Magazine article The Spectator

Bad Trip

Magazine article The Spectator

Bad Trip

Article excerpt

Your ordeal starts innocuously enough.

'Welcome aboard the south east trains service to London Waterloo. This train will be calling at . . . ' You settle back in your seat and for a few moments wallow in blissful ignorance of the ruthless campaign of mental torture that is about to be unleashed on you as part of a complete moral and intellectual reconditioning by state agents for anti-democratic purposes.

'The ticket inspector will shortly be making his way through the train.' You recognise the silkily patronising voice of Patricia Hewitt but think no more about it. She can't have had that many offers when Gordon took over, and it's regular work. Of course, time was when we didn't need to have the ticket inspector introduced, least of all by the former health secretary. We knew who he was by instinct. Something in the blue uniform and ticket-punching device spoke to us on another level. However, now that human beings are officially classified as idiots, we need to be told. Possibly it also makes the inspector feel valued as a south east trains employee. Before the glorious birth of the intercom device, he would sit in the guards' room shaking his head moaning, 'I can't go out there.' The buffet-car lady would have to coax him, 'Go on, Derek. You can do it.

Remember your basic training.' In any case, he presents himself now after a suspiciously short interval.

'For your safety this train is staffed by travel safety officers who will be making their way though the train.' The next second, very much as if by south east trains magic, a travel safety officer appears. He's wearing a yellow fluorescent jerkin and wielding the mind-zapper gun from Star Trek.

'Do try to keep all personal belongings with you . . . ' The way she puts the emphasis on 'do' makes it clear that she fully expects you to fail.

'Safety information is displayed in all coaches. If you see anything suspicious please tell a member of staff . . . ' You catch yourself thinking, 'I'll tell the travel safety officer!' There is a brief pause during which you feel your true self resurface. 'I was born in Kenilworth, Warwickshire. I like sushi. My favourite colour is green . . . ' Then: 'Closed-circuit television and video recording are in use on this train.'

You have been captive for a mere 30 minutes when the heavy stuff begins. …

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