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17 April 2024

Weighing the options in a country where nothing works any more

Should I give it another quarter of an hour, or cut my losses, get off the train, and drink myself into oblivion?

By Nicholas Lezard

In the end I did manage to see some of the cricket at the Hove ground: on the Sunday, I sat in front of the pavilion drinking Harvey’s and watched Sussex pile on the runs against Northants. Behind me, two gentlemen of years even more mature than mine talked, with the textbook drone of the truly dull, of how many wicketkeepers Sussex had gone through in the last four years; an entirely fitting discussion for the circumstances. And then one of them started talking about the trains, and how bad they were. At which point, my tongue loosened by Harvey’s, I turned around to them and told them, ignoring all protocol, about my train travel woes from the day before.

I had been going to my sister-in-law’s 60th birthday party in Neasden. I was looking forward to this, for I am fond of my sister-in-law, and indeed of her husband, who’s also my brother. Moreover, at least one of my children was going to be there, plus partner, of whom I am also fond, and the plan was for us to drink the party dry and then get an Uber back to Dalston, where I could crash out on their couch, and then go for oysters on the Sunday.

When I lived in the Hovel and had the children round for alternate weekends, Sunday-morning oysters from the stall at Marylebone Farmers’ Market became a ritual, until I had a run-in with the man I came to call Aunty Oyster Man, only the first letter wasn’t an “A”, and he refused to serve me any more. Long-standing readers with good memories might remember him, and he remains one of the very few people I am terrified of who isn’t a bailiff. Although now I come to think of it, I am not so much scared of bailiffs as of what they represent, and have even had a laugh or two with some of them. Especially when I say I am not Nicholas Lezard.

Back to Saturday evening. I had got to the station in good time for the 17.58, but by 17.56 there was still no sign of it. The 17.26, though, was still sitting on the platform, and I asked a guard if that would be leaving first, and he said definitely yes, so I got on board. And then I, and several hundred other passengers already on the train, waited… and waited… and waited.

The capacity of a 12-car Thameslink Class 700 train (I continued to my fellow cricket fans) is 1,754 people, and after about 40 minutes of sitting at Brighton Station it was beginning to look as though that capacity had been exceeded. There was a young Japanese woman sitting in front of me, and I wondered what she was making of this, coming as she did from a country where if a train is more than one minute late, it makes the news and railway executives’ heads roll.

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I was now doing calculations as to when I would arrive at the party. I was also factoring in how fast the train would be going once it set off, and given the news that we were being held up by a landslide(!), I had a feeling that we would not be approaching anywhere near the top speed of the Class 700, which as I am sure you all know is 100mph. After another quarter of an hour of waiting I decided to cut my losses, get off the train, and go home and drink myself to death. I grieved for all the other 1,753 passengers whose journey was unavoidable, who did not have the option of bailing out and drinking themselves into oblivion.

So what I want to know is how this country turned into a shithole where nothing works any more (and whether it works or not, you pay through the nose for the privilege) and how long it will take, and how much it will cost, to make it work again. Things have got much worse over the past year and a bit, and you now have to factor in the side-effects of disaster or incompetence before going anywhere by public transport. (I don’t mind strikes by rail workers. Strikes I can handle, and I’m generally in favour of them, unless of course I fail to factor them in to my plans. But Thameslink wasn’t on strike that Saturday.)

Back to the cricket. The seats in front of the pavilion, at that time of year, are very much in the shade, and after a couple of hours the cold began to enter my bones. My interlocutors had started to ignore me; I suspect only long habit prevented them from moving to seats beyond earshot. With Sussex having lost a couple of quick wickets but the match, still with a day to play, looking as though it was heading for a draw, I decided to return home before I froze. But once you get that cold, the cold never really leaves you.

The last couple of days have been spent dealing with people asking me for large sums of money. At one point the doorbell rang at seven in the morning, but I’m not as daft as I look, so didn’t let them in. Since then, I have kicked the can down the road a little bit and have to find £2,500 by next week somehow. I am owed a fair chunk of that by ALCS – the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society – but they are disputing this because I didn’t do the paperwork properly, or something. Well, if this country can’t get its act together, why should I?

[See also: The continuous rain is driving me mad]

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This article appears in the 17 Apr 2024 issue of the New Statesman, Israel vs Iran