I SEE the train company formerly known as First Great Western has had its franchise renewed until 2020 while electrification continues.

Apparently there’s now going to be a detailed Department of Transportation consultation, with the public asked what they see as the ideal future for the franchise.

Call me Old Mister Cynical Trousers if you must, but aren’t these consultations, which we pay for on one way or another, a wee bit pointless?

What do we want in a train service?

We want trains which are reliable, clean, punctual and have sufficient seating to ensure paying passengers are not obliged to stand.

We want fares which are not a disgusting rip off.

Ditto refreshments.

We want the law beefed up to prevent rail companies from being able to say a service is not late even though by any sane standard it is indeed late.

We want the law beefed up to oblige rail companies to disclose the cheapest fare at point of sale.

We want any company failing to provide an adequate service to be forbidden from paying dividends to shareholders or bonuses to well-padded executives.

We want any company unable or unwilling to do the job we pay it for to be slung out in favour of one which can.

Deducing all of this is hardly a task to stump Sherlock Holmes, is it?

Tis the season for making decisions

WITH Christmas less than three weeks away, it’s time for us to move our preparations into a higher gear.

If we prefer a real tree, should we get one now and risk a carpet full of needles long before the big day, or should we wait to buy one and end up with some misshapen, shunned mutant that looks like something planted in the wake of a nuclear test?

Should we wait until nearer the time to buy our drink and snacks, and risk forgetting something in the last-minute panic, or should we buy it now, consume the lot in about three days flat and have to buy it all again anyway?

Then there’s that auntie in some distant town, the auntie we haven’t heard from in ages. Should we not send her a card and risk upsetting her if she’s still alive, or send one and risk upsetting surviving members of her immediate family if she’s snuffed it?

It’s also time for certain people – let’s call them Those Christmas People - to make their own very special preparations, so as to ensure that the rest of us can benefit once more from their traditional contribution to the festive period.

Are you one of Those Christmas People? Probably not, as the chances are that you’re a sentient being who is seen in public throughout the year and doesn’t seem only to pop up in December when everybody else is trying to get things done.

We probably know at least one of Those Christmas People, though, and for the sake of preserving beloved Yuletide decisions, we need to remind them of their duties.

We need to tell them, for example, that when heading for the shops during the busiest period of the retail year, they should on no account prepare for their trip by having even a faint idea of what to buy or where to buy it.

Nor should they feel any sense of urgency as they go about their business.

Instead, they should wander at a leisurely pace through the shops, preferably at least three abreast, stop at random in great aisle-blocking clumps and have rambling discussions about whether or not to purchase some item.

They should be sure to explore every conversational avenue during these discussions, right down to vague memories of second cousins who purchased a similar item in 1993 but had to take it back because a bit fell off.

Or was it some completely different item which was the same colour?

They should always bear in mind that they are failing in their duty unless at least a dozen people in the vicinity vow on the spot to buy online instead.

On a similar note, Those Christmas People may currently be unaware of the balances of their bank accounts, the details of their last 900 transactions, their credit status, the payment dates of personal loans and reams of other data relating to their personal finances.

We must implore them not to attempt to discover any of this information by, for example, phoning their bank, going online or calling in at a branch – assuming the branch exists.

Instead, they should wait until at least December 20, find an ATM in the busiest shopping area and spend an hour or two going through every piece of data the damned thing can offer while a massive queue builds up behind them.

The most important task, though, is the one entrusted to my very favourites among Those Christmas People, the ones whose sterling work I celebrate every year.

They are, of course, the ones who will soon be out on a work Christmas do in a pub but are completely unaware of which types of drinks they might like.

They are the ones who stand in crowded bars up and down the land every December, looking for all the world as though they’ve just been beamed from a dimension where the process of fermentation is unknown.

Every year I raise my glass to them.

Well, I do when they’ve finished choosing between banana liqueur and Guinness or whatever, and I can finally get a drink.