Sunday, October 09, 2005

On Disgrace, Denial, Delays and Dublin

The many emails from those who wrote expressing concern about the disgraceful American showing made by "The Reluctant Anglophiles" at Quiz Night prompted us to take action and recruit a Canadian and British member to our team recently, effectively doubling our total score to 33 out of 40 and moving us up to fifth place from last! (Though out of respect to the Brit, we temporarily renamed our team "Three Yanks and Home".) Admittedly, we did use a few illicit "lifelines" to obtain our high score, such as surreptitiously dialing a friend in NY to find out what duet was sung by Elton John and George Michael, as well as using a wallet-size tube map to name the tube station where Buddhists might worship--"Temple". Though I don't necessarily condone cheating, I figured as long as it was instigated and sanctioned by a British person and we were on British soil, then we wouldn't technically be breeching quiz etiquette.

I would be thrilled to provide documentation of our momentous accomplishment but did not want to commit another Quiz Night gaffe by asking to take our scoresheet home again, so unfortunately I'm unable to share visual proof of our spectacular turnaround with you. Additionally, I learned from some Quiz Night regulars sitting behind us on the team "One Man Down" (who attend THREE different quizzes a week) of an alternative nearby venue--The Devonshire Arms--where the material may be better-suited to my knowledge base as it incorporates a whole section on celebrity trivia. This could mean, after years of searching, that I've finally stumbled upon an intelligent-sounding justification for my US Weekly addiction (which blessedly has been kept on transatlantic life support courtesy of care packages from my friend Jen.)

At any rate, the change of quiz venues is being necessitated by forces greater than just my aptitude for celebrity gossip because last week marked the start of the new writing course I'm taking at City University, which unfortunately conflicts with Duke of Clarence Quiz Nights, a real shame since we were finally starting to make a name for ourselves there.

I am further saddened to report that any and all chance I had of making some new British friends (to add to my current tally of 3) went out the window on the first day of class when we were asked to divvy ourselves into groups and come up with a feature idea based on a recent news item. Things started off swimmingly when the group went with my idea about using the recently released U.N. study on Scotland, England and Wales being the most violent countries in the developed world. It was only when I proposed our story focus on tips for alcoholism prevention and treatment that things turned positively malevolent.

I discovered belatedly that we shared totally different views on the survey data and that, instead of being appalled by the implications of it, my group members were adamantly in denial about its very legitimacy. Not only did they believe the data could not possibly be true--and hence our feature article, by a vote of 3 to 1, ended up being "How Surveys Can Be Misleading"--but one group member, who works in the Deputy Prime Minister's Office, spent ten minutes blasting the U.N. for having nothing better to do than conduct such a survey in the first place.

Despite my newfound unpopularity, I found it rather hilarious (yet sad) to see the lengths that even the most astute British people will go to in maintaining a state of complete DENIAL about societal ills that are totally obvious to anyone who merely reads a newspaper or walks down the street. (Speaking of which, no, that was not ME getting sick in the bucket in last week's blog, and I take great offense to the question; that was a typical scene on the Tube on any given Thursday, Friday or Saturday night.)

Possibly to pay for these insurmountable Tube clean-up efforts, the mayor announced this week that fares are being raised 50% to £3 (nearly $6) for a one-way, Zone 1 ticket starting in January, conceding that the new fares "would probably be the most expensive in the world." This price increase is all the more injurious when taken in context of how appalling the Tube service is here--not a day goes by where there aren't major "service disruptions", "staff shortages", "signal failures", and "severe delays" affecting several of the major lines, usually during rush hour. And when they do actually set about upgrading any aspect of the ancient system, it's no speedy undertaking. One station in the middle of central London is closed for an entire YEAR while they do cosmetic 'modernization' and the tube to the Heathrow British Airways Terminal is closed thru September 2006.

Just as in NY, where we might tune into 1010 Wins to check the Bridge & Tunnel traffic before heading out of town on the weekend, here it's an absolute necessity prior to embarking on a Tube journey to view the "Real Time Disruption" info on their website to see if you have a snowball's chance in hell of making it to your destination. Here is a typical sampling from today:

The Piccadilly Line has delays occurring in both directions.
This will affect journeys from 14:23 on 9/10/05 until further notice.
This is due to non-availability of staff.

The Northern Line has severe delays in both directions.
This will affect journeys from 06:21 on 9/10/05 until further notice.
This is due to problems connected with the signalling systems.

Westminster Station on the Circle and District Lines eastbound has reduced facilities.
This will affect journeys from 04:04 on 9/10/05 until further notice.

Not inspiring, to say the least. And certainly not meritorious of a $2 fare hike (which by the way, comes on the heels of recently increased and expanded congestion charges for those opting out of the Tube chaos by driving to work). According to a survey (which I'm sure my British classmates would take issue with even though we were all late to class Monday night because the Northern line was down), 9 in 10 managers here feel that the performance of the London Underground has a very negative impact on their workplace: 50% complain of reduced productivity and 83% say that employees are arriving late for work more frequently. As one manager commented, "These problems are eroding London's standing as a modern business capital, and we will not be taken seriously if the current abysmal service continues."

At last, a beacon of honesty in a city fueled by denial. In any case, we are happy to escape the environs of Zone 1 for the coming weekend by heading up to Dublin, where we've never been, to meet a friend in visiting from Chicago. Plans include a tour of the Guinness Brewery and a literary-packed Sunday (sorry, Steve) with visits to the Dublin Writers Museum, James Joyce Centre, and the Dublin Literary Pub Crawl, led by two actors who re-enact scenes from all the great Irish novels while taking us to six famous pubs with a literary tradition. As Leopold Bloom in James Joyce’s famous novel Ulysses mused, "A good puzzle would be to cross Dublin without passing a pub"--but why on earth would anyone want to do that?