Friday, February 20, 2009
Do you ever get the feeling that Thomas the Tank engine is a smug bastard? He and the Fat Controller are out to shake you down. They think a cute smile will make you pleased at paying twice the fares the French passengers do.
I had to go to Leeds this week. It's far from London and I get nervous on long journeys. I'm examining a PhD thesis.
An early start to catch the 8 o’clock from Kings Cross. All I had to do was catch the tube from Baker Street. Ah, Baker Street—have you been there? Yes, pictures of Sherlock Holmes, very romantic except it's a bloody maze. It was one of the first tube stations with one line in 1863. The Metropolitan Line gave its name to the Paris metro. By the time another four lines were stacked on top of the original, no one knows where the hell they’re going when they enter labyrinth.
I’m going east, easy, but not if you ignore those little signs that say north and south. But I’m not going north or south. Oh yeah? There’s my tube. Jump! I’m going to make it to Kings Cross after all.
Five minutes later when we hadn’t stopped, I discovered I had gone neither east nor west, but north to the northern wastes of Finchley Road. (It's not even in Finchley.) I'm good at running and around stations. I found my tube back.
I reached Kings Cross and got my train seat. Not before the ticket machine chewed up three credit cards. It’s like when the guy in Videodrome inserts a gun in his belly like videotape (Betamax or VHS?).
I don’t know who’s sliding down that bloody Barclaycard tube on TV, but he’s getting fat on my credit card. The self-satisfied twit!
You ever taken an early morning train? They’re full. Serious commuters armed with Blackberrys and laptops—who’s the fastest on the thumbball? I get the guy who’s off to make the big sale up north and he sits opposite me at one of those skinny tables. He's fully armed: Blackberry, iPhone, and laptop.
We get to know each other by doing a little tango with our feet trying to find that spot where your toes don’t get crunched by his clodhoppers. We get cosy and swirl around together as our tootsies get intimate. Finally he stops moving and I can rest my feet!
He’s got one of those games on his iPhone that makes you seasick to watch him playing it. He’s rolling from side to side, moving it up and down—I just want to vomit.
Of course you know what happens after the tango? It’s time for the fight! And we do. It's laptops at dawn. He opens his Dell: I open my Mac. Who can push his screen the furthest and claim the most territory on that table? We're both fast. I feint, he sidesteps and then we both lunge our tops together. Crash! We collide. We glare at each other. He smirks and pulls out his Vodaphone wifi dongle…I crumple in defeat…
Of course coming back from a dinky little town like Leeds ought to be a doddle. Like hell, let me warn you. Leeds is a malevolent force, a metropolitan miasma genetically mutated to prevent people leaving its maw. Don’t believe me? The first time I went to Leeds all the trains were cancelled and I had to spend the night there.
This time, the first train I jump on there's an empty seat. I get my own laptop table. I can play solitaire without interruption…
"This is your onboard train custodian—bloody jailer more like—I regret to inform you (who writes their scripts? some robot) that 14.40 train to London has been cancelled." I’ve entered one of Stephen Hawking’s extra parallel dimensions. I’m sitting in a cancelled train. It doesn’t exist but I do. How can this be? Matter and anti-matter can’t both exist in the same place. I’m going to implode!
"Please make your way across the platform to the 15.05 train…" The space time paradox is resolved and I’m alive. But do I have my own table? Is it empty? No! It’s bloody full like the morning train. But this time I’m sitting opposite an old lady. We do a genteel waltz with our feet. I smile; she demurs. She opens Mills & Boon. I open my Mac. Order is restored--the universe is at peace!