Silver Lining

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These days I am spared the daily commute into London.  The occasional trips I now make serve to remind me that life is better without the 7.10 am from Swindon, even when things run smoothly.

Last week I only had to make the one trip. An 11.00 am meeting followed by lunch meant I could avoid the rush and get the first off peak train.   On my way to the station I heard on the car radio that there were problems but at the station I was assured that the 8.59 and 9.11 would be on time and the issues were resolved – they were just clearing up the backlog of trains.  So I cheerfully bought a ticket and presently got on the train which did indeed leave on time.

When we did slowly come to a halt I accepted that this was to be expected and there was little point in raging or stressing.  I had half an hour cushion in any case.

Eventually the train Supervisor made an announcement.

 On behalf of First Great Western I apologise for the slow running of this service.  This is due to congestion caused by an earlier closure of the line because of a fatality.  The line is now open but due to the backlog of trains we can expect a delay.  I’ll keep you updated.

It’s worth pausing to reflect on the cause of the problems – a suicide in Slough.  Not that long ago I might have moaned at how selfish it was to hurl yourself in front of a speeding express train during rush hour.  Now I am genuinely saddened that someone was driven to the point where suicide felt like their best option, to a point where they truly believed that their friends and family would be better off without them.  If you have ever stood close to a passing train you will realise that throwing yourself in front of it must take a huge effort of will, it isn’t a cry for help it’s a desire for oblivion.  I spare a thought too for the driver, powerless yet left with truly horrific memories and often feelings of guilt.

We did move forward very slowly.  My 30 minute cushion had been eroded but my client was understanding and we exchanged emails joking about my OCD tendencies when it comes to timeliness. Then we picked up speed and moved on, to palpable relief in the carriage.

Then we stopped again.   The next announcement came

 …All lines are now open, there is congestion due to a backlog of trains.  All platforms at Paddington are full but as trains are coming out of the station they are freeing up platforms…

Surely that must mean we’d soon be moving on?  Once again there was a flurry of texting, but I sensed a general feeling of acceptance.  The issue was not one created by First Great Western and certainly not by the train crew who were busy helping passengers who had onward connections to make.

However we stayed where we were for a long, long time.

Around an hour after the scheduled arrival time I was reflecting on the stoic way that the passengers were waiting.  I couldn’t hear any angry complaints, most phone calls I overheard made light of it and that traditional British characteristic of smiling in adversity was coming to the fore.  Strangers were even talking, breaking the cardinal rule of public transport in and around London – under no circumstances must eye contact be made with fellow passengers.

A further announcement came

Once again I apologise for the delay to this service due to an earlier fatality. There is congestion getting into Paddington station. All the platforms are full and we are fourth in the queue.  Unfortunately a fire alarm has now been triggered and the station has been evacuated.  Therefore there can be no movement until that is resolved…

I was, I admit, getting a bit stressy.  Being over an hour late for an hour and a half meeting was bad form.  Worse still my client confessed that he had nearly asked to switch the venue but left it in the City as it was easier for me.  However I was deliberately trying to see the positives in the situation and not allow this to ruin my day.  It was important that when I did get to my client I was on good form.  Likewise the rest of the carriage seemed to be bearing up and the good old ‘blitz spirit’ was coming out in force.

Then the next announcement came.

We apologise for the continuing delay to this service.   I am pleased to say that the station has now re-opened.

Unfortunately due to the combination of issues many trains and crews have been displaced and are not where they should be.  Crews are only allowed to work for a given period before taking a break.  Many crews have reached that limit and so there is now a shortage of crews to move trains out of the station.  Therefore we are now waiting for fresh crews to come, or the break period to be over before trains can be moved and free up platforms.

For most people on the train that seemed to be the straw that broke them.  No longer was it ‘one of those things’ it was now ‘a bloody shambles’.  Train crew became ‘jobs worth’s’ in that instant.

I started to smile because it occurred to me I had found the silver lining.  Here was a clear demonstration that in being open and honest in his communication the train Supervisor had initially won the support of most passengers – but the last disclosure was a step too far.  It seems that generally being open pays off and sometimes discretion really is advisable.

The trick seems to be knowing when to fully disclose and when to be more circumspect.

