Friday, 8 August 2008

Safe Enough

I've just descended the steps into the gloom of Walsall train station and have less than five minutes to wait for a train to Birmingham.

At the bottom of the stairs a portly, officious man in a grey uniform eyes me up before venturing an 'excuse me sir,' in my direction.

'Yeah?'

'We're doing a quick survey on security at the station. Can I ask you four very quick questions?'

'Ok.'

He walks over, clipboard and pen at the ready.

'Do you use the trains every day?'

'Erm... most days.'

He writes 'daily' in the box.

'At this particular station have you ever felt that your security was at risk?'

'No,' I answer emphatically.

He asks my age and postcode and then we are done and he moves off in search of more volunteers.

The thing is, even if I had ever felt at risk here for any reason, I still would have answered 'no' through a vague suspicion that too many affirmative responses might be used as justification for some new security measures that would turn out to be more intrusive than effective.

These days if you are sitting on a station platform trying to read, or write or just think your own thoughts, you are far less likely to be disturbed by the threatening behaviour of other passengers than by the steady stream of loud security and safety announcements from the station tannoys.

These range from the standard advice about keeping all personal belongings with you at all times, to unintentionally sinister reminders that you are being watched on CCTV, to nannying warnings that platforms are slippery when they have been rained upon, to absurd pronouncements about the illegality of skateboarding and rollerblading in the station.

This last warning is now prevalent across the whole country, despite the fact that even before its introduction I had never seen a single person engaged in either of these activities in any train station.

Even when there is no genuine security risk there seems to be a dismal determination to keep on warning us about something.

To my mind there was room for a fifth question at the end of that survey -

'Do you ever wish that we would just leave you in peace?'

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