The Bell Tolls

Good morning Tash Appreciators,

I woke up on Wednesday to the joyous news that First Scotrail has been unsuccessful in retaining its franchise to run most of Scotland’s train services for the next ten years. TF’s dissatisfaction with Scotrail has been well documented and I won’t repeat the standard complaints that most – if not all – Scotrail customers make against their local train service.

Tash Friday 10:10:14 4

For some very strange reason, when I heard the news I immediately thought: “the bell tolls”. I thought about tweeting @scotrail “the bell finally tolls for thee.” I didn’t, that would not have been good for my Twitter-cred.

What I did do was wonder where that phrase about bells tolling came from.

It turns out the phrase comes from a passage in John Donne’s, Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, Meditation XVII: Nunc Lento Sonitu Dicunt, Morieris. I’m sure you’re all familiar with Mr Donne’s seventeenth century work (and his very pointy beard) but here’s the relevant part (and a painting of his beard!):

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells toll; it tolls for thee.”

Tash Friday 10:10:14

There are apparently a few interpretations of that passage but I think he’s saying we’re all connected and that if the bell tolls for one of us, or if one us suffers loss, we are all diminished.

Let’s test out our old chum John Donne’s theory in relation to the loss of First Scotrail:

  1. First Scotrail’s franchise is being taken over by a Dutch company. First is run from aberdeen and so, perhaps, this means that more of the profits of the business will flow out of Scotland than before.
  2. Scotrail will have presumably done their best over the last couple of years to pull out all of the stops to ensure that their service was as good as it could have been in an attempt to keep the franchise. Will the new franchisee have the same incentive given that they’re here for at least five years and probably ten?
  3. Some of what is wrong with Scotrail’s current service stems from the network itself; which they annoyingly remind us is nothing to do with them.
  4. Does changing the franchisee every ten years discourage real investment in improvements?
  5. Perhaps most importantly, Scotrail employs almost 5,000 people. As we know, in most cases where ownership of a business is transferred or there is any kind of major reorganisation, “rationalisation” – which always seems a gruesome euphemism for sacking people – occurs. We don’t really believe that we’ll soon be travelling between any Scottish city for a fiver – as has apparently been promised – so why would we believe that there won’t be any compulsory redundancies?

Having thought about it, I think big John Donne pretty much nailed the economic realities of a 21st century liberal society. That’s pretty solid work for a guy from the 1600s.

Anyway, having bored you all rigid with that, it’s time for the Tash. Ernest Hemingway saw the truth in what John Donne said and gave one of his books the title: “For Whom The Bell Tolls”. Apart from trying to work out how Hemingway came across Donne’s work without the assistance of Google, I realised that this was as good an opportunity as I’m going to get to use a quote of Hemingway’s which I particularly like:

“Never mistake motion for action.”

I almost made that mistake this week when I heard that Scotrail was being sacked. I’ll wait to see if the change is motion or action.

As you’d expect from one of the 20th centuries great wordsmiths, Hemingway wore an excellent Tash.

Tash Friday 10:10:14

Have a great weekend folks!

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