Our trains are crap. Aren’t they? We think they are. They’re expensive (our rail network charges some of the highest fares in the world), dirty, late (always late) overcrowded (but you can sit on the floor outside the loo), and they have central heating on in the middle of summer.
Ok, so this might all be a slight exaggeration, (I was on a train, just last week, that seemed to be on time, and I was amazed until I realised it wasn’t MY train, but the train from 30 minutes earlier, which was really late, so sometimes it all works out) but in general if you get a load of Brits together and ask them what they think about the country’s rail service, the air is going to turn blue.¹
However, we should also point out that it’s not ALL bad. If you are in the UK, and you are ever late for anything, and for whatever reason, all you have to do is offer a slight apologetic shrug and say “Trains!”. No one will question you and you will immediately have the heartfelt love and sympathy of everyone in the room.
But our service providers have a LOT of excuses at hands, and one, in particular, has now transformed itself into a well-quoted legend. A train was once delayed because… there were leaves on the line.
Now, the rail companies say that leaves, when wet, become slippery, and that is dangerous to trains and it might well be true. What we say, however, is…HOW CAN YOU RUN AN OUTDOOR SERVICE LIKE THE RAILWAYS, WITHOUT IMAGINING THAT AT SOME POINT LEAVES ARE GOING TO BLOW ONTO THE LINE? AND WHY DOES THIS NOT SEEM TO MATTER IN OTHER COUNTRIES?
Anyway, we think these genuine excuses for late running trains are just marvellous. Because, when you’re hugely late, and stuck on freeing platform waiting for a train that never arrives, at least you can do that British thing of seeing the funny side².
“We apologise for the late running of this service. This was due to excessive heat on the tracks between Bedford and Luton, caused by the sun.”
“We apologise for the late running of this service. This is due to slippery rain.”
“We apologise for the late running of this service. This was due to the wrong type of snow on the tracks”
“The train now arriving on platform one is on fire. Passengers are advised not to board this train.”
“We apologise for the overcrowding of this service. This is due to too many passengers.”
“We apologise for the delay to customers on platform one. This is due to a delay in the actual service.”
“We apologise for the late running of this service. This is due to a giant clown on the line stopping trains.” (To be fair, a Giant Ronald McDonald Promotional clown had come loose from a local McDonald’s and blown onto the line.)
If British English is not your first language, you might find the following explanations of words used here helpful.
1 – to turn the air blue – to swear a lot. This phrase has been around since at least 1880, and it was used in Farmer & Henley, Slang and Its Analogues (London,1890). But why blue? There seem to be two reasonable explanations: either, the air is blue from the smoke of the battlefield, where, presumably there was quite a bit of swearing also going on, or (which seems the more plausible to me) from the saucier side of things, and the other definition of the colour ‘blue’: smutty or indecent (a blue film, for example, is pornographic), and this is thought to either be from the French prostitutes’ blue dresses OR, from a saucy series of books called ‘Bibliotheque Bleu’.
2 – to see the funny side – to appreciate the humorous in a situation that is usually definitely not funny. Like the cycle ride I went on this week, when I got caught in a complete downpour miles from home. Even the cows were looking at me as if I were mad. I was soaked: my feet were swimming in my shoes and my ‘waterproof’ pocket in my ‘waterproof’ coat had an inch of rain inside it. I laughed (almost) all the way home.