August 23, 2004

How I nearly didn't escape from London


I can't believe that!' said Alice.

'Can't you?' the Queen said in a pitying tone. 'Try again: draw a long breath, and shut your eyes.'

Alice laughed. 'There's no use trying,' she said: 'one can't believe impossible things.'

'I daresay you haven't had much practice,' said the Queen. 'When I was your age I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast...'

Epigraph to Michael Senior's Did Lewis Carroll visit Llandudno?

So I've come out to North Wales and stumbled down a rabbit hole into a hyperfictional vortex... More on which later....

Before I come to that, though: how I got here.... Or how I nearly didn't get here at all....


The AOE and their lackeys, the agents of Really Existing Capitalism, erect a magickal blockade in an attempt to stop you fleeing London.

That's not exactly advanced-class necromancy when the privatized railway operators are involved.

Friday night. You arrive at King's Cross Thameslink in what you fondly imagine is sufficient time for me to make yr way across the road to my Midlands-bound train leaving from St Pancras.

What you haven't bargained for are 'improvements'.

The route of a few hundred yards from Kings Cross to St Pancras has always been made as difficult as possible by a signing system that owes everything to Kafka's Kastle and nothing to clear communication. The already baffling Underground warren connecting the two stations is further complexified now by the fact that the old soot gloomy Victorian gothic St Pancras building has been decomissioned. There are of course no signs telling you any of this and you only manage to infer it after 20 minutes of rat in a maze angst-wandering round a circuit which, In the Mouth of Madness-like, unfailingly leads you back to where you started off via dingily lit builder's gangways populated only by the occasional scagged-out junkie prostitute.

In rain-sodden despair, you finally pluck up courage and do what you almost never do: Ask Someone in Authority.

The helpful Network Rail employee directs you to the 'new glass building'.

From Steamgoth to Gleamprog. Once you get into the semi-built 21C Kapital fortress, you find yourself wandering - due to ambiguous or absent signs - towards the car park. No trains. No sign of any trains.

Eventually you find yourself, through law of averages (you've tried every available stairwell) on the sinister New, Improved station concourse. By now - this journey across the road having taken some thirty minutes - you have missed your train and have to wait for the last train of the evening. You hope this is going to your destination because the New Improved videoscreens don't tell you.

You're turfed out of the New Improved bar at 11.15 precisely, leaving you a mere twenty minutes to wait on the freezing cold station concourse for your train which, it seems, is at least on time.

In the end of course, the train, is not on time.

Naturally, the train is sitting there on the platform. Also naturally, no-one seems to think it is necessary to tell any of the - gratifyingly - increasingly restive passengers why they cannot board the train. On the contrary, any information is jealously guarded like a Kremlin inner-secret at the height of the Cold War. The Komissars of Kapital - n number of pigonaut managers in green blazers - move in sim-purposive simian Bush swagger, cradling walkie-talkies like Del Boy showing off his brick-mobile in the eighties, their body posture shouting 'I HOLD A POSITION OF AUTHORITY' and also 'DO NOT EXPECT ME TO TALK TO YOU, YOU'RE ONLY A CUSTOMER AND I AM A MANAGER. They have the pathetic self-importance of roadies at a stadium rock concert, unable to conceal even from themselves the self-evident fact that in the grand scheme of things they are irrelevant but relishing their moment of feeling superior to an expectant crowd.

Up and down, up and down, the blazered pigonauts go. Up to the train and back to what you can only imagine is some cloistered office somewhere. (All of which begs the question: why the walkie-talkies?)

As you try and stoke up some diskontent (punK transforms simmering resentment into effective anger- Undercurrent), spreading white-hot rage about managerialism and contemptuous lack of communication, a semi-intoxicated young man leans over and says, 'when you graduate, what job do you want to do?' (Coz you see readers, the only people who would be angry about managers are students... when of course most undergrads are the LAST people to be angry about the bastards since it is their life's ambition to have 'early responsibilidy' in some Unilever-type SF Kapital corporate Progstrosity....) In any case, when you can't get your point across that you HAVE A JOB and that YOU ARE A TEACHER, you hiss 'fuck you' to the blearly blubbernaut (cue sharp intakes of breath from bourgeois laydeez who up until then had supported you). Eventually the demi-drunk makes his point: 'It's because we're British.....'

As if this 'explanation' does anything except reinforce the very condition of transcendental miserabilism it gives voice to.

'We're British and we just moan and nothing happens....' (resigned chuckle)...

Question: how is that one of the most dynamic and catalytic cultures in the history of the planet has come to see itself as this malevolently impotent dampening squib?

The answer must have something to do with the deadening, numbing FX of two and half centuries of Industrial Kapital, the glorious culmination of which we bear witness to on the white gleam of the new St Pancras concourse.

After twenty minutes you finally get an announcement.

The waiting crowd are informed that our trains is delayed and that we should wait on the concourse.

No shit.

I'm sure we can all provide scores of stories like this. But the moral of the story for our purposes is this. Think on, next time someone tries to persuade either (a) that Kapitalism is exciting or (b) that it is remorselessly, inhumanly efficient.

Maybe in the Never Existing Capitalism of mission statements and PR. Not in Really Existing Capitalism, the grim mammal-fuzzed reality of which is pigonaut managers striding up and down a station platform to no effect whatsoever.

REC: missions statements amidst rot (Undercurrent).

Tomorrow: what I did on my holiday (part 1)

Posted by mark at August 23, 2004 04:35 PM | TrackBack

second person narrative! very good, just like Calvino in 'if on a winter's night a traveller'...yet more ego-disassembly....and you managed to post it a day after it was created...something weird going on...curioser and curioser.....

Posted by: infinite thought at August 24, 2004 06:21 PM

fakkin british rail

Posted by: wbtnk at August 24, 2004 09:27 PM

>second person narrative!

yeah if you hadn't mistakenly dropped a couple of 'I' s in there, we would never have known it was autobiographical ;)

Posted by: undercurrent at August 25, 2004 12:01 PM

UC --- LOL --- fact is, I just started doing the 2nd person thing half way through and went with it; tried to retrospectively remove 1st person, obv unsuccessfully!!!! Think may have done now, but difficult with clock ticking and limited pc time in Llandudno public library lol...

Wbtnik --- remember -- it's not BR now, it's Network Rail and n number of private operators --- the explanation for pigonaut impotence was that THOSE managers didn't work for Midland Mainline but Network Rail -- course this doesn't get rid of the problem but exacerbates it from POV of managerialist incompetence -- i.e. what is the chain of command? who is responsible for doing what??

Posted by: mark at August 26, 2004 12:12 PM