Reacting to the news…

newspaper

Seeing his wife Monica fighting back the tears, Eric grabbed her by the ponytails and held her head gently. He’d been dying to get home ever since he’d heard the news. “Can you believe it Monica?” he whispered to her.

“I can’t,” Monica sniffed, dabbing at her eyes. “Ever since they made the announcement, the world just doesn’t seem real anymore.”

“How did you hear about it?” Eric asked. He couldn’t quite believe it himself. No one seemed happy by the news; no one had ever truly wanted such a thing to happen.

“In the canteen at work,” Monica replied. “I don’t know why it affected me so much, but I just had to come home.”

“I don’t blame you,” Eric mused. “I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to suggest that this truly feels like the end of the world.” He held his face in his hands for a minute, before rubbing his eyes as he stared at his TV. There was nothing on, just a blank screen. “How do you think people will react?”

“There’ll be revolts up and down the country,” Monica replied without hesitation. “No shadow of a doubt. People won’t stand for it. No one ever thought it actually would happen in the first place. To be honest, I think it would be a good idea for us to stop doing anything until we can figure out what the hell is going on.”

Eric was on his feet now, pacing the room as if trying to diffuse some great bundle of energy inside him. “Perhaps…” he pondered, as though what he was trying to say was bold and daring, and he was hesitant to speak it. “Perhaps it might be a good thing. Change can be good for the world.”

“Not like this,” said Monica flatly. “This feels like the wrong kind of change to me. I mean, think what this could inspire within people. They see this happening, they suddenly think that their radical notions aren’t quite so radical anymore. Where do we go from there?”

“I don’t know what we’ll tell the kids,” sighed Eric. “Do well at school, by the book that binds us all… and for what reward? When something like this can happen?”

Monica gripped him by the hands and stared deep into her eyes. “Don’t worry my love,” he reassured her. “We’ll still teach them what is right. This won’t change them one bit.”

They both sat down and stared straight ahead, still taking it all in. “I still can’t believe it though,” Eric wandered aloud.

“Yeah. Whoever thought they’d reduce the size of Toblerone? What kind of world do we live in where such a thing is possible?”

“Whatever happens, we’ll always have the Quality Street. They can’t take that away from us.”

Hoping for a change of tone, Eric reached for the remote. On flicked the latest news.

“Holy shit,” he gasped.

“I can’t believe it,” Monica’s hands were covering her eyes.

“The John Lewis Christmas advert,” they said together.

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“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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I bought a sandwich from the new Subway shop. What happened next will change lunchtimes forever

subway restaurant

Ah, Subway. They said it would never come. The East Grinstead high street is adorned with all of the eateries a small town in Sussex could possibly desire, but yet the rumours were rife. The empty site next to the Bath Store had lain bare for so long, that no one thought a shop would ever move back in there; it was just one of those things that was physically impossible.

But then it arrived. Subway, in our little town! No longer were we confined to the pains of choosing between a meal deal from Boots, a pasty from Greggs, or going to the family run Olive Grove which already offered a superb selection of sandwiches, even branching out to paninis and ciabattas for the more adventurous of us. Now, we could choose our sandwiches elsewhere!

It’s Monday. The drabs of office workers still left in the town are buzzing with excitement. I can barely contain myself as I step into the store at lunchtime, and I allow myself an audible gasp at the revelation that they now serve pastrami, mainly because I never buy pastrami anywhere else but I can now see myself as a pastrami man. Like a New York wannabe frustrated by the confines of a small town.

Crowds of literally six people wait patiently ahead of me, eyeing up the vacant seating at the back of the store adorned with balloons. Was anyone there bold enough to be the first person to sit in that hallowed area? Thank god there was a local news reporter on hand; this was something you wouldn’t want to miss.

subway park

I get to the counter and I see it; the fabled mecca of bread that is honey oat. Honey oat.  Many had dared to dream of a day where honey oat would come to the town, but no one ever quite believed that it would ever happen. I felt a tear come to my eye. And I still had to choose the fillings.

By the time I reached the end of the assembly line the news had caught on like wildfire. A bustling queue was now spilling out round to the side of the Bath Store- possibly bought on by the fact that if you bought a drink at lunch you would get your sub for free- and excitement levels were bordering on pandemonium. Concern over whether there would be any meatball marinara left. Flutters of panic from those who saw the “cash only” sign far too late.

Personally, I felt the pressure of eating instore was too much. How could I sit in the window, savouring every bite, while others looked on with envy in their eyes? I fled to the safe retreat of Moat Pond and tucked in. Subway in hand, the world in my hands, the world is a sandwich. Tears came to my eyes; was this euphoria like no other? Possibly, although it may also have been the jalapenos.