A friend once sent me a link to a BBC documentary from 1993, called OLD, DIRTY AND LATE. You can find the whole thing on YouTube, and it follows staff working on Network SouthEast in the days when British Rail had been run down into the ground after 14 years of Conservative rule. Shortly after, British Rail was sold off in bits, with predictably terrible results in terms of safety, performance, efficiency, and customer convenience.
This week, on my one train trip out to the provinces, I got stuck in a 45 minute service gap at Waterloo on the way out, and was delayed by 20 minutes coming back into London. I also got an email saying a train I was booked on in September had been cancelled thanks to the Avanti West Coast driver shortage (which they then chose to blame on unofficial strike action rather than take accountability for their own bad management.) Not a big deal for me—there is a train 20 minutes before I changed my booking onto, but of course, I can’t get an updated e-ticket for reasons.
If you ignore the plastic telephones and slam-door units and Solari boards and those glorious 7-segment Network SouthEast platform clocks, OLD, DIRTY AND LATE could’ve been made yesterday—although the modern version would no doubt include more zero-hours workers and companies tussling over delay attribution in the absurd money-go-round that is the modern British railway.
At one point in OLD, DIRTY AND LATE, a mobile operations manager leans on a lineside telephone only for the box to fall out of the wall. We might not be there yet in 2022, but we’re not far off. Ticket machines across the network are basically useless. When I was at Waterloo on Monday, the information system was cutting off around 5 seconds into every announcement. It does feel like the wheels are coming off every corner of this country’s transport strategy. Still, at least we’ve got Dishy Rishi (the Chancellor of the Exchequer who doesn’t understand how a contactless bank card works) and The Pork Markets Woman (our probable prime minister in waiting) pledging to slash fuel duty, so that’ll be just fine and dandy for our climate goals and for those of us who don’t have or want or can’t afford a car, amirite?
(And this is just transport. The NHS has been on its knees permanently for the best part of 2 decades. Queues at borders are common and the Home Office is massively racist. The price of everything is skyrocketing. The ground is parched. And we’re literally ejecting sewage into the sea because our infrastructure is crumbling and we haven’t paid any money to upgrade it, instead choosing to sweat the assets and sell them off to the highest bidder. Rule Shitannia!)
I ordered my spring bulbs this week, having eaten humble pie last year and realised that yes, gardening and plant care is good for mental health and is something I enjoy. But now, in addition to the practical stuff (what if the bulbs come when we’re on holiday? What if they don’t flower?) I’m now wondering, what happens if the landlord decides to put rent up by 20% and we have to leave? Will I spend hours staring at this crocus during rolling blackouts? What will the energy price cap be by the time this daffodil sees the daylight? Will I be enjoying a sea of muscari in March, or will I be staring at it to try to calm down after a diplomatic incident or foreign policy or nuclear scare?
(What if it’s more than a ‘scare’?)
It is very hard to find things to look forward to when you have such a deep lack of confidence in the people in charge. Maybe I am catastrophising. But the last 12 years have shown us that Britain is good at sleepwalking itself into the worst possible outcome.
On a nice plant-related note, though, my favourite fuchsia popped with another round of flowers this week. Something to enjoy for now, at least.