By Macon Holt
“I’m so sorry Edwin couldn’t be here today Charles. It’s just this city y’know, if it’s not one thing it’s
another, I’m sure you understand”, explained Paul Brewer of the MoL office. Only a cynical person would have described Paul’s tone as insincere, but such a person would have been right. When meeting someone serious, someone of influence, not just some white public impressed by arcane verbiage, Edwin could easily be a hindrance. “We just thought, what with the event bearing down on us, as it is, we should really get a motor on. Get some momentum behind the logistics”.
“Paul, I could not agree more, and given that today is a Saturday, only a week to go, I’m sure Mayor Gilbert…”
“Please Charles, call him Edwin. Edwin likes to seem approachable, which he is.”
The interruption caused a pause.
“Okay, Edwin must have had a particularly pressing engagement to keep him away, we know how he so wants to encourage a convergence of cultural and commercial life in the city, and we appreciate it. We’re just so glad to have your good self and?”
“Shami”, Shami introduced herself. They had worked together for years but Paul always forgot the names of underlings when he was unsure of his position in the room.
“Yes Shami, Shami is wonderful”, said Paul, by way of necessary apology “so on-top-of-things, a real go-getta, really one to sort things out. Especially in a neighbourhood like this”. Shami comforted herself by shooting a cold glance at Paul, she knew that he would not notice but that Charles just might. If he did, it would be a delight to watch him use this awareness of subordinate contempt to make Paul squirm.
“Well… Well, that’s just fantastic, and I think I can speak for Dan, Esteban and myself when I say we are really excited to make headway today on the behalf on Samsung. The Folks at head office are really looking forward to seeing how we get on”.
Paul looked puzzled, ‘See?’ he thought ‘they aren’t in the room, how are they going to see how they get on?’ Pauls look must have communicated more than he intend to Charles or Charles’s perception was, as Paul dreaded, exceptional sharp because Charles then spoke up.
“Oh Gosh, did we forget to mention that we’d like to live stream this meeting to Japan. Yeah, we’re really going to need to do that. I hope it’s not a problem?”
“No, no problem”
“Great! Well just give Esteban here the WiFi pass code and we are ready to go”.
“Ah, well since we’re out of the office that isn’t information I have access to, I’m sure the Station Manager has it”, Paul had become flustered, this happened to him in the presence of the commercially successful. “It’s it been ten minutes now I’m sure…” Paul referred, at length, to his notes. “Simon, I’m sure Simon will be along shortly and we can get it sorted then”. Paul had known Simon intermittently for the last five years but for some reason always forgot his name.
There followed a small polite but pained smile from Charles, the expressions’ of his entourage did not change buried as they were in small screens.
“Shami, could you just pop your head out there and see what’s keeping the Station Manager?”
“Of course”, said Shami as she stood up, she placed the files on her chair and went to the door. Esteban, opened the Samsung laptop and fixed a webcam facing out from the back of the screen so as to leave the identities of the observers unknown. He eagerly awaited connection. Dan, once again, checked notes on his Galaxy-tab. Charles, elbow on the desk, and chin in hand, smiled benignly at Paul. Paul smiled back but knew himself to be weaker than everyone else in this room. This perception would only change in Paul once Shami came back with the Station Manager. Then things would be different.
“Ah Shami” exclaimed Paul, welcoming her by way of thanks for the break in tension as his assistant opened the office door.
“He’ll just be a minute, it’s just it’s a match day and things have only just started to calm down a bit”, Explained Shami as she took her seat once again and adjusted her tight fitting suit jacket on her slight, attractive figure.
“Great”, smiled Charles, even as his eyes lingered on Shami as she smoothed her jacket and skirt, his sincerity was more authentic than Paul’s, and Paul knew it, and knew that Charles knew it too.
“Sorry I’m late everyone”, said Simon the Station Manager entering his commandeered office, out of chaotic scenes only briefly visible through the door “it’s just it’s a match day and things have only just started to calm down for the time being”, the repetition of such an excuse caused Paul to dig his nails into the inside of his fist, clenched under the table, he suddenly felt very thin. Thin and pale. “And with people drinking more at home before the match”, Simon continued, “y’know with prices in the stadium so much higher now, things can get a little hairy between the home and away fans on the stairs at Upton Park Station”.
