The future should not be televised

I have an enduring soft spot for the Cross City Line.

traintellyThe (now) London Midland operated service taking Lichfieldians to the gaping black hole of Birmingham’s New Street station and then beyond to the heady delights of Northfield and Longbridge has many critics.

Delays, shabby trains, anti-social yoofs – the Cross City Line has stoically borne the brunt of the many brickbats that some people have felt the need to lob in its general direction.

But in six years of commuting to and from New Street five (or six) times a week, I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I felt any genuine irritation as regards the train and the line itself.

Sure, some of my fellow passengers were a little taxing – why some people can’t wait for the train to stop before trying to open the doors is something I’ll never understand; equally the rudeness of people who decide to try and get on board whilst passengers are still trying to get off is staggering.

You cannot blame the trains or the line for such human failings.

But there is something about the Cross City Line which, unfortunately, never ceases to cause havoc with my blood pressure. In fact I would go as far as saying this particular fault with the Cross City Line perfectly encapsulates all that is wrong with our society today.

Cross City Line trains have television screens pumping out drivel to their captive commuters – further proof, if any were needed, that modern life is rubbish.

Television already exerts an unhealthy grip on our lives. The time spent cocooned inside one of the Cross City Line’s ugly beautiful carriages used to at least offer some blessed relief from TV – you had to do something else, such as listen to music, read a book, stare absent-mindedly out of the window or (perish the thought) talk to someone.

Instead you’re now invited to stare blankly and obediently up towards the roof of the carriage and the small screen – no doubt mouth agape and a little drool spilling down your chin.

Even when they aren’t working properly (quite a lot of the time, in other words), these screens are capable of turning passengers into zombies. They’re happier staring at a blank screen or error codes than a 1,001 more productive things they could do with their journey time.

If you’re sucked in you are subjected to a disjointed loop of old news, which is inevitably out of date even before it is beamed into the carriages.

There is a saying about 24-hour TV news – never wrong for long – so who thought it was a good idea to screen it on a never-ending loop in trains?

The bulletins tend to be a mish-mash of newspaper reviews (why not let people read their own newspaper in peace?!?), updates about wannabe Z-list celebs, sports reports without footage of the events they talk about and weather bulletins by a breathless presenter who helpfully gives old forecasts for parts of the country not actually covered by the Cross City Line.

In other words, it is all utterly and depressingly pointless.

As there is no volume control it blasts out this inane chit-chat so loudly that even if you’re sat in the laughably named “Quiet Zone” you can’t hear yourself think above the din.

If that wasn’t enough, most of these loops of shallow, inconsequential and meaningless news bulletins barely last 10 minutes. So if you’re on the train for the 40(ish) minute journey from Lichfield to New Street you get the same rubbish three or four times.

At a time when using public transport makes all kinds of common sense on environmental, health (you don’t endure the stress of driving on our roads) and economic grounds, then surely you shouldn’t soil the experience with such an ill-judged idea?

It is a misguided experiment that has failed miserably. Get rid of the TVs on the Cross City Line.

If a campaign to Scrap the Screens is required then it officially starts here and now.

But only if you can be bothered, like.

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Group Editor for a media and publishing company - laidback, with a sunny disposition and a belief that everyone is fantastic and there's nothing wrong with modern life at all. A Welsh exile - tidy darts.

10 Comments

  1. Stuart Harrison

    12th March, 2009 at 9:51 am

    But how will London Midland get their advertising revenue then? They barely make enough money as it is, what with those astoundingly cheap fares they charge.

  2. Pingback: The future should not be televised « Groves Media

  3. GrovesMedia

    12th March, 2009 at 9:55 am

    Stuart: I sense a certain sarcasm in your response – tidy.

  4. Stuart Harrison

    12th March, 2009 at 10:03 am

    Glad it was evident. I didn’t want anyone to think I was being sincere!

  5. Nick

    12th March, 2009 at 10:17 am

    I too used to commute to BNS 5 days a week on the train (except when I did it, weekends were a coach replacement during that summer).
    I think anyone who’s used that line as much as we have will be able to tell you the same thing… The tv is rubbish.
    Heck, I could even tell you the exact point where the power cuts off briefly as (I assume) the train coasts onto a new bit of the line. They need to do us a favour and just get rid of the damn things!

    I bet I can make you think of the annoying little beeping interlude that is inserted between each segment ;)

  6. GrovesMedia

    12th March, 2009 at 10:21 am

    Nick: I do recall hearing a trailer for Walk The Line so often that I never want to watch the film.

    It would be great if that break in transmission that always occurs between Aston and Duddeston lasted from Lichfield to New Street.

  7. Not Will Self

    22nd March, 2009 at 10:13 pm

    Will Self talks about tv screens on the train from Birmingham to Lichfield in his latest(?) book Pyschogeography (page 220) he doesn’t like them either.

  8. Fellow Commuter

    25th March, 2009 at 9:20 pm

    I found this blog after googling to try and find out more about the close of the haberdashery in Lichfield, which I think is desperately sad. That led me to this post…

    Yes. I’m a five-day Lich-Brum commuter and I too loathe those televisions. Frequently have to sit with fingers stuffed in ears in order to be able to read – but that means I can’t turn the pages of my book.

    The whole thing is a heinous violation of each passenger’s right to choose how they spend their time. I can ignore the crumpled copies of the Metro newspaper if I like, but the volume of those televisions is so intrusive (yes, even in the Quiet Zone, which I always sit in on the way to Birmingham, but can almost never squeeze into on the way back) that you have no choice but to allow yourself to be bludgeoned with the repetitive, sensationalist / mind-paralysingly unimportant nonsense. It’s inescapable. It’s indoctrination. It appalls me.

    I should not have had to watch/listen to a German teenager shoot himself dead three times in one journey.

    I’d help run a campaign. Happily. In fact, I’m going to start right now by writing a letter to London Midland, Michael Fabricant, the Mercury, and maybe a national or two.

  9. Nick Brickett

    26th March, 2009 at 12:11 pm

    LondonMidland can be contacted directly here – though a member of our team recently emailed them about a very important issue, and is still yet to hear back from them.

    I wouldn’t hold your breath!

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