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Tuesday, 1 March 2011

The first shall be last – and other glimpses of unconscious irony

There are countless stories in history about great leaders who would stroll anonymously among their people to find out what was really going on.

It seems many of the best leaders did this

Sadly, nobody teaches history any more except in the very best schools, like Eton, which is where our glorious prime minister went.

Clearly he has forgotten his history because the admirable practice of those old heroes has now been replaced by the photo-opportunity, where leaders pretend to ride bikes, go jogging or mingle among humble folk like you and me.

This is a shame, because as a result they have no idea what is happening in the real world.

If Mr. Cameron wanted to know what it’s like for the rest of us he could stop talking bilge about this mythical Big Society, which is about as meaningful as Shrek 3, and sample the services - or not, as is the case - of the laughably named, dismally managed First Great Western company.

This appalling lash-up is the bastard descendant of the great engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Great Western, for over a century perhaps the best run railway firm in Britain, and now among the worst.

If Izzy could see what was going on he would elbow his way to be first in line to jump off his favourite baby, the beautiful Clifton Suspension Bridge.

Cameron could start his brush with reality this Friday by sampling cattle class on the 7.30 p.m from London Paddington to Bristol Temple Meads - assuming he could fight his way on.

When eventually he reached Bristol he could then marvel at the astonishing bus service provided by the same firm. The incompetents in charge have managed to turn on its head the very idea of public transport - to get from A to B faster than walking.

From where I live I have three choices. I can walk briskly to Temple Meads station in 42 minutes. Or I can take the bus - one takes 36 minutes to get there; the other two take 32. This is because they all take you a tour of the Wet Country en route, taking care to pause for a minute or two every now and then so the driver can calm down. Or I can take a taxi, which takes about 8 minutes. I have never seen a place where taxis do such a good trade.

Even if you get to the station on time – as I did yesterday – you will probably miss the train as I did yesterday because the queue to buy or obtain tickets is so long it takes 15 minutes to get your turn.

If there were a prize for the worst transport firm in Britain, surely “First” as this bunch of cowboys hilariously call themselves would be in the running. They could also win an award for humour, as they have on each bus an utterly pointless poster stating that they’re “transforming travel”. You can say that again.

There was a happy ending yesterday, though – and another laugh provided by another damn fool copywriter working for another utterly useless firm.

There is a Pasty Shop in the station where the helpful Agata from Poland and her colleagues serve the best bacon baps I’ve ever tasted.

And while I munched and waited for the next train to Birmingham I was able to marvel that whoever “creates” Lloyds Bank advertising thought it in any way a good idea to claim “We’re changing the way you look at money”.

Although this shows the copywiter has no idea what makes a good advertisement it has the merit of truth. Nobody realised just how well paid fat bankers could be for failing to provide a service and nigh on ruining an entire country. But it’s not necessarily a good idea to stick up a poster reminding us.

A good advertising rule: if you have nothing helpful or intelligent to say, shut the fuck up.

*** On the matter of banking, the retiring chairman of Rolls Royce had something good to say. There are only three ways to create wealth. Dig it up. Grow it. Or transform other things into it. All the rest is just moving it around.

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