Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Training for the future

Hallelujah, it's over!  We've come through it again.  We may be fatter, poorer and with liver damage; we may have fallen out irrevocably with certain family members (and announced the fact to a large gathering in a loud, slurred voice); we may be biting our nails to the quick wondering what we're going to do about January's credit card bills, but at least we're still alive.  Our grandparents survived Hitler and his bombs, and their stoicism lives on in us today, kicking in every December 25th, praise be. 

So, how was the C-word (don't make me say it!) for you?  Mine was terrific, thank you for asking.  Because I almost totally avoided it, by working.

Work is a wonderful thing.  Not only do you get paid for it, it enables you to decline invitations without causing offence.  An old acquaintance invites you to their wedding: you can't tell them the truth, which is: "I really can't be bothered to search for a present, travel for hours and blow a small fortune on a hotel room just to see you get married.  I'm too old and tired to make small talk for what will feel like a year and a half with deaf, elderly members of your family.  In any case, I suspect you've only asked me to make the numbers up, or out of a misplaced sense of obligation.  So, thanks all the same, but I won't bother." 

You can, however, say: "Gosh, I'd love to, but I have to work that weekend."  For some reason, that makes it totally alright.  The happy couple probably won't even suggest that you try to swap your shifts.  They certainly won't check that you were telling the truth - they've got far too many other things to fret about - so you don't even really have to be going to work!

In the same way, honest toil is the perfect way to escape the C-word which is why I accepted two radio gigs on C-Day, in cities 80 miles apart.  I spent a total of six hours doing my favourite thing - being on the radio.  I had no opportunity to drink too much or overeat, and I wasn't stuck for long enough with anybody to fall out with them.

And here comes the point of this blog: I was only able to broadcast in London and Southampton because my lovely cousin, God bless her, lent me her car.  Why is it that we are constantly taught that public transport is the way forward, that to own a car, unless you live in the absolute depths of Nowhere-shire, is global-warmingly wicked, yet there is no public transport on Christmas Day?

Actually, that's not quite true; bizarrely, there has always been one form of public transport on the baby Jesus' birthday, and that's air travel.  If you want to fly from Manchester to Madrid or from London to Las Vegas, no problem.  But if you need to get from Birmingham to Bradford or even just nip down the road from Streatham to Stockwell, you'll have to be in possession of a relatively clean driving licence and shell out serious money on a hire car.

It wasn't always thus.  I'm too young to remember but I'm told trains ran on Christmas Day in this country as recently as the 1950s.  Then the car became king.  Cities, like my home town of Birmingham, were disastrously redesigned around them.  Every family aspired to owning one, then two, then more.  To travel by train or bus was for the elderly, the poor and children.

Many of us no longer think that way, but the legacy lives on.  I had to plan my Christmas movements, involving trains, buses and collecting and returning my cousin's car, like a military operation.  And I've got to do it all over again at New Year because, even though there will be some trains on the 31st and 1st, they don't fit my needs.  It's a logistical nightmare.  Thank heavens for my cousin; the cost of a hire car would have meant some of the gigs just weren't worth doing.

Plenty of people work on Christmas Day.  Every TV and radio station puts out a service.  Pubs pull pints, restaurants serve Christmas lunch.  Firefighters fight fires, and someone makes sure your electricity stays on so you don't miss the Royal or the Royale Family.  If you slice your finger off carving the turkey, there's a team waiting at A&E to stitch it back on.   Surely, therefore, sufficient bus and train staff could be found to work on the 25th if it were made worth their while. 

For the first few years, there may be low take-up for the "new" service as people got used to its being there.  Car-loving short-termists would rush to condemn the cost but we should face them down because, after a few years, Christmas Day public transport would seem as normal as dried-out turkey breast and having a shouting match with Uncle Eric. 

Imagine the luxury of both drinking yourself silly and getting back to your own bed for the cost of a bus or train ticket when the in-laws become too much to bear.  You really can't put a price on that.

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