“A Tweet Too Far,” or “The Woes of Stubborn Rail’s Social Media Manager”

railway-desolate

TICKET OFFICE

“So tell me,” said Lucy, breathing heavily with the resigned attitude of someone who has been asking the same question all day, “Why do you want to be the social media manager for Stubborn Rail?”

Gary’s smile was almost bursting with enthusiasm. He’d debated wearing a vibrant bottle green tie with pictures of different train designs to highlight his passion, but he’d refrained, rather reluctantly. Instead, he was wearing an aqua blue tie covered in hashtags, with a Twitter logo towards the top. He’d debated not wearing that one either, but in the end he thought it was best to wear a tie and look professional.

“Well… I remember the first time I saw a train,” Gary remarked. “I thought to myself, “I like that.” I also remember the first time I saw Twitter on my friend’s phone, and I thought, “I like that.” Then I saw Stubborn Rail’s account and you know what I thought? I love that.”

He spoke with the pace of a train pulling into its final platform. Lucy smiled, partly because she couldn’t help but admire the sentiment he was aiming towards, but also as it was bemusing to imagine a wave of affection towards a social media page.

“You realise how much responsibility you would have?” Lucy replied, her eyebrows slightly raised. “How many services we run, the hundreds of thousands of followers that rely on our updates? It’s a lot to get into 140 characters.”

Gary took a deep breath. In his mind, he envisioned running onto a platform and boarding a train just as the doors were closing. This was his make or break moment.

“Look Lucy, I’ve managed plenty of social media accounts in the past. Give me a few words and I’ll give you a great hashtag. But you know what I also know? Your service map inside out. How many carriages there are on your peak services. I even know which carriages have those power sockets with the signs warning they are not for public use. And you know why I know these things, Lucy?” At this point, he stood up, thrusting out his aqua blue social media tie as he did.

“Because I care about Stubborn’s train services. I’m a huge believer in public transport. I don’t want to provide just a service to your customers, I want to provide an experience. I’m not just Gary Buffer. I am all-change; the change, that YOU all need to your service.”

Lucy smiled again. It was the second time she had smiled that day, second time she had smiled that week, second time she had smiled that month. Stubborn Rail were all about efficiency; time for smiling was rare. He was easily the best candidate she’d had all day; one of the applicants had never even been on a train, and didn’t realise there was such a thing as “first class.” She stood up and held her hand out to him, like she was helping him onto a carriage. “Welcome aboard, Gary.”

DEPARTURE

Three weeks later, and Gary was slumped at his computer screen. There were just so many complaints. He’d had no idea of the mess he was getting himself into. He’d always worked from home before, so he rarely had to use trains regularly, and never at peak times. He’d never felt so depressed; all of the cancellations in front of him, and there was nothing he could do. Shockingly, the life of a social media manager was not as glamorous as he had expected.

He’d never realised just how much hate could be fitted into 140 characters. He couldn’t even remember the last time he saw a nice tweet. But what made it worse was that he had to personally sign on at the start of each shift, so now he was being singled out as the source of all the commuter’s woes. The insults were getting worse and worse; admittedly some were very creative, but others were borderline sadistic. He’d started a tally of how many users wanted to tie him down to the train tracks.

He was so busy wallowing in his despair that he didn’t even notice his line manager Elliot wandering over. “Bad news I’m afraid,” he said in a voice so nonchalant it made you wonder how bad the news could really be. “Temporary shortage of train crew again at Clapham Junction. Who would have thought it? Schedule some reminders over the next couple of hours.”

Breathing in deeply, Gary readied himself for the barrage of abuse that was about to greet him. His fingers were shaking as he raised them to the keyboard. Sweat began to pour down his face as he stared at his screen; his whole body was beginning to shake. His index struggled towards the first key… but he couldn’t. He turned to Elliot and looked him defiantly in the eyes.

“Is… isn’t there anything else we can do?”

Elliot had to hide his disbelief. His army of tweeters had never questioned his orders before; they just typed.

“Well, I’m afraid not. There is simply not enough staff, not to mention the signal faults further up the line.”

“But what does that even mean?!” demanded Gary, his voice getting stronger with every word. “Engineering works, signal faults, temporary shortage of train crews… these are just phrases bandied about! They have no significance to the everyday commuter!”

He was on his feet now. Most of the office had stopped what they were doing to watch him. Elliot was shuffling awkwardly, quickly glancing around at the bemused expressions across each workstation. “Now Gary, I think you’re being a little over-dramatic.”

“Oh am I?!” Gary spluttered, his eyes popping at the accusation. “I just want some positivity, for once! Is that too much to ask?! I mean seriously, can you remember when trains used to actually run on time? I bet people who haven’t even heard of our company think that we’re useless! It makes me wonder why we’re even running trains at all!”

