You know it's Christmas in London when the commuters are desperately trying not to acknowledge others on the tube wearing santa hats or reindeer antlers. This year, the whole pantomime been made a bit more challenging by some joker who has been stringing up mistletoe in Northern Line carriages, prompting the English to go into even greater meltdowns when confronted with another human being at uncomfortably close quarters. The mistletoe itself might be a cute PR stunt for a camera company, but it got me thinking about what TfL really could do to put a smile on the travelling public's drawn, grey faces.
One of the reasons London is so grim in January is because nobody has any money after Christmas, and then bam! the tube fares get put up like a financial knockout blow. That inevitably prompts the grumbles about how the service doesn't seem to improve with the higher costs and the politicians' hollow promises to keep prices down while improving travel for everyone. So this year, TfL could do something different which might not particularly put a smile on people's faces but would make travelling on the tube just a bit more bearable. It could stop the announcements, rolling on an infernal 3-minute loop, that they're running a good service. Please, guys, in the spirit of Christmas. Make it stop.
I remember when they first started, about ten years ago. The announcements bore the fingerprints of a hooded-eyed New Labour spin doctor, keenly schooled in the art of 'If we say it often enough, it has to be true.' For what it's worth, I think the tube does actually do a pretty good job of ferrying millions of people across the capital every day. But given how much using the tube costs all of us, it bloody well should be a good service - and we shouldn't need to be told, over and over and over again, that that is the case.
Consider, for a moment, if you extended the logic of these announcements to other public services. You'd have planes circling London, trailing colourful banners declaring the A40 to be moving fine. Every bus on every route would tell you that all the drivers had turned up to work that day. There would signs outside every GP surgery saying 'all patients with appointments will be seen'. Perhaps I'm being facetious - but the point remains. We really don't need to be told - it should just be the norm that the tube is running as it should.
And that brings me on to my second point about these announcements. I could almost tolerate it if they promised a 'normal service'. Call me picky, but there's something that sticks in my craw about the use of the word 'good'. It's good at Christmas time, because rush hour isn't so hellish and there is the outside chance of getting a seat if you go right to the end of the train and you aren't carrying too many bags. But I've lost count of the number of times I've seen 1,000 unhappy sardines on the northern line, head in armpit and nose to glass, and just as they've all managed to heave themselves onto the groaning train, a nasal, lecturing voice tells them they're running a good service.
So congrats to whoever it was who strung up the mistletoe, and well done TfL for ferrying everyone round more or less successfully for another year. But please, please, as a Christmas present, let the man on the Clapham Omnibus decide what constitutes 'good', and stop telling him what to think. That's if he can squeeze on to it, that is.