled opinion at that. Any overlap between it and reality is necessarily coincidental, but very very fucking likely.