The Puzzling Parlance of Please

For Tina and Henry… 
  1. used in polite requests or questions.
    “please address letters to the Editor”

The world’s awash with Trump right now, so I thought an undemanding (if slightly facetious) language lesson might be just the ticket to lighten the mood.

The subject of today’s discussion has long been a linguistic bugbear of mine, though doubtless of little consequence to anyone else (as with the majority of my linguistic bugbears); it’s a word most of us use daily, though it could be argued that it’s not always used where it counts.

I’m still undecided if this misuse is just because we’ve become polite to a fault*, or if people genuinely don’t recognise that there’s a difference. I suspect the latter.

I noticed it again on the train yesterday morning: “Please change at Town Hall for T4 Eastern Suburbs line trains”. There are examples of it everywhere.

If it’s true that there’s a time and a place for everything, “please” is frequently both mistimed and misplaced. There’s appropriate courtesy and there’s courtesy that’s redundant. As in so many cases, it all boils down to context: do the words form a request or an instruction?

It may well be appropriate to kick off a request with “please”—for example, “Please close the door after entering” or “Please don’t feed the birds” or “Please send expressions of interest to the Manager”; we’re not obliged to adhere to these requests, we’re merely being asked to do something (or not).

But there’s no need for said niceties if the sole purpose of the words is to provide instruction or information—“DO NOT USE LIFTS IF THERE IS A FIRE”, “Press red button to open doors”, “Enter your PIN to sign in”, and so on.

So “Please change at Town Hall for T4 Eastern Suburbs line trains” doesn’t work because the “please” alters the context, by turning an instruction into a request—as if Sydney Trains were asking us to change lines, whether we need to or not. Clearly, the words aren’t asking us to do that, they’re simply informing us that we can connect to the Eastern Suburbs line if we change trains at Town Hall station. It’s just a statement of fact, so there’s no “please” required.

Here’s another one I saw recently: “Please swipe security pass to proceed through barrier”. So, do I have a choice? Is there some other way I can proceed through the barrier without swiping my security pass? If the answer is no then, again, it isn’t a request, it’s an instruction. If I can’t get through the barrier any other way, if there’s no alternative to swiping my security pass, there’s no need for “please”; I either swipe my pass or I don’t proceed through the barrier.

Here’s another, from a recent call to my car insurer: “For car insurance, please press 1. For home, contents and landlord’s insurance, please press 2…” and so on. Do I have any choice in the course of action to be taken? Can I either press 1 or press anything other than 1 if I want to discuss car insurance? Or, is it the case that I must press 1 to discuss car insurance? If I have no alternative but to press 1, it can’t be interpreted as an open-ended option with multiple ‘next steps’ available; nor, unless some other generic option is provided (which, in this case, it wasn’t) can it be interpreted as something that I can either do or not do and still end up discussing car insurance with someone. This is simply an instruction so, again, no “please” is needed.

The most likely culprit here is an inability to distinguish between the concepts of instruction, information and request on the part of those charged with authoring, reviewing and/or approving such words. I’m telling someone how to do something, so I must say “please” or it will sound too harsh.

While the line might seem a fine one, it really isn’t; when providing relevant instruction for the benefit of the intended consumer, it’s actually pretty simple to avoid the message being interpreted as harsh: just word it properly.

Example: “Remove all jewellery, belts, shoes and mobile devices before passing through scanner or you will be punched in the face”. Undeniably harsh. Threats of physical violence tend to have that effect, regardless of context.

Refined: “Please remove all jewellery, belts, shoes and mobile devices before passing through scanner or you will be punched in the face”. It’s still harsh. “Please” does nothing to diminish the threat; nor does it negate the requirement to remove said items.

Further refined: “Please remove all jewellery, belts, shoes and mobile devices before passing through scanner”. Closer to OK, but still not quite right. The upshot here is that you have no alternative but to remove any of the named items from on or about your person, if you ever wish to move beyond the security screening point. It’s a mandatory requirement—saying “please” at the beginning makes about as much sense as a 1980s Mum or Dad shouting “PLEASE GO TO YOUR ROOM, YOU AWFUL LITTLE BRAT!” to their hideously behaved nine-year-old (who may or may not have been me).

Final refinement: “Remove all jewellery, belts, shoes and mobile devices before passing through scanner”. This one gets it right. It’s brief and to the point. It’s authoritative without sounding harsh, but neither does it give an impression of being unenforceable or that there’s any alternative—we’re being told, not asked.