Elliot was doing his best to remain calm. He had always taken his line manager training very seriously, and one of the underlying principles was never to lose your temper. So he smiled through gritted teeth and asked “well then Gary, seeing as you’re obviously an expert on the operation of railways, what would be your solution?”

“Hire more staff!” Gary proclaimed, raising his arms like this was the most obvious thing in the world. “Get more people out there on the rails! People like trains, people like driving, people can drive trains!”

Elliot laughed timidly, daring not to be too audible less his suppressed rage manifest itself in some way. “Now Gary, you know perfectly well that we can’t just send more people out on the track. We haven’t got enough staff. Where do you suppose these people are going to come from?”

His forced smile suddenly faltered at the mad glint in Gary’s eye. “Maybe…” Gary began, now pacing back and forth. “Maybe… WE could drive the trains!”

Elliot’s smile had now completely collapsed. But his anger had vanished too, replaced by a growing anxiety. Where had this freewheeling radical of a social media manager come from?

“Now Gary, be reasonable. There’s no logic in that kind of thinking. We’re not train drivers, for God’s sake! We’re tweets. We’re hashtags. We’re the soul of new marketing! We ride timelines, not train tracks. Whoever heard of a social media manager driving a train? In this day and age?!”

“But the commuters Elliot! They’re not just angry tweeters in suits and jackets! They’re real, living people that need to get home! We can help them do that! Every time it’s a temporary shortage, but WE can turn that all around!”

“But then who will post our updates Gary?” retorted Elliot, his checkmate response. “Twitter needs tweets. Our audience needs the latest information. You say these commuters are real, living people? Give them what they want- the most efficient announcements known to man!”

“We could do it while driving the trains! You’re the one always telling us to multitask, have you any idea how impressed people would be by a workforce that could send a tweet while driving a train?!” The whole office was captivated by Gary’s performance; it was arguably the most inspirational speech a social media manager had ever given.

“Well maybe one day Gary, but today is not that day. I expect to see that update on our timeline shortly,” said Elliot firmly. He was putting his line manager voice on now; this was not just a statement, it was a warning. He wanted things to return to normal, but as he returned to his desk, he couldn’t help glancing over his shoulder at Gary, who was now back at his computer, his face like shattered glass.

But Elliot was right; Gary was a social media manager, and that was that.

Until lunch break.

ARRIVAL

It wasn’t sandwiches on his mind for once: it was Stubborn Rail’s train depot. Such a stroke of luck that the site was only twenty minutes across town! No one batted an eyelid as he entered the depot; he had a staff badge, surely he was on official business. Common knowledge dictates that no one turns up at a train depot for the sheer hell of it. It was only when he tried to get one of the trains moving that suspicions were raised.

No one accelerates out of their starting position at THAT kind of speed. Security were running for the train, but no one could stop him. Somehow, Gary just knew how to drive a train. It felt like destiny. Before he knew it, he was heading for Clapham Junction, famous for constantly boasting about being “the UK’s busiest railway station,” an achievement that was as depressing as it was daunting.

He was nearly at a platform when they stopped him. He could have got those passengers home. He could have got them back on time. But somehow, conductors had managed to get onto the train, and suddenly the driver’s door was being forced open and a sea of whistles were being blown in his face. Gary would never control social media channels for a train operator again. He wouldn’t be allowed into a station for five years.

But hey, it could be worse. He could be commuting by train in 2016.

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An Unexpected Visitor, or “There’s a fox in our bathroom!”

Fox In The Bathroom

“Hannah? Are you awake?”

“For God’s sake Max, it’s two in the morning. Tomorrow, I’ve got to fire someone so I can hire someone else who I will probably end up firing further down the line. It’s only four hours until I have to face the music, so whatever it is, I guarantee I won’t be interested at the moment!”

“Hannah, there’s a fox in our bathroom.”

“Max, I’m really not in the mood for this- did you say there’s a fox in our bathroom?”

“Yeah, like a real wild fox. I could hear something scampering around and when I peaked around the door I saw two startled eyes staring back at me.”

“You sure it wasn’t June and Peter’s cat? The one that got into number 42’s compost heap?”

“Hannah, believe me, I know it’s a fox. Bright orange, busy tail and all.”

“And why are you telling me this Max?”

“Well, funnily enough I don’t really know what to do with it!”

“Since when have I been a fox expert Max? I’ve got enough responsibilities around here as it is!”

“I just thought you might have some ideas… and the thing is… I kind of need to go.”

“Then give him five minutes, knock again and see how long he’s going to be.”

“Hannah, I’m serious…”

“Well honestly Max, what do you expect me to do?”