 

PS  I was very late for my meeting but my client worked round it and we still managed a pleasant lunch.

PPS I tried to get to Town today and left very early to avoid a repeat. Arriving at the station there were  obvious problems.  There was a train at the platform and another outside the station.  The board simply said delays and suggested that slightly later trains were on time. I later discovered that due to a broken down freight train all services were in fact suspended.  After 30 minutes of waiting staff did finally advise us that there was little prospect of movement for at least another hour, then there might be slow running ‘due to congestion’.  Being a quick learner I took a refund on my ticket and am sat writing this in my sunny garden, another silver lining.

And it’s hi-ho silver lining
And away you go now, baby
I see your sun is shining
But I won’t make a fuss
Though it’s obvious

Hi Ho Silver Lining – Jeff Beck

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Different People

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We’ve recently returned from holiday. As a family one of our favourite things is people watching and a holiday provides the perfect blend of time and interesting people to watch. I say interesting, all people are fascinating of course and all human life was there. Or at least that slim section of life that can both afford and choose to lie by a pool in the Mediterranean.

There was this one guy, big, overweight, bald headed, no neck and tattoos including a crude England (or should that be Engerland?) flag across his distended gut.  He looked like a builder who had done well, you could imagine him on the terraces roaring the team on.  He spent all day from around 8.00 am under an umbrella, head on a pillow.  He was a hard man for sure, no one was going to invade his space. I wondered how he felt about being surrounded by well heeled Germans and Russians.  Not my kind of guy looking like that.

One guy spent most of the day on his laptop. He lay by the pool tapping away on the laptop or yelling at people down the phone while his younger ‘trophy wife’ baked in the sun.  It was clear that he was utterly indispensable (or he had hired a bunch of muppets and/or was unable to delegate). Twice a day he would swim a lap of the pool with his partner before she went and brought him a cocktail and he returned to his laptop. In his Vilebrequin shorts and designer sunnies he was making sure that we all knew who was the alpha male. I wondered how his partner felt about the lack of attention. Again not my kind of guy behaving like that.

Then there was this guy who had the most loving and tender conversation with his daughter.  He was a bit loud and then repeated it all to his partner (presumably not the mother from the way it sounded).  They were arranging to meet up and he sounded like a truly loving father.  More like my kind of guy expressing feelings like that.

As I said all human life.  And these three blokes all came together – in the same body.  Which just goes to show that appearances can be deceptive, first and even second impressions don’t tell the full story.

Different person, different argument
In my shadow, no more compliments
One more person breaking the rules again
I’m still waiting for someone else to join in

Stand where the others stand
We’re alive tonight
Land where the others land
We’re alive tonight

Different People  – Biffy Clyro

Smile like you mean it

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We’ve just returned from holiday and yes thanks, since you ask it was very nice.  We stayed in a large hotel complex and round the pool all shapes and sizes of humanity were on display in varying levels of undress.

It struck us how many of the young women who had enviable figures seemed unattractive.  One such girl with ridiculously long legs kept her boyfriend running round after her like a lap dog.  Others seemed to maintain a perpetual air of bored indifference, many refused to smile.   I christened these types ‘butter face’ (nice legs, but her face!).

Then there were others less obviously perfect specimens who seemed to be open and friendly, who clearly cared about and enjoyed being with their friends and family.  These were much more attractive.

Ah ah I thought, there is a blog post in there.  Maybe you can think yourself pretty.  Maybe if you just adopt the appropriate behaviours and smile like you mean it then you become attractive.  Of course if you are too skinny or are overweight, have a genuine physical imperfection these won’t go away, but maybe most of us can and do look beyond such superficial things when really evaluating someone as a friend or partner.

Whilst we were being tourists, sunning ourselves in Greece my eldest daughter was travelling in the Himalayas. Trekking and working on a couple of community projects.  She returned the day after we did.  With tears in her eyes and a passion I have rarely seen she talked about the two sisters who had given her a henna tattoo in Leh.  The girls were about the same age as she is but there the similarities end.

As my daughter put it:

“While we were stressing about what outfit to wear that night, whether our A-level choices were perfect and precisely which new laptop to acquire these girls left school so they could support their families.  Day after day they sit on the hot dusty kerb.  They might not want to be in this situation but they somehow accept it, they still have ambitions but they accept that for now this is how it is.”