So, please, next time you see or read (or even say) “please”, stop for a moment and consider if the words are asking or telling. Keep an eye out for them coz they really are everywhere.

Why not challenge yourself—please see how many redundant ‘please’ pleas you can find.


*arguably an odd thought, considering that society’s moved so far away from manners and politeness in so many areas where they should count, yet it’s also become painfully polite where it’s really not needed.

Stairs of Disbelief

Before I begin, an acknowledgement: yes I’ve had this one on the back-burner for a while. When I first threw it together the date that you’re about to read originally said “yesterday”. Somehow time got away from me, as it has a tendency to do in the big, bad word of ranty old man blogging. <End of disclaimer>

SydneyTrains_UnanderraStationYou have to assume the 18th of February was a very slow news day for the ABC. During that day’s main evening news bulletin, one of the top stories was that – wait for it – there’s no lift access to the platform at Unanderra railway station.

Get outta town!

The story was ostensibly derived from a video of a bunch of people struggling up and down some railway station stairs. The video apparently ‘went viral’ on YouTube and social media and an hysterical furore from the internet’s most righteous – as is so often the result with these things – thusly ensued.

Sadly, ABC News effectively ignored the broader issue and decided instead to interview some suitably under-enthused locals, giving all the focus to Unanderra station itself. By honing in on that one particular location, rather than taking a broader perspective, the ABC’s report only served to regionalise, or even trivialize, the issue. But when a social media-driven righteous hysterical furore gets legs, often there’s nothing for it but to let it run its course (which, these days, will never be too long, since most social media types have the attention span of a spec of dust).

So what does anyone even know about this Unanderra place, aside from the fact that its name is perilously difficult to pronounce correctly if you’ve never heard a local say it?**

Unanderra is about 80 kilometres south of Sydney and is a suburb of the city of Wollongong (equally perilous for the uninitiated to pronounce correctly). According to that bastion of all things factual, Wikipedia, Unanderra boasts “several local attractions”, of which the Unanderra Hotel – built all of 58 years ago, so hardly the town’s historical focal point – is apparently one of the most frequently visited. I’m guessing mostly by locals, but let’s not get bogged down in semantics.

As for Unanderra railway station itself, it was completely rebuilt in 2011, has more covered space and seating than most Sydney suburban stations and even has space for lifts to be installed – that’s because there were actually meant to have been lifts installed, but cabling was discovered beneath the intended location of a lift pit and moving them was obviously considered too difficult because – as with so many of the best laid plans of Transport NSW and its predecessors – to avoid the problem, they cancelled the installation altogether.

SydneyTrains_Unanderra3And therein lies the real point: the problem is far bigger than Unanderra.

Of course it’s all very sad for the elderly or ‘otherly-abled’ folk who want to use Unanderra railway station, but the fact remains that there are almost 200 stations across the New South Wales rail network – many of them with far greater patronage than Unanderra – that are also bereft of lift access to platform-level. That the issue is relatively more prevalent outside the metropolitan area is unfortunate; that it’s just one of many inconsistencies with our state’s rail infrastructure is undeniable.

Unanderra apparently has a population of five-and-a-half thousand, which is about a third of the population of Newtown or Redfern, or roughly equal to two inner-south western Sydney suburbs, where trains typically run in both directions every fifteen minutes. Poor old Unanderra only sees one every hour, aside from during the morning and afternoon peak times when intervals between trains decrease to between 15 and 45 minutes. There’s arguably a greater number and a higher proportion of rail commuters in Sydney than in Unanderra, so the hourly frequency of services is probably understandable.

But wait – there’s more. Unanderra station’s appalling lack of accessibility isn’t the end of the story; even after being completely rebuilt, its platforms are still shorter than the eight-car train sets that stop there at least eight times a day, thus presenting the very real risk of passengers headed for Unanderra not even being able to get off the train when it pulls up only partially alongside the platform. Is it really any wonder that wheelchair users still can’t take a lift to get down there?

Unanderra certainly isn’t alone in its woeful lack of facility. 76 of the 177 stations on Sydney Trains’ suburban network (that’s 43% of them) aren’t “wheelchair accessible”, meaning there’s either no lift, no ramp or no other accessible way for a wheelchair user to reach the platform. On the intercity network – to which Unanderra station belongs – I was surprised to discover that, while predictably worse, the stats weren’t as underwhelming as I’d expected, with 84 of 133 stations (or 63% of them) without wheelchair access.

