I only work here.

Well only if the much heralded “Be extremely Charitable to Verbs Day” had finally dawned. We’ve a long and proud history on the Hedgehog of documenting* that the British Service Industry is as much an oxymoron as “A night of song and entertainment with Les Dennis“.

The Car Park/Large Note Depository abutting our offices installed a shiny line of mutli-currency payment machines where one can part with a weeks’ wages for the pleasure of parking your car for an hour, and descending stairwells smelling of old tramps and fresh piss. The only obvious wet-wear** in this electronic package is a lonely soul hutted out of harms way and surrounded by a million monitors, which he cheerfully ignores as your homeward transport is being car jacked.

Except not tonight. A snaking, shivering and vibrationally angry queue trod a menacing line to his armoured window. The reason soon became clear – a total systems crash had left the normally chirpy machines dark and silent. Occasionally one flickered fireflying desperate commuters to its’ blinking screen only to accept their ticket but reject their payment. These poor deluded types then attempted to rejoin the now epic queue from whence they’d left. Ranks were closed and cold shoulders turned to indicate the only place for such technology believers was right at the back.

The much chastised attendant was having to ring through every credit card transaction as the cashless economy foundered on the rocks of the minimum wage. From my place mid-queue I idly calculated that five minutes per ticket processed had me standing in an every more grumpy crowd for about 45 minutes. At which point it went properly dark and started snowing. Briefly a rumour circulated that if you had the right change, a combination of two machines and some Fibonacci key sequence may stamp your exit card, but most of us were far too savvy to fall for that queue jumping trick.***

At this point, a second attendant began to police the rank informing us all the ticket machines weren’t working, and – more importantly – how this wasn’t his fault. Bored, I engaged the fella in conversation:

“So tell me, how can all the machines fail at the same time” / “Dunno Mate”

“Isn’t there some kind of backup, fail safe, that kind of thing” / “Dunno Mate”

“Do you know when it might be fixed” / “Dunno Mate”

“Have you asked?” / [receive look of intense trade unionism] “I only work here Mate”

Time passed. Skies turned to black. Feet turned to ice. Brummies turn to near violence. My turn at the booth ended with a brief round of applause, as I was holding real currency and thereby short-cutting the approval process by five minutes. Even exhibiting the first signs of hypothermia I retained sufficient mental collateral not to ask for a receipt. Because I have other things to do this year.

My exit from the centre of this EMP strike was briefly halted by a third “parking operative” stopping me splintering the barrier movie style, by inserting his rather over-fed girth between me and the slot where tickets open Hell’s Portal to the Hagley Road.

“What’s up” I asked innocently “Got to check your ticket”

“But the exit machine is working now isn’t it?” / “Yes”

“So why are you having to check my ticket? That’s stupid” / “Dunno”

“Did you ask?” / “Just doing my…..”

Let me stop you there I thought. Here’s some advice tho, if you’re ever lucky enough to exit via the second exit from the Broad Street car park in Birmingham and you notice a rather lumpy sleeping policeman, you ain’t see me right?

It is become increasingly clear to me, I am the only sane man amongst a bunch of lunatics. It’s like The Matrix with no red pill.

* Or if today was instead “stop poncing about with fancy words” we’d probably have to admit to Moaning.

** I’ve been hanging out with programmers for far too long “Yeah sorry chief, got to net myself some realtime in the blueroom to interface wth the wetwear” which roughly translates as “I’m off outside for a smoke and a bag of chips”

*** In the olden days, we would have RELISHED this. People would have joined the queue merely in the spirit of enquiry. World’s gone to shit, I blame the Internet.

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