Network Rail hates you.
Not just you, of course. It hates me too, and everyone you share your journey with. True, every institution that can afford uniforms for its staff treats the public with hostility and contempt (as anyone who has used a British airport knows). But with Network Rail, you feel it’s personal.
You see it the moment you reach the platform at London Bridge to discover that the trains are as far away from the entrances as possible. Making passengers run that extra 50 metres in full view of everyone, only for the doors to slide shut in their faces, is plain sadistic.
Then there are those posters of the bruised staff. Obviously the 0.001% of customers who actually beat up the staff aren’t going to take any notice of a poster, so what are these messages trying to tell us? That Network Rail thinks we’re all thugs? That stations are violent places where people get beaten up a lot? Or that your ‘customer experience’ with Network Rail is going make you want to thump someone? Probably all three, though the constant barrage of pre-recorded threats points to number 2.
“There is 24-hour CCTV in operation at this station,” it drones. “Smoking is prohibited,” it adds seconds later, offering a lengthy list of places where no-one would think of lighting up anyway. Moments later we are warned that if we put our bags down, the “security services” will blow them up.
Are we comforted? Do we feel that, should we be robbed or attacked, anyone would come to our aid? Of course not. It’s designed to make us feel cowed and intimidated – an impression reinforced by the announcement repeated every two minutes or so, that “Security personnel tour this station 24 hours a day.”
What that means is: “In case your crowded, sweaty journey isn’t miserable enough, we’d just like to remind you that some religious maniac is probably going to try to blow you to kingdom come one day and we won’t be able to spot him in time because every one of you buggers carries a rucksack these days. Have a nice day.”
There’s even the warning about wet surfaces being slippery for those of us who managed to make it all the way to adulthood without learning about the lubricating properties of water.
And so it goes on – a consistent, hectoring barrage of threatening, intimidating or plain insulting announcements.
Now, if the woman I love sends me three texts in a day, I feel all warm inside. If she were to send me a message every 30 seconds I’d start to think she was psychotic, and maybe that’s what’s happening here.
I suspect that some commuter – and my money’s on that 20-something guy over there; the one with too much firm-hold gel and a smirk that suggests he didn’t work for Lehman’s – took Network Rail out on a date, got it drunk, had sex and then refused to return its calls before dumping it by text message and then telling everyone that it was fat and needy.
If it was you, then please apologise now. Chocolate or flowers will do, or better still both because we’re all suffering.