The so-called ‘short platforms’ are also something of an issue on the intercity network. Though it isn’t quite as prevalent as the lack of wheelchair accessibility, around half of all intercity stations have platforms shorter than an eight-car train set. Passengers travelling to these stations must navigate a series of codes which indicate where on the train to disembark from – rear car, rear door of rear car, rear two cars, rear four cars, rear six cars, front six cars or, intriguingly, “the middle doors”. Even as a creature of habit who gets on and off the same carriage every day on the way to and from work, I still couldn’t tell you if I was on the second car, the fifth car or the eighth car. I’m not even sure I’d know if I was at the front or back of the train, let alone anywhere near its “middle doors”. And by the way, exactly where are the middle doors of an eight-car train set anyway? Given that every eight-car set is nothing more than two four-car sets joined in the middle, even the most seasoned train user would be hard pressed to work that one out. To new or infrequent train users headed for one of these stations, this must be a hideously complex system to grapple with.

Short platforms obviously weren’t much of a problem in the days when four-car and six-car sets were more common – and, to be fair, some regional lines are still routinely serviced by two-car, four-car and six-car trains to this day – but most stations now see regular service by full-length eight-car trains. Too bad if a passenger foolishly assumes their destination will furnish them with a sufficient length of platform for the number of doors on the train.

SydneyTrains_FeelingUnwellcomboThere are numerous other absurdities. A prime example is the series of “Feeling unwell?” posters that started popping up on trains and platforms last year. “Don’t risk boarding the train”, and “Don’t risk staying on board”, they variously warn. “Staff can get you help faster at the (next) station”. This is probably a very helpful tip if you find yourself feeling unwell while at, or approaching, one of the 48 suburban stations that are staffed 24 hours. If you’re anywhere near one of the 129 others (that’s 73% of suburban network stations) it’s only a useful tip if you also happen to be there during the hours they’re staffed – oh and, by the way, only 39 of those are staffed beyond 7pm on a weekday.

You’re in worse luck at night, even worse luck on weekends and worse still if you’re feeling unwell while at, or near, any of the five stations on the suburban network that are never staffed at all. But worst luck of all is if you’re feeling unwell while you’re anywhere near three of those five stations and you’re in a wheelchair; not only will there be no one there to help you, but you’ll also find it damn near impossible to get on or off the platform.

Transport NSW made lots of noise about re-branding the public relations disaster that was CityRail back in 2013, yet nearly two years later they still haven’t re-branded the network’s second-most visible infrastructure – its stations. Sydney Trains might’ve changed its name but stations across its network are a mish-mash of livery and signage from at least four different eras, some dating back to the State Rail Authority days of the late-1980s, others all the way back to the 1920s.

Some stations are über-modern, while others look like unloved relics of the past. Some have plenty of covered area and seating, others have virtually none, leaving intending passengers to huddle beneath the awnings of platform buildings or underneath overhead bridges to escape the heat or the rain. Some have one of several different models of electronic indicator board, others have none. Most now use pre-recorded announcements, but some still sound like they’ve been cobbled together by a station attendant who’s never even seen the system before, much less become proficient in its use.

Meanwhile, it took several abortive attempts before we were finally offered a ticketing system that (almost) matches those of other large world cities, though pricing is still inconsistent and illogical. Tediously, Sydney Trains passengers still have to contend with summer heat on rolling stock that isn’t air-conditioned – yes, most trains are, but the fact that a city with the summer heat and humidity of Sydney still has any that aren’t air-conditioned beggars belief. Perhaps worst of all is that Sydney Trains’ customer service is staffed almost entirely by people who, for the most part, rarely appear to hold the concept of customer service in high regard. And don’t get me started on their ability – variable at best and, frequently, not in evidence at all – to deal with ‘situations’ or to effectively respond to problems.

SydneyTrains_Unanderra1In truth, I should admit that there has been some evidence of improvement over the past year or so, but the CityRail of old was well-known for maintaining a focus on issues only for as long as the public or the press kept a focus on CityRail. Gladys Berejiklian and her Sydney Trains crew have a lot of work ahead of them, not just to avoid their predecessor’s pitfalls but also to address the roll-call of issues and inconsistencies that still plague the network.

