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Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Franks Shop

On Thursday 19th April at approximately 6.38am, I purchased a tuna and mayonaisse sandwich and a cup of tea from “Expressions”, the coffee boutique inside Hull’s Paragon Train Station, prior to boarding the 6.54 for Scarborough. Perhaps an explanation of the motive behind this purchase may move these written proceedings along, before we return to said light refreshment.

Having narrowly failed to get a job at the Natural History Musuem, London, I have re-entered the workforce, albeit semi-illegally, as a freelance theatrical carpenter. This does not mean that I attend construction sites in yellow overalls, purple cravat and red safety boots, rather it means that I have revisited an earlier skillset and have returned to constructing scenery and sets for the stage. My first engagement is at the Steven Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, hence the 6.54am.

I park my bike at the train station and am immediately taken by the proximate sign.

I’m a little apprehensive leaving my precious Fuji anywhere near this sign, and I try to imagine what may have given rise to such a cautious disclaimer. A little worried, I proceed to platform 3 to await the (late) train, but my mind is soon too occupied to worry too much about the bike, because I am bombarded by information. It seems that Britain, anxious to improgve its underperforming railways, has become convinced that the main way to solve the problem is to form a stakeholder committee to examine the problem, force companies publish performance indicators of every possible aspect of performance that it is possible to examine, set up as many websites as possible, and finally appoint an Ombudsman, or Watchdog organisation to whom we can complain when thier website fails to make the trains run on time. Here a couple of posters giving me the performance of my local train company in March.

Did any of this prevent me from having a seven hour train from Manchester to Hull(85 miles) a few weeks ago? Are the trains any cleaner, cheaper, quicker or less crowded than under the old nationalized industries? Well, no actually. I am reminded of the Soviet regimes tendency to constantly pour propoganda down the throats of its own people about tractor production, magnificent scientific progress and glorious grain harvests.

I arrive in Scarborough at 8.30am, having eventually fallen asleep reading Tainter's “The Collapse of Complex Civilizations” and the train tracks rattling a cadence that sounds like “irony, irony, irony”.

The Steven Joseph Theatre is just across the road from the station. I’m greeted by the Production Manager and shown into the workshop. I immediately alert the Production Manager that there's apparently been an earthquake and some poor soul is trapped under the debris. I’m assured that the hapless creature is, in fact, a Yorkshireman (whose name is Frank, I discover, when he decides to talk two days later), and that he’s working. This is Frank’s shop.

JST THeatre Scarborough

I find a pile of garbage to store my tools on top of, and resolve to buy some string later in the day. The theory is that I can attach one end of the string to my tools and gradually unwind it as I move about the shop, much as cave divers do to avoid getting lost. I’m given a badly photocopied set of plans and pretty much get left alone to work.

By the end of the day, I’ve managed to clear enough space to make a small table, and I leave, satisified with a good day’s work. The 17.45 leaves on time and the journey back is just sleeping.

Next morning, I’m back at Paragon Station, having decided that in addition to the string, I’ll buy a few GPS devices as locationing aids, but first I have to visit “Expressions” to register a complaint. I discovered, once I’d boarded the 6.54 the previous day, that the tuna mayonnaise I'd purchased, was spectacularly stale. I mention it to Customer Services, Gail, who asks if I kept the sandwich in question. No, I reply, I went to Scarborough and the store was not open when I returned at 19.30 that evening. Furthermore, the sandwich would have been stale anyway by the end of the day, so what would have been the point? She consults her manager. Time is passing and my train is soon to depart, but eventually the Manager, Shirley, wanders over and asks the same questions that Gail did. Time continues its inexhorable march, and I should leave, but I have a familiar feeling about the conduct of this interview. Gail pipes up that she thinks she remembers the gentleman (me!). Shirley asks if I kept my receipt or the sandwich. Sadly I did’nt and I have to go NOW, I explain. Shirley looks sceptical and starts serving another customer while slowly, courteouslessly informing me that even if Gail remembers me,no receipt, no sandwich = no proof of purchase = no refund. I heavily suspect I’m being accused of sandwich fraud, and something in Shirley’s manner makes me want to ask “Did you used to work in the JobCentre Plus?”. Discretion being the better part of valour, I defer and run for the 6.54, which is, I discover upon reaching the platform, delayed due to objects on the line – obviously not trains.

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