“Samsung’s Upton Park Station” Dan corrected. These were the first words he had spoken since entering the room and had greeted Paul with what was little more than a technically audible exhalation. A tall slender man, he chose not sit, instead he lent, elegantly, against a pillar in an alcove created by an intersection between pillar and the office desk. He had only looked up from his tab momentarily to issue the correction and his eye’s had already returned to the screen held aloft by his left hand, his right poised for action. The others were sat around another table that was usually the scene of station staff meetings. It wasn’t large but it was enough space for what one would call a group to sit around and discuss frankly whilst not overly invading anyone else’s space. It was made of chipboard and topped with a wood design and laminated finish that was cracked with age. Dan’s decision, or perhaps compulsion, not to sit had afforded the Station Manager a chair. However, it was clear to Simon that after committing such a faux pas he would not be welcome to sit on either of the occupied sides of the table. As he went to move the chair to a position in the middle of the two groups, he said, quite sincerely, “Oh, I am sorry about that, old habits”.
“Please Simon”, Paul noticed that Charles had already learnt the Station Mangers name and then lost all the comfort Simon’s entrance had afforded him, “don’t worry about it. Dan, he’s from branding and takes these things too seriously’, Dan was unmoved by this oblique reproach. ‘We at Samsung understand these things take time, after all we are asking to become part of the community, which is a big ask.” With that Charles stood slightly and stretch his hand out to the Station Manager, his fine cuff links just visible, proud of his jacket sleeve. Simon reciprocated and they both took their seats again. He was very pleased to have had his mistake expunged.
“Well,” began Paul “thanks for taking the time to meet with us today, Simon. We appreciate you doing this especially on such a busy day.”
“It means a lot Simon”.
“No, well of course, it always a pleasure to meet the stations sponsor, you fellows are what allowed to keep my job and it’s always a pleasure to get a representative from the Mayor in our neck of the wood”, said Simon with due deference.
“Simon, we’re happy we could help”, Charles placed his hands on the desk flat and looked at Simon right in the eyes.
“WiFi”, Said Dan
“Oh of course yes”, Paul inserted himself, determined to be helpful at this juncture, “Simon, do you think you could give these good gentlemen the code to connect to the Station WiFi? They need to send video of the meeting to head office”
“I’m afraid I can’t sir. It s all hard lines I afraid, in a mess of custom length cables in the desk”.
“Paul its fine”, said Charles with a sigh, “Esteban, you now have permission to activate 4G, we’ll just add it to the expenses”.
“I am so sorry Charles, Shami why don’t the stations have Wifi”.
Shami looked intently at her notes. She had learnt that over her time in the department that Paul would move on immediately if an instruction from him, no matter how unreasonable, was met with an instantaneous, reflexive, reaction, no matter how ineffective. The shorter the gap between these two points and the faster Paul would be placated. She cracked a tiny smile, enjoying that cavalier attitude to budget cuts and delaying modernisation, that had won him minor plaudits, now caused him an almost existential humiliation. Not for the first time. By this point Paul’s life-long paranoia, that the rest of the world (office) was, if not actively working against him, at the very least not working for him, was reasonably accurate. It hadn’t always been that way though, Paul had worn them down.
“Relax Paul, its fine. Do we have a connection Esteban?” Without looking up from the screen Esteban gave a thumbs up. Esteban wasn’t talking so much these days. “Wonderful, well lets get Started then”, Charles slowly moved his hand from the table to form a steeple with his fingers interlaced. Both cuff links were now visible, as was the tailoring of his suit. The fabric stretched over his biceps, the sight of which betrayed substantial exercise though not to excess. The suit did not appear to strain, it was exceedingly well tailored. “We are so pleased with how our sponsorship of Upton Park station has gone so far”, Dan bristled at the sound of the branding error. “And of course we need to extend our gratitude to Paul as the London Underground Station Sponsorship Scheme’s (LUSSS) manager, but also to you Simon as someone who handles our account, I’m sorry station, on the day-to-day.”