It must be daunting. And it’s a whole lot bigger than Unanderra.


** In case you were wondering, it’s pronounced as three distinct syllables: YOU – N’N – DERRA. It’s definitely not pronounced YOU – NANDRA. I’m told that’s how most people who don’t know how to say it correctly tend to pronounce it, but it isn’t right. Now you can sleep at night.

Sydney Trains: the world’s your Opal?

Opal_card_adult_largeOK, so Sydney now has the Opal card to use across the entire Transport NSW train, bus, ferry and light rail network – whoopee! Finally, we’re just like every other modern city in the world! But what’s with the whacked pricing?

Opal may have introduced the convenience of electronic card-based ticketing and automatic payments, but the logic applied to ticket pricing is utterly ludicrous – not to mention that it’s, quite possibly, all-but unchanged from pre-Opal pricing. While those living ~75km or more from their destination benefit from the capped journey cost of $8.30, there’s little or no incentive for anyone living within relatively short distances of where they want to go to get there by train.

Example 1: I catch the train home from Town Hall station. The total station-to-station distance is 11.84km. The cost of that trip during peak time is $4.20 – or $0.35/km.

Example 2: I leave work and travel from Town Hall station to Sydenham, where I go for one or two (or a few) (or ten) refreshing beverages with a friend. Three hours later I catch another train home from Sydenham. The first trip, taken during peak time, costs $3.38, while the second one, outside of peak time, costs $2.36. The total station-to-station distance across the two trips is still 11.84km, but because I get off the first train and later join another train to complete my journey, the total cost increases to $5.74 – or $0.48/km.

But wait – there’s more. If I somehow manage to get off the first train, meet my friend, inhale a few drinks and catch the second train while it’s still peak fare time, as long as I leave enough time between leaving the station (aka “tapping off”) and returning to it (aka “tapping on”) so that the system doesn’t think I’m just making a connection, then the second trip will also cost $3.38, further inflating the cost of the total journey to $6.76, or $0.57/km.

Opal_card_pensioner_largeThe inequity doesn’t end there, either. Sydney Trains somehow believe it’s fair to charge me at a rate of $0.39/km for my first 8½km journey, but at a rate of $1.02/km for the second 3.3km journey.

In a nutshell, the closer I am to where I want to be, the greater the penalty I pay for the convenience of using Sydney Trains.

Part of me wants to protest loudly at the prejudice of it all and insist that Sydney Trains’ entire ticket pricing schedule should be laid out on a per kilometre basis, so that everyone pays for the distance travelled, whatever that distance happens to be. But then, another part of me thinks, “hang on a minute: of course that’s how it is! Of course you have to pay more! Of course those who live further away pay less per kilometre than you do!”. I guess it’s a bit obvious, to some extent – of course that’s the way it works. Or is it? Or, more to the point, why should it be?

If Sydney Trains can see fit to cap the cost of a single ticket at $8.30 – thus guaranteeing that someone travelling to, say, the International Airport from, say, Wollongong, Katoomba or Newcastle does so at a rate of between 5c and 11c per kilometre – then why can’t they also guarantee that I don’t pay $1.33/km to go the two stations from my home to the Airport? It’s even worse when the utterly absurd International and Domestic Airport “Station Access Fee” is added to the equation: while is still only costs travellers from Wollongong, Katoomba or Newcastle between 13c and 28c per kilometre, I’m charged an appalling $6.45/km to reach the same destination. In which universe is this in any way likely to encourage me not to add to Sydney’s already horribly congested roads? If it was just me, there mightn’t be any debate, but if I was heading to the airport with just one other person the choice between a cab or a train would be a no-brainer.

Opal_card_child_largeSo I get free trips everywhere for the rest of the week once I’ve used my Opal card 8 times, do I? Excellent news for anyone who either religiously takes the train to and from work more than four times a week or takes train trips to and from any other destination more than four times a week and who also doesn’t then have their routine thrown out by weather, illness, offsite work activities, rostered days off, annual leave, family commitments or anything else that might prevent them taking the eight trip minimum required to bag those freebies. Even Opal’s 60 minute interchange rule conveniences me right out of any way of rorting the system during the working day, despite Gladys Berejiklian claiming that she wanted everyone to be able to “beat the system”. No, it seems the average traveller will have to be satisfied with their two “free” trips per week, despite the fact that anyone who routinely travels within a fairly limited area is more likely to be penalised than rewarded.

