Friday, 31 August 2012

Dear Richard Branson.......

I understand you were a bit miffed last week at losing the West Coast rail franchise to First Group last week and I observed with interest and some amusement your attempts to get this decision overturned.

Personally, I was delighted with the decision to award the franchise elsewhere. So much so I even high-fived myself and did a little dance when I read that the decision was not going to be reversed.  It’s rare that I get so animated to be honest but to me life is all about small victories that lead to humungous wins and this decision felt like one of them.

You could be forgiven for thinking that my delight was some show of support for First Group, it isn’t. It’s merely that it gives me hope that one of the great bug bears of my life might finally be resolved.

I can almost hear you asking ‘So what bug bear is that Alan?’ Well just be patient and I’ll tell you…..

It’s not the fact that your staff are surly and disinterested, though they are spectacularly good at that. I quite like it, I see it as a personal challenge to try and fool them into giving a shit. I’ve not managed it yet.

Nor is it the fact that your onboard catering can sometimes make me wish I was eating my own shit freshly poached in some rancid bilge-water though that is indeed often the case.

It isn’t the fact that you take credit for turning this service round when in reality the taxpayer paid a ridiculously large sum of money to build the infrastructure that allowed you to tap home your ‘winning’ goal from six yards out.

It isn’t even the fact that a return ticket to London costs about the same amount of money as it takes to sustain a small African nation for a decade.

Or your unswerving ability to make the temperature inside the train an amplification of the temperature outside the train. Travelling with you I always resemble an extra from Tenko or an Eskimo on a particularly cold day.

It’s not the way your company insist on checking my ticket three times, once when boarding, once when on board and once when disembarking though in truth that gets a tad tiresome to be honest.

It’s something much more fundamental than that and something which has the ability to make me froth at the mouth like some kind of mentalist.

In order to explain, let me put my beef into context…….

In April of this year, a Scottish fisherman was minding his own business, dredging the shit out of the bottom of the sea off the Shetland Isles when his net brought up a 98 year old bottle that had been cast adrift in 1914. Turns out, this bottle was one of 1,890 bottles that was released as a batch by the Government to map the undercurrents of the sea in Scotland.

Inside the bottle was a message explaining that the lucky finder could claim a reward of a sixpence for recording the details of his discovery.  Regrettably the sixpence no longer exists nor does the government that was going to pay it which is a bit of a bummer for him. However, the finder of the bottle, Andrew Leaper can now lay claim to finding the oldest ever message in a bottle. A fact confirmed by the Guinness book of records.

It’s a fascinating story Richard and like all fascinating stories they make you think a bit…….. This one made me think that if I had sent this message to you in a bottle, it would get there an awful lot quicker than if I e-mailed it to you whilst logged on to the wi-fi on one of your trains.

For a ridiculous amount of money I get a connection that is marginally slower than the speed at which my stubble grows.  Slower than the movement of tectonic plates around the earth.  So slow that if I googled ‘what is the slowest thing on earth?’ I would be at Euston before the answer came back ‘Virgin wi-fi of course’

I’m not convinced that the staff will be any better or caring? Nor do I hold out much hope of eating something vaguely appetizing. I don’t for one minute think that tickets will get cheaper or the service more reliable but surely First Group will be able to provide internet connectivity that allows me to fill my time more productively than logging out and then back in again in the hope that actually achieves something.

I did think about writing to you earlier but I’d have felt the need to point out that you actually do own a telecommunications company but you know what they say, the cobblers children are often the worst shod.

Anyway, I’m going to press send on this e-mail now Richard, perhaps one of your future descendants can get back to one of mine and provide the answer. God forbid they are travelling on one of your Virgin galactic flights.  They will inevitably be eating some fetid gruel, profusely sweating from every pore whilst having their ticket checked for 14th time and endlessly pressing refresh on their computer in the vain hope that they ever re-connect to cyberspace.

Best Regards



  1. I love the post but having travelled extensively on First Great Western trains between Exeter and London, nothing is going to differ between the service provided by these two companies. The food on FGW trains is just as crap, the service is mostly awful. There is one exception though; if First Group roll-out the same service they do elsewhere, then there will be no Wifi at all on their trains - you will have to live with patchy GPRS between areas of civilisation.

    Maybe your self-high-fiving was somewhat premature.

  2. You could well be right Dug and others have tried to convince me it will be worse on FGW. Time will tell but I just don't think Virgin do it that well, at all. I hope my optimism is not misplaced.....