Writing in the Daily Mail, Harry Mount describes his frustration with a phenomenon familiar to us all ...
Neath is the next station stop. Mind the gap between the train and the platform edge. Neath the next station stop. Make sure you have your personal belongings. Mind the step as you step down onto the platform. Neath, Neath. The next station stop is Neath.
Now imagine that whole sequence of instructions repeated over and over again for a whole three hours, varied only by the station's name. So often did the Tannoy squeal to life in the course of my journey from Swansea to London Paddington that the mantra became permanently tattooed to the back of my brain.
And I'm not alone. Indeed, some rail passengers have it worse. One group reportedly had 31 announcements in a 32-minute rail journey on a South West train from Portsmouth to Petersfield. Meanwhile, MP David Willetts has complained to the rail watchdog, claiming he endures about 50 of them on his 80-minute journey from Havant to London Waterloo.
Unfortunately, they are not the only needless nagging instructions that seem to greet our every move these days.
Before I got on my train, I had to travel from my parents' house in Pembrokeshire to Swansea station. And my journey had barely begun before I was being told off by a Renault Scenic. As I turned the ignition key at 7.30am there it was, the first little annoyance of the day: a beep, gradually increasing in frequency and volume, to remind me that I hadn't put on my seatbelt.
My well of irritation had begun to fill. And by the end of the day, it would be spilling over in silent, seething fury. I don't know about you, but I always remember to put my seatbelt on before driving. It's like brushing my teeth or having a shower in the morning - I do these things automatically.
No one has yet installed a flashing light by my toothbrush or a beeping horn by the bath to remind me to perform these functions. But it can only be a matter of time. Because once you walk out of the front door into Nagging Britain, suddenly you're surrounded on all sides by beeps, lights, posters and announcements telling you how you should - or should not - behave.
Do not leave your bags unattended. Do not let your dog foul the pavement. Mind the gap. Keep off the grass. Speeding costs lives. No smoking. Do not block the exit. Make sure you have all your personal items ...
Everywhere you look, every step you take, there is a fresh piece of advice or a stern warning - offenders will be prosecuted; maximum fine £400. All of it irritating; most of it pointless.
I decided to make a mental note every time I encountered a new instruction on just one morning's journey, to show how ubiquitous the problem has become. The results were astonishing. Sometimes the messages were polite. 'Customers are advised that CCTV is in operation at this service station,' said the sticker attached to the pump at the petrol station near Carmarthen at 8.01am, on my drive to the railway station.
Sometimes they just stated a bald fact. 'You are in a traffic-calmed area,' said a metal sign as I drove through Llanddowror.
But the principle is always the same in Nagging Britain. If you haven't done something wrong, then you're about to. And, as long as the nagger says it's for your safety - or, even better, for the safety of others - then it's deemed necessary to patronise, threaten and cajole you.
Take, as one small example, the first electronic message I encountered on an open stretch of the motorway at 8.21am. 'Tiredness kills,' the dot-matrix sign screamed at me from an overhead gantry. Thanks for that, but I was already aware of the danger of driving at 70mph with my eyes closed!
Of course, the signs pointing out roadworks at Junction 47 (8.23am) are fine, because I didn't know about them. The same, I suppose, goes for the dot-matrix at 8.24am, insisting that I cut my speed to 50mph because of those roadworks.
No, what really get to me are those signs and announcements that state the blindingly obvious.
One of the old adages about Britain was that it had very few laws and everything worked OK because the British naturally abided by them. Now we have endless regulations, messages, warnings and suggestions - and no one trusts us to know about them, let alone to obey them, any more.
I know that drinking and driving is wrong. I know you should stand on the right on an escalator. Like 95 per cent of the British population, I not only know these things but I also observe the rules. The other 5per cent also know them; it's just that they've decided to ignore them. So why in God's name do we need public money wasted on signs and announcements that are either irrelevant or ignored?
It was bad enough inside my car. But once I stepped outside its comforting embrace, as I did at Swansea station for the second stage of my journey, I was pitifully exposed. Waiting on the platform at 9.08am, I was told by the public address system: 'When boarding the train, please mind the gap between the train and the platform edge. The next train at Platform Two is the 9.29am for London Paddington, via ...'
Oh, and we were told this twice in Welsh, twice in English, only to be told at 9.28am that the London train wasn't arriving at Platform Two after all, but Platform One. Naturally, we had it all again in Welsh. Aaaaagh! Once the train got going, the trickle of announcements swelled to a tide.
At 9.31am - 'Please take a seat and I'll be along to take payment' (well, I'd never have guessed!).
'There is a Quiet Zone in carriages A and G - mobile phones are banned in this area' (but not endless PA announcements).
'Please close all exterior doors when you get off the train' (and remember to breathe - first in, then out!).
And so they kept on coming ... 23 announcements over the next three hours until the train pulled into Paddington at 12.33pm.
What need is there for this incessant, infantilising drivel? When you get on a train, you have a very good idea where you're going and how long it will take to get there. You also know not to smoke, to hold on to your bag, and to close doors behind you. You do not need an aggressive conductor with a voice like a hungover John Hurt gargling with sandpaper to remind you.
I wish I could say this nonsense stopped once I stepped off the train in London. But once I got on the Tube from Paddington to Canary Wharf, the announcements only increased in frequency and irrelevance. At 1.03pm, I was warned to prepare to get off the bottom of the escalator. In the empty lifts at the other end at 1.38pm, I was told: 'Do not obstruct the doors.' In between, I was told to mind the gap five times, not to smoke three times and, with the help of several posters, told that any abuse of London Underground staff would not be tolerated.
I have no desire to abuse London Underground staff. But once I had eventually arrived at my destination, I did feel a burning urge to cause physical harm to every dot-matrix sign; every unnecessary Tannoy system; every pathetic little warning sticker that had so blighted my morning's journey.
Why do we put up with these irritants? Who authorised their introduction? I have no idea. But here's a suggestion for a sign that should be placed on the desks of every pettifogging bureaucrat and box-ticking pedant whose outpourings have so polluted modern life - 'Do Not Treat The Public Like Fools.'
The GOS says: Daily Mail readers (always just a little more sensible than the paper they choose for some reason to read) pointed out, rightly, that "regulation EC1371/2007 Annex II governing information announcements to train passengers is to blame. Once again, guys, the European Union has decreed it and there's naff all you can do about it", and that "We live in a very greedy and litigious society. If anyone slips/falls/gets injured in any way, the only hope that the property owner has of avoiding huge compensation payouts is to be able to prove that you were showing warning signs. If you don't like all the warning signs, don't encourage the lawyers!"
There is an obvious and simple solution, of course. In many cases it wouldn't take much time or physical dexterity just to deface the notice - and just think of the satisfaction one would gain. Except of course there's probably another one just beside it telling us that defacing a sign is an offence, punishable by fine, prison, mutilation or death.
P.S. I know the "simplicity" picture isn't really relevant - I just think it's terribly funny.
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