And let’s not even get started on Opal users who take buses, ferries and light rail and are now actually paying more than they used to! I’ll stash that one away for another rant.

So thank you, Sydney Trains, and thank you, Gladys Berejiklian. Opal may seem a pearl to anyone who lives a long way from where they work, but for those who don’t suffer the tyranny of distance it’s not quite the gem you sold us.

Pique Hour (or The Daily Commute And How I Came To Hate It)

Morning commute_Sydney_213297-max-dupainI loathe everything about the daily commute with a passion that’s quite possibly unmatched.

Now that I’ve clearly baselined the conversation, let’s get cracking.

Of course ‘the daily commute’ refers to the tedious daily routine of getting ourselves to and from our place of work. The whole idea of forcing a state of wakefulness and schlepping off to work every morning is sufficiently unappealing in its own right. But arguably everything that happens between leaving home and arriving at work is even more hate-worthy than anything that could possibly happen while we’re there.

‘The morning commute’ is a polite way of describing the process whereby thousands of zombie-like people all head in roughly the same direction at roughly the same time, to get somewhere they don’t want to go, to spend all day someplace they don’t want to be, doing things they don’t want to be doing, without being as awake as they need to be because they haven’t had as much sleep as they should’ve had, either because they’re responsible for too many offspring or because they were up too late the night before doing stuff they actually enjoy doing (or a combination of the two, if they’re not already thought of as one and the same – apparently for some folk that is actually possible).

Quite frankly, mornings are all a bit of a dog’s breakfast.

Morning commute_Sydney_people‘The afternoon commute’ is effectively ‘the morning commute’ in reverse, but exponentially more dangerous because by then the zombies are wide awake and raring to go. Their one goal is to stop doing the thing they don’t want to be doing and get away from the place they don’t want to be as quickly as possible, so they can get back to someplace they’d prefer to be, doing stuff they actually enjoy doing.

On balance, the afternoon commute has far more in common with a war zone than its morning counterpart.

I’m a ranty old man so I obviously do my best to avoid both of them, for many and varied reasons. Most of my most savage grievances involve trains or walking, since that’s my usual morning and afternoon combination when getting to and from the office. To wit, 18 reasons that the commute piques my ire:

1. Old people in the central business district during morning rush hour: it’s a given that it shouldn’t be allowed, but why they’d want or even need to be in the middle of a city centre heaving with corporate zombies at 8:45 in the morning is another question entirely. I mean, I know they all get up at 5am for no apparent reason, but surely there’s somewhere else they can go?

2. Children in the central business district during morning rush hour: let’s not waste time on declarations of illegality where kids are concerned, let’s cut straight to the chase: fact #1: morning peak hour is always at least half as awful, if not even less so, during school holidays; fact #2: kids on trains, school buses and parents on ‘the school run’ already make a significant enough contribution to the awfulness of peak hour, so who the hell schedules school excursions that place entire classes of school kids in the middle of the CBD at 9 o’clock on a weekday morning? I know they generally would’ve started school by then, but seriously – they have all day to do this shit!

3. Walking on the wrong side of the footpath: not keeping left as a pedestrian is both problematic and illogical as a general rule. Anyone who routinely walks to the left knows all too well the pitfalls of navigating the rabbit warren of platforms, stairs, pedestrian walkways, escalators and subterranean tunnels that tend to run at right angles to each other over, under and around any number of our nation’s larger railway stations; when someone who’s not so attentive to the ‘keep left’ rule runs around a corner in a mad panic to dash up the stairs and onto the nearest train, the full impact is often borne by the left-keeper’s right arm or shoulder. On the road, it would be called a collision and parties are expected to stop, check for damage and exchange details, but pedestrians don’t even seem to notice when they nearly knock a fellow commuter clear off their feet. Why should road rules and footpath rules be different anyway? Cyclists are expected to keep left in their bike lanes, so it’s just illogical to not apply the same rules to the footpath.

