THE company formerly known as First Great Western has been having a bit of a disagreement with a national newspaper.

I’m glad about that, because otherwise I would never have learned about a wonderful thing called the Public Performance Measure.

According to the newspaper, 47.9 per cent of Great Western Railway services over the course of a recent week were delayed or cancelled. In addition, it reported that 55.3 per cent of 1,087 trains arriving at Swindon were delayed or cancelled.

The company formerly known as First Great Western disputed the story, and insists that more than 85 per cent of its services arrive on time.

And the reason for this discrepancy? Well, the newspaper, like most people, including the compilers of every dictionary of the English language since Samuel Johnson, defines “late” as meaning something along the lines of: “Not on time.”

However, the company formerly known as First Great Western, like all railway companies, operates under that thing I mentioned earlier, the Public Performance Measure.

The PPM world is a remarkable one, where a long-distance train isn’t officially late unless it arrives at its final destination 10 minutes or more after its scheduled time – not even if it’s also arrived late at every stop along the way, inconveniencing hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of people.

I suppose in theory a train could be half an hour late at a dozen stops and then go like the clappers for a while and still be on time, but don’t quote me on that. It’s all quite complex.

Some people believe the PPM is nothing more than a cynical smokescreen intended to mask the shocking state of our railway system, but I disagree.

I think it’s a great thing, so great that its principles should be extended to other industries and professions.

Performance throughout the economy would be improved at a stroke, entirely without the inconvenience, stress and hard work of actually having to improve anything.

Overworked surgeons, for example, could heave a sigh of relief if something went horribly wrong in the operating theatre.

“No,” they could announce, “I can confirm that nothing untoward happened. There was no inadvertent graft.

“Mrs Smith did indeed come to us for a simple tonsillectomy, and we did indeed inadvertently graft a donor arm into the small of her back. However, our PPM parameters say only inadvertent grafts of three or more appendages to a patient, at least one of which must be the head of an owl, actually count as an inadvertent graft.”

The possibilities are endless. Publishers of children’s books would be protected from mischievous authors: “It has been pointed out that if the first letters of every sentence in The Adventures Of Tammy The Terrapin are put together, they spell out the message, ‘Now is the time to sacrifice Mummy and Daddy on the blood-drenched altar of Pazuzu.’ “As our PPM rules only cover demonic entities from the Judeo-Christian tradition, and Pazuzu is traditionally the Assyrian demon of wind-borne pestilence, we are still well within our performance targets.”

Car manufacturers could save loads of money on safety measures: “There are absolutely no safety problems with our vehicles. They do not explode in showers of semi-molten shrapnel.

“Well, they do in fact explode in showers of semi-molten shrapnel, but only after 5,000 miles or so, and our PPM provisions clearly state that an explosion only counts as an explosion if it occurs before 5,000 miles.”

Avoidable situation

HAVE you been following the sad ongoing story of Ember, the wolf shot dead at Cotswold Wildlife Park?

Managing to crawl out of her enclosure, which had a faulty electric fence, she was duly dispatched.

Those in charge of the park said staff they wanted to tranquilise her but couldn’t get close enough.

I seem to recall that shortly after the incident, the park announced that no members of the public were in danger at any time, as the unfortunate animal had been well away from the visitor area throughout. That being the case, I’d love to know why staff could not have been deployed to ring the scene and wait for Ember to come within dart range while the public were evacuated.

But then, I’m no expert in keeping wolves.

I do seem to recall, though, reading several studies suggesting that attacks by well-fed wolves, as opposed to hungry packs, were so hen’s tooth-rare as to be statistically insignificant.

‘So sorry about the murder - I was drunk’

In another remarkable story from our courts, a burglar was jailed for two and a half years after he and some other people broke into a home and took items totalling £10,000.

The remarkable thing was not the sentence – he’ll be free in a year or so, which is slightly better than par for the course around here – but the fact that he blamed his involvement solely on the fact that he was drunk.

Now I don’t know about you, but I’ve done some strange things while drunk. I’ve mistaken an illuminated cash machine for the entrance to a club, for example. I’ve attended a party in a remote part of Scotland which somehow concluded in Derby. I once kissed my own hand for several minutes in the mistaken belief that it belonged to a close friend. One of the things I never did, however, was burgle a house.

That’s probably because alcohol is a qualitative enhancer; it brings out characteristics which are already present in a person. The characteristics of some people include a complete lack of empathy.

Why, then, is drunkenness allowed to be cited in mitigation in courts of law?