“It’s been a pleasure…”, Simon knew he couldn’t address Charles as sir because Charles had introduced himself as Charles but with the man from MoL office there he felt too surveyed to use any first names and Charles had not given his surname. As a solution Simon gave an exaggerated nod with a tight-lipped smile in place of a name or title. Simon was a slightly overweight man with receding white hair in his late fifties of Bangladeshi decent. He had not been one to overly accommodate the whims of management in the past. Yes, he had decided it was necessary, given the suspicious nature of the country to not use his given name, Sakib, but since getting his foot in the door he had found graft to serve him better than sycophantary. However the restructuring since the introduction of LUSSS had made everyone nervous.
Many had already lost their jobs with the closure of ticket offices and when the station went up for sale, those no sponsor had found to be viable or accommodating enough had closed and the jobs were lost with them. The truth, it seemed, was that, with recent increase in bandwidth, business had decided people really didn’t need to come in to the office so much and so stations outside of Zone 1 were designated surplus to requirement. With extra busses put on it was an all round saving of time money and even, according to numerous MoL sponsored reports, the environment. However, these areas where the stations had closed soon became isolated pockets, filled with people, emmigrated from the provinces, who had become increasingly uneasy about heading out the front door.
“And let me thank you Charles for your close involvement over the last few years, it really makes a difference when…”
“That’s not necessary Paul”.
To Paul, Charles’s tone seemed incredibly sharp but no one else seemed to notice this. He felt quite alone.
“Simon, lets get down to it, I can see you are having just a crazily busy day and the last thing Samsung would want is to be any more of an imposition than we already have been.”
“Yes Simon, that’s the same for the whole LUSSS and MOL office, maybe even double”
Paul’s enthusiastic faux deference caused a smirking glance from corner of Charles’ eye, like an animated Bengal tiger. Paul had to look away from Charles and more intently at Simon. Simon, with his daughter at university, in the first year the Student Loan Company had been totally removed leaving university loans to the private market, smiled through more nerves than he could ever remember experiencing previously, even cumulatively. Shami was finally able to look up from her notes.
“For Samsung, this station in Upton Park has been a real boon. I just caught a glimpse at the footie fans on the stairs as you came in Simon, I couldn’t see a single iPhone”. In truth Charles hadn’t seen anything through the tiny sliver of the doors opening. But he always felt it was best to make everyone feel like a winner before asking for something inconvenient and if he could do so without technically lying, so much the better. “We think the game day crowds pushing through way through here have really had a significant impact on our sales. It is really quite something to see those Galaxy Tablet hanging in the ticket hall displaying departure and arrivals. So many journeys started and finished, the moments before friends and family reunite counted on a Samsung interactive surface. We couldn’t be more proud.”
“Well”, said Simon trying to find some sturdy ground in this conversation, “that means a lot, not just for me, although we all have been working extra hard since L.U.S.S.S came…”
“LUSSS”, Dan, from branding, interrupted
“But here’s the thing Si, with West Ham’s imminent move to the Former Olympic Stadium, Samsung just aren’t sure if it will be cost effective to subsidies this great little place. Oh, and Paul, I feel would totally be remiss if I didn’t at this point as you to pass on, if they haven’t already, Samsung’s and my personal congratulations to Edwin for a-job-well-done on the games back in 2012. Even with everything that happened in Rio, London’s time in the light really has a place in my heart. Sorry Si, Dan interrupted you, and then I just ploughed on like an oaf, you were saying?”
“Just, that it has meant a lot to the fans too, and the neighbourhood, but yes I guess you’re right the fans will be moving on. Haha”, Simon laughed nervously, “I suppose it was always odd that West Ham’s stadium was in East Ham, eh?”
