Royal command performance

1st December 2006 at 00:00
Let me take you back to platform 10 at Liverpool Street station, in the City, on Thursday last week. Grim-faced, shoulders hunched, we commuters shuffle along, wondering what reason the train company's excuse-mongers will have for the evening's delays.

The train leaves on time. So far, so unusual.

A commuter is on his mobile phone. He is using all those buzzwords - cool, heads-up, touch base, joined-up thinking, stakeholders, bottom out - which help middle-managers to form simple sentences in the way a toddler can make a convincing piece of architecture from plastic bricks.

He didn't have one of those bluetooth earpiece gizmos that makes it look as though you're talking to yourself, but you can't have everything.

Then it emerged that, this time, the 1700 to Ipswich had become important.

Apparently, all the stops were out to make sure our train, in particular, was running on time.

Suddenly all those little obstacles which are blamed for delays had ceased to exist. No "broken down train" blocking our path, no "person on the line", no "road vehicle collided with a bridge" (I never was convinced about that one), and not even a hint of signalling problems or collapsed overhead lines. Not so much as a cow on the track or troublesome leaves on the line. Not the teeniest, weeniest, most pathetic-sounding excuse was mumbled over the crackling speakers.

Efficiency was the order of the day. It was as if the idea of running a train on time had suddenly become the overwhelming priority.

I'd forgotten to buy an evening paper and wondered if something fundamental had happened to make Britain so well-organised. It almost felt uncomfortable. It was as if the Germans had come.

When the explanation emerged, I realised I wasn't far wrong. Back in First Class, a carriage had been taken over by a VIP passenger - the Queen.

This made me feel uncomfortable. I have complained before about the fact you can't have "citizenship" - a subject close to further education's heart - without having a republic. And we all know what that would mean for the royal family.

But before we consider spilling an ounce of blood, maybe we should consider a new role for a modern monarchy: travelling everywhere by rail, unannounced, just to keep the train companies on their toes.

They could give colleges the same treatment.

It would bring a whole new meaning the term HMI.

I'll give you this Ma'am. At least you make the trains run on time.

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