Recently, I’ve been suffering this recurrent nightmare. The Cornish nation is stuck on a runaway train. The train hurtles along, sparks flying, a symphony of impending doom from its horn echoing back from the enveloping darkness outside. Stations flash past. Though they have numbers, not names. 400,000, 500,000, the next one 634,000. But we never stop. Just career through. Litter blows around forlornly in our wake as the only evidence of our passing.
Some of the passengers, most of them packed like sardines in standard class (the first class carriages are almost empty) wonder vaguely why we don’t stop. The tannoy infuriatingly announces the next station stop will always be the one after the next one. A few are getting alarmed at the way the train’s beginning to sway with little jumps as we race across the points and ominous clangs from the rails.
But the strange thing is most people don’t seem to notice. Or care. They’re lost in their in-train entertainment screens or locked away inside laptops and smartphones, oblivious to the outside world or the destination. Others carry on partying. Or eating.
Up in the cab the driver is hunched over the controls. His hand rests on the power lever, but this one has a big sign on it saying ‘growth’. This is the opposite of a deadman’s handle. If he lets go of the growth lever he’s been told the whole train will grind to a halt in the middle of nowhere. The passengers will have to disembark into ua searing hot desert – no water, no shade. To prevent that disaster the driver has to keep the train going. Faster, ever faster.
|End of the line?|
By his side is his assistant. This guy used to operate the brakes and saw his role as protecting the passengers and preventing the train running out of control. No longer. Now, he urges the driver on. Give it some welly my son, more speed. Keep pressing that lever.
Was that a red signal we just passed? No matter. Both driver and assistant have been rendered colour-blind and all signals are at green. Even if they’re red.
There’s going to be a helluva scat up if we go on like this. Panicking, I look for the communication cord.
But there isn’t one.