“Yes quite”, Charles inhaled in such a ways as to declare that he was about to talk at length during which interruption would be quite impossible “Si, the fans are leaving, that’s the way it is, bigger and better things. And we would love to keep supporting the Club but as you know Apple sponsor Stratford and even Pudding Mill Lane. Of course we have West Ham itself, and with the national Rail connection and everything that station’s future is as close to secure as it can be, but it’s become increasingly clear that unless we do something drastic, and I mean drastic and innovative, we might end up losing on some of our investments in LUSSS and that is the last thing we would want, our involvement in LUSSS has been ever so rewarding for both us and the city…”
“And we couldn’t agree more”, interrupted Paul, “and that why we at the MoL LUSSS, in consultation with Samsung, have developed the TrekLondonUndergroundEventsRoutingInitiative”. Too late Paul realised that, what he thought had been a conversational coup de grâce, gaining him the upper hand over that toff Charles, had in fact obligated him to explain this nightmarish concept. Charles established himself as a supportive but prudent business man. He seemed reasonable, looking out for the companies interests but with no desire to make enemies. His moves in these situations, while not always kind, could always be understood in relation to what he had come here to achieve. With this as the consensus view on Charles felt by all but one person in the room, it now fell to Paul to explain an idea, the first mention of which heard at 5am that morning via an email from a think tank. The name of which think tank, at this moment, Paul could only think was Insufferably Smug rather than simply communicating that affect. Attached to the email was the report from which the scheme was derived. The title of the report made no reference to either the title of the scheme it proposed or the mechanics of said scheme. Instead the title was a convoluted formulation: Helping the office of the MOL to help the TFL to help LU to help Samsung help the people of London. Shami had become entirely detached from Paul’s struggle to justify his existence. She had been awoken by the email half an hour before him. And, while she was familiar with what the plan entailed, it was not until it was enunciated, made real in the room in the telling to someone uninitiated, that the implications for her week became apparent. At the very least she would have to cancel climbing.
“Is there anything you would like to add at this point Charles?”
“No, no, I wouldn’t want to interrupt you when you’re on a role Paul, you have my undivided attention.”
“Great…” Paul swallowed “Well T.L.U.E.R.I,”
“TLUERI”, Dan interrupted. Since Paul had put the full title into the air Dan had emailed IS for all the relevant branding details. If Dan lacked skills for anything it was certainly not in consistency of brand identity.
“Yes of course, Simon, with TLUERI we want to use some of what you might think are disadvantages about London and, with TLUERI”, he coughed, with this repetition Paul knew his cheeks would increasingly redden with each utterance of the poorly arranged acronym for at least the remainder of this meeting. “With TLUERI erm, turn them into advantages”, Paul looked up at Dan for approval but was faced with only eyes on a screen and the visible scalp of the soon to be bald. The approving smile from Charles with faux inquisitive eyes was too much to bear for more than a moment. “See London is big, Si-mon, really too big to get around even by high speed mass transit, especially if you want or need to get somewhere on time. For example, say you spend £170 on concert tickets and then you miss half-an-hour of the darn thing because you’re trapped at signal failure at Mile End. But of course we want people to take the trains. It is after all a really important part of Edwin’ green initiative and also they really are great I must stress that you do a hell of a job. Add to this the fact that there is always something going in the city. You might go into the city for one thing and feel compelled to seize the day and cram in any number of things. But all that day seizing can really exacerbate things, tiredness, and lack of enjoyment, not to mention Mile End signal failure in terms of lateness. Then you get to this major event, say at Hyde Park, just for example, and the its summer so the stations around there are hot and crowded with other exhausted people, and after you got enraptured at Spitalfields market for longer than you meant to and had the trouble with the Mile End signal failure and now a hundred sweaty people, confused likely tourists, are standing between you and this Saturday’s Rolling Stones Farewell Concert. Well we think we have the Solution to all this Simon and in doing so we think it will also help with Upton Park’s LUSSS problem too.”
Dan then, once again, reminded the room that the station correct brand name was Samsung’s Upton Park Station. Paul took this as invitation to drink a little longer from his thin white plastic cup. “Thank you Dan”, sighed Charles, he looked at his watch discreetly. Dan was unmoved by the ever seeping silences he had caused.
“Simon, we want to use the opportunity of next weekends Rolling Stones Farewell Concert in Hyde Park to trial LUSSS’s new TLUERI initiative. We want to propose that rather than using an overcrowded tube station near the venues, with plenty of opportunity for Mile End signal failure related foul ups, that patrons of the Parks summer attractions take the, three and one half hour, scenic route, really seize the day with some, oh what did our man in The Guardian say, some psycho-geographical urban exploration. Yes that was it.”
“We think it could be really good for cross community relations” Shami inserted.