Morning Commute_StandRight4. Standing on the wrong side of the escalator: it’s annoying and they’re ignorant fools… especially the ones who look back to see exactly what impact they’ve had on the hundreds of commuters banked up behind them, then choose not to move out of the way anyway. Ignoramuses. I know there are loads of tourists and foreign folk in Sydney and they may be used to things happening on the other side in almost every situation, but surely it’s not a huge ask for them to

open their eyes, read the signs or simply observe what everyone else is doing and act accordingly?

5. People who stop moving at the bottom of stairs or escalators: it’s also highly annoying, they’re also ignorant (and very likely stupid) and, at times, it’s just plain dangerous.

6. People looking at phones while walking: it’s not just annoying, it borders on perilous and should be illegal. That is all.

7. People cramming onto public transport before others have gotten off: a particular issue with the afternoon commute only. Oddly enough, in the mornings people seem all too ready to stand aside of train doors and allow existing passengers to alight before boarding (you can always tell the ones who don’t normally take public transport during peak hour – they’re the ones who push their way on board, regardless). In the afternoons, though, it’s a different story altogether. Woe betide anyone who tries to get off a train at any inner city station during the afternoon rush. So fixated are our zombies on getting away from the city as quickly as possible that they’re not about to wait for anyone, or anything. For anyone who tries valiantly to replicate the morning commute’s rules of courtesy during the afternoon commute, it’s a sad and sorry (and slightly embarrassing) state of affairs.

8. Travel tickets / passes that don’t work: it’s fine when it’s the fault of the infrastructure (frequently the case). But at this point I will specifically reference those who insist on leaving said ticket / pass in their wallet and are then surprised when an electronic reader doesn’t penetrate layers of leather, money and masses of other cards to successfully read their pass. Idiots. Lazy idiots.

9. Angry public transport staff: they’re everywhere. Their all-pervading hatred of their job is only exceeded by the utter disdain they display towards everyone around them, without ever acknowledging that they wouldn’t actually have a job were they not surrounded by the scum of the earth who clearly annoy them so very much. Anyone who’s ever caught a train (certainly here in Sydney) will have witnessed something. You get the narky platform announcements – generally when something’s gone wrong which is, of course, when the entire network goes into meltdown, along with all customers and, consequently, all staff. Or you frequently get the narky guard announcements, generally about something fairly basic like someone blocking a door, or feet on seats or moving inside carriages so everyone can get on the train. In most cases you know that the comments are probably kinda of valid, but those making them never seem to know how to control their obvious rage and target their audience. There’s always a word or a reference to something that’s just that little bit too ‘industry jargon’ or technical for the average train user to understand, whereby effectively invalidating the whole announcement. And in the end you know it’s always just so much window-dressing – they’re toothless tigers! They probably don’t even have the authority to do what their announcements make it seem is imminent.

Morning Commute_bag on seat_2014052110. Bags (and other personal items) on public transport seats: again, like so many other aspects of the daily commute, just ignorant and uncool. It’s especially ignorant and uncool when the owner of the receptacle knows full well that it’s taking up the only remaining seat and they either still fail to remove it, or they huff and puff and roll eyes when you ask them to move it and/or when you motion to them that your arse will very shortly be on top of it if they don’t put it somewhere else. Shout out to women with over-sized handbags with this one. They’re far and away the worst culprits. No doubt because they’ve spent far too much on the said over-sized handbag and are (perhaps justifiably) paranoid about putting it on the floor of the train… too bad, Princess – don’t bring the f***ing thing out with you if you can’t suck it up!

11. 2 people / 3 seats: human nature is to avoid sitting in the seat immediately next to a compete stranger if there are other seats not immediately next to complete strangers available. Where the available configuration is three seats wide, most will leave a space between them and the person already seated there. Near the start of a bus, tram or train route this generally doesn’t present an issue, but it soon becomes clear to those joining the service later on that the remaining spaces are either virtually impossible to get to, or else are safely reserved for the rest of the journey simply thanks to everyone else’s equal fear and loathing of physical contact with strangers, meaning nobody even tries to reach it. What a waste.

12. Transport hubs with inadequate egress: railway stations / transport interchanges with only one or two escalators that are only two people wide but which allow two eight-car trains packed to capacity to arrive in the same place at the same time – that’s nearly 1,800 people all trying to get out at once. I’m not sure how many other places in the world these exist, but there are certainly a few of them here in Sydney. And let me just say this to you, CityRail, or Transport NSW, or Sydney Trains or whatever you’re called this week: the world’s slowest renovation of Town Hall Station, replete with odd choice of tile colour (gloss grey, anyone?) and shiny orange signage can’t negate the fact that this place is a death trap just waiting for the right opportunity! Mark my words, one day Town Hall Station will become the modern-day equivalent of King’s Cross Station in London… you know, the one where a fire started underneath an escalator from the underground platforms, killing 31 commuters, injuring a hundred and trapping several hundred others back in 1987? No, it’s an observation – not a terrorist threat.

