Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Great Train Robbery

Dear Sir/Madam,

I would like to appeal the penalty fare I was unfairly issued with on 28th October, 2008 at Brighton Station, after taking the 19:36 train from Falmer to Brighton (see enclosed). It says on the notice I was given that I “have been unable to show when requested either a valid ticket, or other authority to travel, for your journey.” This is untrue. It was I who requested to buy a ticket, and was refused, and instead told that I would be charged a fine.

I had arrived at Falmer Station with my colleagues shortly before the train arrived, and thus went straight to the ticket machine on the platform to get a ticket. The gate for the platform bridge did not take me through or past the ticket office and I did not notice if was open or not. I found the machine unable to take cards, with a coin slot too narrow to fit pound coins in, and, after several tries, unwilling to accept paper money either.

The train arrived quickly, and we boarded and sat down. I am not a frequent user of this route, preferring the bus. However, I had taken this train in similar circumstances at a similar time two weeks previously, and had found no ticket machines at all – I was assured that I would be able to buy my ticket at Brighton, and indeed was able to without any trouble. Naturally I assumed that this would again be the right course of action, and assured my companion, who also had no ticket, that we could get our tickets at Brighton. After getting off the train, we went straight to the office next to the barriers and asked to buy tickets, and were refused.

We were told that the ticket office at Falmer was open (I do not know if this was true, but there was some controversy), and that we should have gone to the conductor and got our tickets. If I had known this was the case, I would have done so, but because of previous experience, I waited. It appears my only crime was to ask the wrong person for a ticket. This was abundantly clear to the officers who issued me my penalty fare, but it seems they were not in a position to make judgments on individual cases, but had to follow procedure. So here is my appeal, I trust it will be evaluated fairly, and my fine will be waived.


Roger Johnson

Monday, November 3, 2008

Dixon, Illinois: Reagan's Small Town

(Last week, I wrote a piece for the New Statesman's election blog. I submitted this as well, but it doesn't seem to have made the cut. The shame! Amiable Dunce, though, is still a reliable host for my writing.)

At the dedication of his Presidential Library, Ronald Reagan took the opportunity to muse on his past and its contemporary relevance:

I grew up in a town where everyone cared about one another because everyone knew one another, not as statistics in a government program but as neighbours in need…Our neighbours were never ashamed to kneel in prayer to their makers nor were they ever embarrassed to feel a lump in their throat when old glory passed by. No one in Dixon, Illinois ever burned a flag and no one in Dixon would have tolerated it.

This was in 1991, in the midst of the culture wars that swamped American politics as the Cold War drifted into history. Patriotism and American values as defined by rural and small-town life defined conservative rhetoric in the renewed battle against liberalism, and Reagan here was asserting his continuing loyalty to the cause (incidentally, out of the five Presidents at that ceremony, only one place his hand on his heart during the national anthem – Jimmy Carter). Today, seventeen years later, such reminiscence would delight the GOP crowds who continue to turn out for a campaign which increasingly defines itself around the symbol of the small town. Here tradition and morality and independent conservatism thrive in apparent cohesion with the vision of the iconic President Reagan.

Reagan, though, had more to say about Dixon and the place of small towns in the American fabric. Peggy Noonan, in her memoir of the Reagan White House, recalled a meandering Oval Office conversation on economics and the changing shape of the family in the 20th Century. Reagan reflected:

It was the rise of the city, too…You know, those sleepy old towns where generation after generation lived. And then those kids in the Midwest left; there was nothing in those towns – Lord, that’s why I left! And they wanted to see the world, so they went to the cities…

Reagan escaped from Dixon, Illinois. He aimed for Chicago, ended up in Des Moines and before too long found his way to Los Angeles. Hollywood celebrated the small town, and in those days wore a rigid fa├žade of wholesomeness, but it was there that Reagan was trained in the big city values of celebrity, vigorous creativity, vibrant commercialism, and active, progressive politics. While he was to give up on the latter, or turn it into something else, it was still the city that made the Reagan who became President, and which made him a heap of money. The shining city secured him the American dream, which he proceeded to promote for the rest of his life. It is not just that McCain/Palin marginalise large swathes of the American people with their narrow focus, it’s that they ignore this vital aspect of American mythology, the cities which forged the nation’s ideas, images and dreams, leaving their vision strangely stagnant.