Every morning I start my work day by travelling from the far away land of Friesland to my office in Amsterdam. This normally takes about two hours by train. Although it has resulted in most people thinking I’m crazy for wanting to live so far away it does give me lots of time to write, draw and re-watch the entire seven seasons of Buffy The Vampire Slayer with in just a few weeks. It’s time I use well.
The Curious Incident of The Frisian Swan
During one of my more recent morning trips I noticed that my train had started to slow down while we were still within Friesland. Eventually we were just creeping forward a section of track at a time. A few moments later the train conductor provided an explanation over the intercom system in Dutch (which I have translated into English):
“Ladies and Gentlemen. As you might have noticed we are going slower than normal. This is because there are reports of an injured swan on the tracks… It is a Frisian swan so ‘that’ is why we are going slower.”
He seemed to be stressing the fact that it was a ‘Frisian swan’ and not any old injured swan from some other lesser province. Was that the only reason we were slowing down? Would we still have been going full speed if it was a Dutch swan or would he have stopped the train, got out and given it a fine for travelling on the tracks without a valid ticket? I guess he was just a proud Frisian train conductor or Frisian Swans are rarer than unicorns.
Ten minutes later we started to speed up again and an even prouder sounding train conductor returned to the intercom.
“Ladies and Gentlemen. We have returned to normal speed since we have passed the Frisian swan. It is now safe and being taken care of so it’s all good news.”
I was surprised that there was not a stirring instrumental version of the Frisian anthem playing in the background as he made his announcement. I half expected the other Friesian commuters on the train to throw their hats up in the air and cheer. As a resident of Friesland I was ready and willing to join in but sadly the train carriage remained quiet. I guess I was in the carriage with only Dutch passengers.
My morning train ride was going smoothly. The train had arrived on time, it was heading in the correct direction and I’d even managed to get a seat. As we arrived at our final destination the intercom crackled to life and the conductor started his routine announcement, first in his native language of Dutch and then in his not so native language of English.
These announcements are often a source of amusement because the English part does not always go as the announcer planned or would have liked. The meaning of a sentence can be so easily changed by misplacing a few words (I know because I do it all the time in Dutch). This morning’s announcement ended up being a little suggestive.
“Ladies and Gentlemen. The next station is Amsterdam. Please remember to take off your personal belongings as you leave the train.”
It took me a second to realize what I had just heard. Take off our personal belongings? I know the Dutch are a very open minded people but had the train announcer really just suggested that we all take off our clothes as we leave the train? I’m not sure I want to know my fellow train passengers so intimately. It would be quite a shock for the people on the platform too if the doors opened and a steady stream of naked people suddenly exited the train.
I decided to keep my clothes on. Luckily so did everyone else.
It was early in the morning and I was still half asleep. The train I was sitting in was already running late because of either a engine malfunction, leaves on the track or a space time anomaly. I was not sure which because, after all, I was still half asleep. The important thing to know was that it meant we were arriving in Amsterdam ten minutes later than normal.
Being on a delayed train can sometimes be quite funny. You’ll often hear quite a few people chuckling to themselves. Not because the train is delayed (as that would suggest they have lost their minds) but because of the unintentionally funny apologies often made by the train conductors. On trains to Amsterdam especially they will often try to make their announcements in both English and Dutch, with varying degrees of success. In fact, they will sometimes be half way through a sentence when they suddenly realise that it has all got a little too complicated. That will be the moment when they just randomly grab at any English word that comes to mind in a panic. However, this morning the train conductor decided to deal with it a little differently.
“Ladies and gentlemen. Unfortunately we have arrived in Amsterdam…”
He suddenly paused. We waited. It went on for a while… And then, he simply decided to abandon the sentence.
“Have a nice day.”
It had almost been possible to hear him thinking over the intercom. I think the words he had been looking for were, “with a delay of 10 minutes,” but we will never know for sure. It is entirely possible that he just really does not like Amsterdam.
“Cabin crew to landing positions please. Cabin crew to landing positions.”
I sit up suddenly, snapped out of my day dreaming by the unexpected announcement. What? Landing? How can we be landing now?
“Ladies and gentlemen this is your captain speaking. We will shortly be arriving at Rotterdam central.”
Rotterdam? I don’t even know if Rotterdam has an airport? How can we be landing there? What is going on?
“The local time is 11:16pm. Weather conditions are good with a temperature of -2.”
I am deeply confused, not because we are making a sudden and un-expected landing but because we are making any kind of landing at all, because I am sitting on a train, a normal, regular train that does not have wings and is not capable of flight (as far as I know it).
“We hope you have enjoyed your flight with the Dutch railway service and we hope to see you again soon.”
Maybe the train driver is having a nervous breakdown…
“Dames en heren. Excuuses voor mijn alter-ego, de Engelse Kapitein. De volgende stop is Rotterdam Centraal.”
…or has a split personality.
– – – – –
Translation = “Ladies and gentlemen. I apologise for my alter ego the English captain. Next stop is Rotterdam central.”
As I stare out into the cold night air of Rotterdam from the station platform where I await the arrival of my train I realize that I am a man who has been lied to. I am a man who has been wronged… I am a man suffering injustice.
The train time table clearly stated that the next train to Dordrecht would be arriving at platform 7 at 23:01 but it is 23:02 and there is no train in sight. I am annoyed. It is not the first time a train time table has lied to me.
The platform’s electronic information board provides me with no assistance either. Instead it simply sits there, blank, suggesting that the train has been cancelled all together.
“This really takes the biscuit.” I mutter under my breath bitterly, evoking snack food to punctuate my anger at the sheer injustice of it all.
Sure it is only a minute but that is not the point. I’m not just annoyed about this delay but all the delays we have all had to suffer in our lives. All the unexpected technical difficulties, broken signals and leaves on the line we have all had to endure.
It becomes clear to me what must be done. We the passengers must unite. They cannot ignore us all if we unify. We must rise up as one and in a united voice tell them, “One minute is not an expectable delay.” Oh yes! As the spirit of rebellion rises inside me I decide that I will be that first voice. I will be heard. If they think I’m going to let them get away with this any longer they have another thing coming. If they think I’m simply going to stand here on platform 6 and…
My internal rant suddenly comes a halt as I realize my horrible mistake. I am standing at platform 6. I should be standing at platform 7. Platform 7 is directly behind me… and so is my train.
I spin around just in time to see the doors of the 23:01 to Dordrecht closing. It’s so close I can almost touch it. How could I have failed to notice an entire train arriving directly behind me?
All I can do is simply watch as my train slowly pulls out of the station and begins its journey towards Dordrecht. I Sigh and check the train time table. The next train is at 23:31.