13. Actual people making annoying announcements on modern trains that everyone knows are capable of playing only recorded messages: seriously, why do they bother? Recorded messages, where the words are always the same and the tone and volume (not to mention the voice itself) are always consistent always sound so much better. Then some douche standing by an open door screaming into the mouthpiece of an old telephone handset decides to tell everyone where the train’s going and what they can do at the next station… I’ll tell them what they can do at the next station. Hopefully it involves them leaving the train while I stay on board to complete my journey!

14. As per #13, but with far too much expression in their voice: as if it’s not bad enough that they’ve already ruined the pre-recorded ambience of the average journey, being too flowery and descriptive and saying the whole thing with an obvious smile on their face is ten times worse – a train guard who actually loves what they do! It’s just unpalatable.

15. People sitting on the aisle seat of two seats when nobody is sitting next to them: in fairness, this is likely the legacy of poor public transport design more than anything (the same thing happens in New York and London, but with less impact due to different configuration), but certainly train users here in Sydney seem to be highly sensitive to being trapped on the window seat of a two or three person seat and being unable to get out in time for their stop. It’s either that or, more probably, that Sydneysiders simply have a massive dislike of looking anyone else in the eye, let alone the dreaded horror of actually having to say anything to them (which also assumes they actually could if they needed to, which isn’t always a given). Most people would simply prefer to sit on the outside, forcing someone else to excuse themselves to get past, whereby not having to say anything to anyone when the time comes to make their own move.

Morning commute_Flyers_286581-elegantly-scant-lingerie16. People handing out flyers: when you walk the streets of almost any major city in the world, it’s a miracle if you get through the experience without someone having thrust something at you. Sadly, it’s generally not the kind of thing you woke up that morning thinking you’d love someone to thrust at you that day. During the morning commute people on inner city footpaths hand out all sorts of shit that I don’t want thrust in my face or at the general vicinity of my hands ever, let alone any time roughly either side of 9am. Even when I approach a polling booth on the day of a state or federal election I ignore the flyers, so I’m unlikely to accept one from some random on the way to work, but they continue to try anyway. Flyers, pamphlets, gym passes (but only if you’re already pretty and/or buff), coffee vouchers, cleaners, painters and handymen touting for business… it’s never anything I actually need or anywhere I’d actually go. They’re just advertising, I get that, but it’s the most offensive form of advertising. I already have enough of that stuff thrust at my eyes when I least expect it throughout the day, I don’t need it when I’m walking along a footpath on my way to or from work. Interestingly, it only tends to happen during morning rush or at lunchtime. Obviously, the response from the afternoon rush is heavily anticipated, so it almost never happens then. It should never happen.

Morning commute_img-thing17. Coffee breath, morning breath and/or BO: within the confines of a packed bus, tram or train at some time before 9am, there’s virtually nothing worse to contend with than morning breath, coffee breath, or BO. Sometimes it’s a 2-for-1 combo. Sometimes, if you did something really awful the day before, karma comes back to bite you and you get all three, right in your face! It’s awful. How can people be so lacking in awareness of self and surroundings? Or their own stench? Seriously, it’s disgusting. Go do something about that!

18. Buff corporate wankers with giant oversized gym bags: what are they carrying in those giant bags, anyway? A full cricket set inclusive of pads, bat and three stumps? And why are they all branded Country Road? Of course, many of them are corporate hipsters with big beards and hugely slicked hair, so it’s entirely possible that the entire content of said bags is hair product and combs, so they probably just use the gym for the change rooms and mirrors. How very metrosexual.

After all these years, I think I just came to a critical conclusion: I don’t like people, I loathe the corporate world and I should do a job where I never have to interact with another person again. Either that, or I should work for a brewery, vineyard or small bar. Maybe I should open my own boutique place? Or else, find some way of making ‘mattsoldmanrants’ actually generate me an income. Pretty sure I know which one is more likely to happen first, if at all…