Monday, January 10, 2005

Off the Rails / Books-u-like

Off the Rails

In April of last year, in a brazen display of corporate colonialism, British Rail sacked its entire National Rail Enquiries call centre staff and moved the operation to India. With all-too-predictable results.

BR managers like to think the move was flawless, having trained its one pound per hour staff in idiomatic English, encouraged them to use names familiar to Western ears, and most famously, shipping out episodes of EastEnders and Coronation Street for their delight. But then, they probably haven't had to use the new, improved service.

Two words: local knowledge.

You can train your remote staff as much as you like, but the huge majority haven't even been to Britain, let alone travelled on trains which don't, on the whole, have passengers travelling on the roof.

I'm a clever bastard, as you well know, and can find my way round both printed timetables and websites, but during the holdiay period when the network is on a special made-up-in-the-Fat-Controller's-head timetable, you've really got to ring up and find out if there's going to be a train to take you home.

"Hello, my name is Sharon*, what is your journey please?"

"Reading to Weymouth, after 1900 tonight, please."

"Take the 1904 to Bristol..."

"Sorry, my ticket only goes via Basingstoke."

"There are no trains to Basingstoke," she lied.

"Not even First Great Western?"


"They operate trains on that line."

"Sorry, I have no idea."

*click* *try again*

Five minutes later...

"No, Dennis*, let me explain - I DON'T WANT TO GO TO TOSSING BRISTOL!"

Bless 'em, for they are only doing their job, while the likes of Brian Souter coin it in.

On the third attempt, Dev** finally acknowledged the existance of Basingstoke, and I write this on the 1939 Great Western Service from Reading to the mini-roundabout capital of the world.

As my colleague and mystery blogger Steve pointed out: "God help them if you're trying to get to somewhere obscure."

*Dials frantically*

"Yes, Dyffryn Ardudwy to Corkickle, please. On a Sunday, avoiding Bristol Tossing Temple Meads."

* How very EastEnders.
** Yay for Corrie!

Book Reviews

Oscar Wilde: A Biography - H. Montgomery Hyde. "A classic" say the critics. "As near 'definitive' as we are likely to get", say the papers. "Bollocks", I reply. It's nigh on two hundred pages before there's even a whiff of bum-sex, and Hyde has the gall to tell us that Wilde actually fathered children. With a lady. Yeah, right, Vyvyan. You're going to tell me he had a hamster called Special Patrol Group, next.

Hyde tells us of Wilde's three trials, in which he ends up held, famously, at Reading Gaol, but neglects to tell us of his fourth, a week's trial at West Ham United, where he was offered a contract as defensive bruiser, but instead to go off, write poetry and pose as a sodomite (see, I really did read it). His most widely-read work, the poem "Here I sit, broken hearted, Paid my penny, only farted" is entirely ignored.

Neither does the biographer mention Wilde's silver medal for Greco-Roman Wrestling at the 1896 Olympics, nor his great work in bombarding the German Kaiser with French Ticklers, an act that would pave the way to the Great War, the rise of the Nazis and the eventual composition of "Springtime for Hitler", surely Wilde's greatest legacy. Avoid.

Stardust - Neil Gaiman. If I was disappointed with the Wilde biography, then I was doubly so with Gaiman's slapdash work on the life of the Godfather of British rock'n'roll, Alvin Stardust.

In fact, My Coo Ca Choo barely gets a mention, and it is clear that Mr Gaiman has spent far too much time writing about the London Underground and tatty tourist attractions in America, rather than on the important subject matter of over-the-hill karaoke singers. Avoid.

On second thoughts, don't avoid. The Wilde work really is a classic of its type, while Gaiman's take of the nineteenth-century fairy tale is hugely satisfying and a joy to read. It has witches, rough open-air sex and a happy ending. What more could you ask?

Now: while I am in the rare position of being between books, you may wish to influence my decision on what I should read next. Recommend-o-book-u-like! Suggest "The Da Vinci Code", and I shall hunt you down like a dog.

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