“We propose encouraging, through marketing – both conventional, TV Radio, print etc. and new media, hopefully viral – and TLUERI special promotional tickets and map packs and online tracker, attached to the aforementioned marketing, that we make Samsung’s Upton Park Station, the station of choice, or perhaps, at least second choice for attending events in Hyde Park.” Paul blurted this out in a single breath, he was relieved it was finally out but anxious to close the issue. He was, however, too exhausted from the nervous tension that had preceded the release to reiterate the concept. In his exhaustion his eyes met Simon’s, contained within a brow furrowed with concern and moments away from terror.
“Thanks for laying this out Paul”, Charles broke the silence, just as it had started to turn. “See, Simon, we really think this could be an opportunity to reimagine transport in London. Not as just a set of island connected by bus stops and tube stations, where you’re here one minute and magically somewhere else the next. We want to give people the opportunity to live the city”.
“I’m sorry sir, but Hyde Park is over ten miles from here, he just said that walk would take more than three hours!?” Simon had found himself unable to remain silent any longer.
“Exactly Simon, what better way to live London than to actually have to spend time on its streets.”
“But people might get lost, it’s such a long way”, Simon protested.
“People walk further for water in Africa” Dan stated.
“Thankyou again for interjecting Daniel,” Charles said, shooting a glance at, once again, an unmoved Daniel. “But, more to the point, thank you Simon for raising a valid concern. It, Hyde Park that is, is a long way from here, which as we have established is mostly a positive, but it is logistically difficult to make sure everyone going such a long way to such a specific place gets there, and on time. We must not forget that when we sell the promo tickets the concert and transport will become an item together, lost people my want to claim refunds. We have legal working with IS as we speak to minimise this with the terms and conditions but, beyond the liability, really we need something like an 85% success rate to make this whole TLUERI scheme work. And that is why we have invited you here Simon. We need your stations staff to work with this scheme as ‘sign posts’ while receiving, what we have been told we can refer to as, a generous bonus for their trouble. Point people in the right way”
“Well”, began Simon, “I just don’t know if we have the resources here, sir, sorry I mean Charles. The Station only employs twelve people, since the ticketing became fully automated, and only three or four are on duty at any one time.”
“Hmm, that is troubling, Paul what can we do about that?”
“I’m sure we can redirect something. Shami”
“Mmm hmm, I think so,” replied Shami as she pencilled in the note +1½.
“Just fantastic, Well Si, I have to shoot, thanks for taking the time to speak with me today, I think we have really made progress in keeping this place open,” Charles closed his folder and began to get up to leave.
“But if, we hare sign posting the route, who will man the station, the ticket barriers, they’re faulty, sometimes they don’t open or even trap people and we still haven’t had the disability refurbishment so we can’t get people up and down the stairs without staff here.” As Simon said this he felt that to hang on an for five more years to retire, in order to clear the mortgage, seemed foolhardy. Perhaps he’d rather lose his home of twenty years than enact this plan. But, perhaps not.
“Mmhm, well Esteban will be in touch in the next couple of days to firm things out logistically and, for the time being, if you could take this branding pack that Dan has put together and see to raising the visibility of the project. But I’m afraid we really have to get going. We have a meeting at Samsung Richmond this afternoon, which as I am sure you are aware is quite the walk from here. I’m sure Paul can help in the meantime Simon, he’s really a brilliant guy, put together the whole LUSSS thing, dynamite problem solver. Also Paul, great to see you again, I hope we don’t leave it so long next time, really have to run.” The Samsung team, then, seemingly evaporated and were sucked from the office by the door before Paul had a chance to reciprocate the well wishes. Silence once again befell the room. Paul knew that he no longer possessed the personal resources to control the room, they had been spent on the announcement of the scheme, on what he thought had been a battle with Charles, but only a person of condescending generosity would have called that a battle. He knew reasonableness was not an option for his survival; he had to get out of the room.
“We can’t do it Paul sir. It’s just so impractical”, said Simon with dismay, hoping to get a response that acknowledged this basic physical fact. “We haven’t the people”.
“Simon, I don’t want to hear can’ts”, Paul had found what he could force as an out. “I want you to take your and our involvement in LUSSS seriously. Shami and I are going to go outside, we will call this a lunch break, and when we come back, in say an hour, I want a more cooperative attitude from you.” With that Paul scooped up his papers and gestured to Shami to follow. Paul opened the office door, eyes closed with the relief of escape, and walked straight into the torrent of fans on their way to the match at West Ham United Stadium. The collision, already awkward and embarrassing, caused Paul to spin and lose the majority of his papers. As he rose after recollecting what he could he found himself faced with a loud hailer announcing that passengers should keep left and keep their contactless payment and oyster cards separate to avoid card clash. More alert Shami followed Paul from the office and closed the door.