Middle class suburbia. Sunny south. Gets the Telegraph delivered (except on Sundays). Jobs going well, thinking of starting a family, all the details ironed out. Everything flows like clockwork. Then there’s a fox in the bathroom. This isn’t just an unusual work-up call; this is a test.

“How on earth did the fox get in in the first place?”

“How should I know that?”

“You didn’t have the decency to ask? I’m pretty sure that’s breaking and entering, I don’t care if he has four feet.”

“Look Hannah, I know this might be funny to you, but I just want to sort it out!”

“Oh yeah, because being woken up in the middle of the night to sort out a fox with malicious intentions is a barrel of laughs! Well, what have you done so far?”

“Nothing really, just… gave it a quick Google… I put something about it on Twitter, but no one’s got back to me.”

“At half two in the morning?! I wonder why?!”

Raised voice, flared nostrils, stress levels rising. You wonder if these two are meant to last. Because if they can’t sort out a fox in their bathroom, then what does that say about longevity?

“Look Max, the last thing I want to do at this hour is chase a fox round the house as we try to usher it out into the garden. It’s probably more frightened of us than we are of it. Look, leave it for now, and we’ll call the RSPCA first thing in the morning and get them to sort it out.”

“Why the RSPCA? We’re not asking them to adopt a fox!”

“Do you have any better ideas?”

“Well I’m certainly not letting my privates dangle out in front of a fox if that’s what you’re thinking. That’s a gamble in No Man’s Land that is. I’m not making the charge.”

“Why can’t you just go in the garden? We could do with a bit of fertiliser, just make sure it’s over by the compost heap, or by where the compost heap would be if we had time to make a compost heap.”

“Hannah, are you really asking me to urinate over the flower bed? To defecate over the dandelions? We’re not savages, for heaven’s sake! What would the neighbours say?”

“Oh yes Max, the neighbours! The ones we see so frequently, like the time we popped round for afternoon tea and inane chit chat about how the kids are doing, how good the new kitchen looks, and- oh wow, is that a new lawn mower? What was that, two years ago now? And besides, even if you do happen to talk to the neighbours, are you seriously telling me that you would drop it in the middle of the conversation? I mean don’t be so-“

“Shush… Harriet… I can hear it moving.”

“Well, I hope it remembers to flush. Look, if it’s stuck in there now I highly doubt it will be able to get itself out. Barricade the door if you have to, but I’m going back to sleep.”

An hour passes. A whole blissful uninterrupted hour. Dreams of exceeding targets, satisfied clients, that golden ticket to promotion. Then…

“Max? Where on earth have you been?”

“Round to the neighbours.”

“At three in the morning?!”

“Well, I needed to go didn’t I?”

“I thought I said to go out in the garden?”

“Hannah, I know there’s a fox in our toilet but that doesn’t mean we have to stop being decent! June and Paul were perfectly understanding once I explained the situation. Anyway, you were the one bemoaning the fact that we never see our neighbours…”

“Yeah, but I didn’t mean going over for a chat at this time of night! You know how they love a bit of gossip, everyone on the road will know before long.”

“Ah well, seeing as they even leant me a spade to defend myself against the fox I think that’s a fair compromise.”

“I never thought I would see the day my fiancée would stand over me in his boxers, with a spade at his side, ready to defend us against a blinking fox. Just… try and get some rest, okay?”

Sunrise, birds chirping, morning. Strong cup of coffee, definitely not decaf. Just another day in the office for you madam? Home time, feet up… fox in the bathroom.

“Is that fox still there then?”

“Course it isn’t, I called the RSPCA first thing. Bloke came round and sorted it this afternoon.”

“Thank God you work from home now; I don’t think I could stand another night of it!”

“Yeah well, how often does a fox end up in your bathroom anyway? That’ll be one to tell the kids.”

“How was it anyway? Didn’t cause too much trouble?”

“Nah the guy was straight in and straight out. Wasn’t deterred by the situation at all. Although I did have a fair bit of cleaning to do after they left…”

“Don’t even go there Max, I have NO desire to hear about what that fox got up to in there. I’m just glad you did it.”

“You know I’d do anything for you Hannah.”

“Oh honestly Max, give it a rest.”

“Don’t go breaking my heart Hannah.”

“Don’t you start quoting Elton John on me Max, you know what that does to me!”

“It’s a little bit funny, this feeling inside…”

They laugh, they chat, they reconcile. The night brings well deserved rest without any intruders. Days go by, weeks roll on and months turn to years. But there will always be that night when their relationship was strained. Pushed as it only can be at that hour. Resolved after many a bad word was said. But if you can get past that, then there is hope, and lots of it. But NEVER underestimate the effect of a fox getting stuck in your bathroom.