“We get jealous because someone has some ‘stuff’ that we don’t even need and these girls have nothing, they have the one set of old clothes they wear everyday. Their faces are worn from lack of care and sun. They were so happy and smiled so readily and they found genuine pleasure in talking to us about our lives. ”

“They wouldn’t accept a small tip, even knowing how little is is to us and how much it is to them.”

“They said that we are beautiful, but they are the beautiful ones.”

Yes.  That’s what I was going to say.

Save some face, you know you’ve only got one
Change your ways while you’re young
Boy, one day you’ll be a man
Oh girl, he’ll help you understand

Smile like you mean it
Smile like you mean it

Looking back at sunsets on the east side
We lost track of the time
Dreams aren’t what they used to be
Some things sat by so carelessly

The Killers – Smile Like You Mean It

Don’t quote me on that

images  “You’re a HR Director and an Executive Coach. You’ve done all that NLP stuff. So why are you such an a…hole at times?”

Maybe this (wholly justified) tirade from my lovely wife needs some explaining…

You see I didn’t mean any harm, I just didn’t think.  We had been for a brisk walk around our very small town and were nearly home when a small car, moving very slowly stopped ahead of us.  An elderly lady got out and peered up the drive of the large house she had pulled up in front of.  She looked quite puzzled.

“Excuse me, are you local?” she asked looking at my wife.  “We are looking for the Garden Centre.  We thought this might be it.  Do you know the way?”

She was outside what is,to my eyes, obviously a residence – Ok a large 17th century stone manor house, but still.  She’d also just driven past the massive garden centre and all of it’s huge signs, vast car park and large greenhouses.

“Yes we are local.” I said. “This is someone’s home, the Garden Centre is back the way you came about half a mile.  Straight across the roundabout and on right.” She looked worried. “You really cannot miss it.  It has huge signs and a big entrance to the car park.  If you do miss it there is a little lane a few hundred yards further on where you could turn round.”  I felt I was being especially helpful.

“Ah.” She said, very nervously “Straight over the roundabout?”

“Well it would help if you kind of wiggled round it.”  I said, smiling at my witty comment.

She looked very confused “Errr. What?”

“Straight over.  It isn’t hard.”

“Hmm, but well it goes round.  I mean …”

I pressed my advantage.  Confused by a roundabout, missing dirty great big buildings, thinking a house was a Garden centre.  What a fool.  I’d show her my superior intelligence.

“Yes, if you keep going you can go round and round, it is a roundabout.”

Finally my wife stepped in.  Physically placing herself between our puzzled visitor and myself. “If you just turn round, go back the way you came, take the first exit on the roundabout signposted Fairford, the Garden Centre is then 200 yards on your right and has a big wide entrance.”

We walked on in heavy silence and as we rounded a corner my wife rounded on me. I then received the tirade that started this piece.  I’d talked over my wife and upset a complete stranger.  I was feeling pretty bad, yet worse was to come.  I was pondering why I was such an a…hole ( a total lack of empathy on my part? being so self absorbed I failed to notice or react to any of the signals being given that I was causing distress) when we heard the little car cough into life, a crunching of gears, the whine of an over revved engine and finally the ‘Crump’ of a small car reversing into a stone pillar.

Congratulations.  Two old friends decided to go out for a drive in the countryside, maybe stop for lunch at the Garden Centre.  And I bloody terrified them.  They were clearly nervous, lost and confused.  And I decided to choose that moment to demonstrate my ‘superior’ wit.

I suggested going to help but rightly my wife pointed out that that might just finish them off.  In any event ‘that nice girl’ from up the street had just gone by and had stopped.

Madness.

It’s clear I have work to do.  The good news is that we can all learn.  But Don’t quote me on that.

Its all Eggs Bacon Beans and a Fried Slice.

Did you see the one, yeah yeah,
The one they wrote in the paper just the other day,
Well, well would you believe it,
Well what I said, they took it all the wrong way.

Now you’ve gotta be careful, ’bout what you say,
Cos they’ve got a bad habit
Were you reading in between the lines?
Or is that what I said?, now I just can’t remember

Madness – Don’t Quote me on that