Simon sat for a few moments with his head in his hands. At 11 o’clock in the morning he was so very tired of the day. Then he remembered his daughter, starting at university this year for what remained of the government student loans and realised that this would just be one more thing, like changing his name to Simon, that he would have to bear. He picked up his radio and asked for Priya to come to his office. A few moments later she arrived, a rotund Asian woman in her late-mid thirties with a loud hailer dangling from her wrist. She stood in the doorway assuming the meeting would not take long, however, as Simon explained the present situation she gradually came further into the room closing the door. When he had finished Simon looked down, wondering how he too could leave the room, his own office. “I can’t come in on Saturday Simon, I have to go with Amla’s brownie troupe to Kew Gardens, we’re collecting insects”, said Priya assuredly.
“Priya I have had it up to here with this lacklustre attitude”, Simon responded, he had found his way out of the room. “Either you start taking TLF and London Underground and LUSSS and SUPS and TLUERI seriously or we may have to take more drastic measures regarding your future here”. Simon then rose, deliberately, from his chair and marched out of the room slamming the door, leaving Priya and her loud hailer in his office, alone.
Esteban had grown up in Cambridge. He wasn’t Spanish. His father however, unbeknownst to his mother, had been having an affair with a Spaniard and had insisted on the name as some sort of misplaced romanticism. It had seemed strange to his father though that he had met with, what he felt was surprisingly little resistance from Esteban’s mother on the matter of the name, an unusual occurrence on any issue. This is likely because his mother, unbeknownst to his father, was having an affair with said same Spaniard. Esteban’s friend’s called him Easty, and the romance was gone. It was an attempt to sound street, but it was insufferable to all listeners. After finishing University, at a albeit lower member of the Russell Group institutions, with an upper-second class degree in computing he had worked for a number of companies, mysteriously referred to as the industry, despite the no two companies being in any way connected in anything other than operating websites for the benefit of whatever it was they ostensibly sold. Talents such as his were rewarded increasingly well but the demanding hours seemed to preclude all but the most sensational of socialising. So like many of the newly affluent in London, without a compulsion to acquire property, likely ingrained by being only a generation from wealth, he spent a considerable amount on cocaine and indulged in numerous liaisons, only two of which had resulted in pregnancy and only one of which could not be resolved. On the morning of his thirty-third half birthday, a fact of which he was unaware, he became painfully aware of something else. As he got out of bed, leaving his now heavily pregnant ‘girlfriend’ still sleeping, he performed a calculation against his will. He worked out that since the age of twenty he had spent enough on cocaine to fund a vast amount of Internet Startups. An amount so vast it would beat the odds for success, twice. He didn’t speak for his entire half birthday. Since then he’s taken a less exciting career turn, working as high level tech and logistics support for Samsung execs. He speaks a lot less and changes a lot more nappies now, for which he is glad to have largely blown out his sense of smell.
In the week following the meeting at SUPS Esteban had arranged, with Simon the station manger, a meeting the Wednesday before the concert to iron out the details of the implementation of TLUERI that Saturday. However on the Tuesday night while jogging around his neighbourhood in Notting Hill he was stabbed and left in an ally to die, which he did, in fact, then do. The man who stabbed him was a somewhat unhinged individual. And this particular, complicated person had become unstable after his music software startup had collapsed, leaving him bankrupt and unable to startup again. He found the large fashionable headphones that Esteban had been wearing as he jogged past, an unpleasant reminder of his situation. The unhinged starter-upper demanded that Esteban remove the headphone or he, the start-upper, would ‘fuck him up’ and/or similar disservices. Unfortunately, Esteban was unable to hear this demand, or the sound of the deranged up start breaking into a sprint to pursue him. It was not until contact was made that Esteban’s heart rate rose above a healthy 127 bpm. No one else on the street on which Esteban had lived experienced anything so atrocious for the next fifty years. Esteban’s body was not discovered until Thursday and so the meeting had, well and truly, been missed.