Panic! Panic! Quick! Put the iPod in your ear before he arrives - it doesn't matter what you put on! Don't let him talk to you! Pretend you're busy/distracted/pig ignorant! Just try not to catch his eye!
"Hi. Sorry to bother you..."
Are there five more irritating words in the English language (apart from "Terry Christian returns to TV")? I cringe involuntarily everytime someone with a clipboard approaches, no matter how open and willing their face is. I am quite happy shopping, or getting some lunch, or going to work; I have my iPod and a copy of Moonraker. I don't want any extraneous human contact, thank you very much, so kindly take your survey and your clipboard and wander out of my peripheral vision.
(The Bf, incidentally, is the exact opposite, which is how we somehow ended up getting a Kays catalogue while holidaying on the Norfolk Broads).
On my train to work last week, the elderly gent handing out surveys conspicuously ignored my negative body language (consisting of rolling my eyes back into my head, forming a cruciform with my arms, and hissing violently) and pushed his survey into my hands anyway.
It was a survey entitled "Passenger Priorities VI: Merseyside". Other well known Part VIs include Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (excellent); Police Academy VI: City Under Siege (dreadful); and Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare (goat testes). This survey is more along the lines of Leprechaun 6: Back 2 Tha Hood, in the sense you're not going to see anything surprising here, but there's still a nasty undercurrent. Though admittedly there's not much Warwick Davies in it.
It was, in short, a customer satisfaction questionnaire, and I metaphorically licked my pencil and ploughed into it with glee. The first few questions were simple enough - where are you going, what time was the train.
Then it started on the preference section, and things got a bit sinister. Here are some things that could be improved on this particular route. There are a number of pairs and for each one please tick the improvement you would most like to see.
Now I should admit that I was a little bit drunk on power at this point. In my head, the questionnaire was going to be rushed to Hatton Garden so that the bosses at Merseytravel could quake in fear at my amazing and utterly right opinions. These questions though, were polarising, and I began to feel a bit anxious at my choices, because there was no option for "both". I mean, which would you prefer, "Personal Security Whilst On Board The Train" or "Litter bins on the train"? Well, actually, I'd like both, if you don't mind. A cleanly scrubbed floor is no consolation when you're being clubbed to death by violent thugs. Same goes for "Punctuality/reliability of the train" vs. "Being able to get a seat on the train" - how about a seat on a train that's on time? I don't think I'm asking for the moon on a stick.
Worst of all was the presence of "Value for money for price of ticket". It was a bit underhand, a sort of get out clause that meant they could disregard all my other preferences. Flash forward to 2010, and rail bosses are justifying why there's no investment in the rail network, why passenger facilities are going down hill, and why the trains are all late: "Well, we was going to spend £100 billion pounds making everything utterly fabulous, but then Scott from Merseyside said he wanted value for money from his ticket. We couldn't make everything fabulous without putting up ticket prices, so we just didn't bother. Blame him when you're stuck on the platform at East Croydon in the pissing rain with no waiting room, no toilet and the train's three hours late."
I started trying to second guess the form, trying to get ahead of the form, but damn those nefarious pollsters! They twisted and turned and thwarted my plans.
I haven't sent it off yet. I will as soon as I've worked out exactly what sort of message I want to send to Network Rail, and besides, I've run out of Tippex...