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How long have you got?

Aside from all my usual nonsense about dull things like levy, I was highly amused to read Simon Sebag-Montefiore in the Spectator Diary this week writing about how a mistake which was made by a newspaper in a 2004 promotion is now forever elongated with every new interview he does.

Back then, someone mistakenly wrote that his mother’s family was descended from Ukrainian peasants, which offended her hugely. But rather than the point ever being corrected, it has grown steadily worse: in 2006, they were ‘dancing peasants’. By 2008, ‘hairy dancing peasants’. And by 2010, he says, they ‘cavorted in shoes made of paper and string, kaftans instead of trousers, and had straw in their lice-infested hair’.

It amused me not because I delight in his family’s angst but because the elongation of perfectly sound and self-explanatory statements has long been a bug-bear of mine. I am sure it started with aeroplanes, where the end-of-flight message to cabin crew, ‘doors to manual’, has now developed into something approaching the Gettysberg address.

The first piece of elongation was “cabin crew, doors to manual”, as if any of the passengers strapped in was suddenly going to jump to their feet to perform a task which they wouldn’t, in any case, know how to do. Admittedly, passengers are hectored for so much of the last hour of a flight with other, broadly irrelevant, announcements that the uninitiated might assume that anyone on the PA system can only be making comments directed at them.

Next it became, “cabin crew, doors to manual and cross check”. Evidently, someone, somewhere, had once been asleep on the job. You can imagine the poor unsuspecting member of the ground staff who opened the door, and had the emergency chute inflate in their face.

If that was safer, though, it apparently wasn’t polite enough. It soon morphed into, “cabin crew, thank you very much. Doors to manual, and cross check.” And – I kid you not – on my most recent excursion with British Airways, they actually said, “Cabin crew, thank you very much. Please now set the doors to their manual position, and cross check”.

The issue has been more front-of-mind for me recently than in the past, because I now have to trudge through Victoria every morning. I used to scooter to work, but since I moved, I take the tube. As a result, I have found it impossible not to notice not just how many absolutely irrelevant and trivial announcements are made (such that when one comes along that is important, everyone misses it in the ambient noise), but also the inexorable elongation of simple statements, which seem to take on a life of  their own. ‘Stand clear of the doors’ – a sensible and perfectly clear instruction – has most recently become (I hesitate to say ‘ended up as’, though chance would be a fine thing): ‘please stand clear of all the available sets of closing doors, and please listen out for further announcements‘ (no word of a joke). ‘What is it with these people?’ I have long asked myself. And on Saturday, I found my answer.

Chancing upon an interview 14 minutes and 45 seconds into the programme on Five Live presented by Christian O’Connell – he who pronounces the word synopsis ‘sine-opsis’ – I discovered – wait for it – that Red Pepper, the guy who does all the trailers for films (‘in a land… where only cabbages have legs… Only one man… can save the planet’), used to be a tube driver. He was ‘spotted’ because a media executive happened to be travelling on his train, and tapped on the window of his tube driver’s compartment to tell him he ought to be in films.

How cool is that? I thought. And then I realised that he must be the reason why everyone else on any form of transport just can’t spend enough time at the microphone.

Unless, of course, there’s a problem, and people need to know what’s going on.

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2 Responses

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  1. Trigger Happy says

    Excellent effort! A man after my own heart there and a spot on Grumpy Old men surely awaits?

  2. MD says

    Haha! Definitely gunning for that…!

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