Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Sod and Murphy Conspire Against Me

It's been a while since I've taken you on a linguistic journey – you can blame my latest foray with National Express for this outing. I'm sitting on the coach with the inconsiderate “background” sounds of some TV show someone several seats in front is watching on their laptop. I'm actually pretty glad to be on this coach and amused that despite its reputation Megabus feels much more luxurious than National Express in that the individual spotlights overhead are actually WORKING! I'm also pretty lucky to be on a virtually empty coach with seats all around me free. So what's the problem you say? And why mention National Express when you're travelling with Megabus?

My day didn't begin well. My two morning cautionary alarms went off and shortly afterwards I got a phone call from the agency. I had work for the fourth day running – almost unheard of! For the second day I'd be travelling to an extremely far-flung suburb of outer “London”. Having travelled for two hours and passed nearing 25 tube stops to get to Upminster (technically Essex) the day before, today I'd have to get an overland train out of Liverpool Street to Chingford. Where Chingford is exactly I'll never know. Having hauled myself out of bed, I pretty much sleep-walked into the shower. Unable to brave the shock of turning on the lights, I showered and got ready in darkness. Just as I'm about to leave, I get a phone call to say the booking is cancelled and they'll see if they can get me something else. Several hours pass lying in bed fully attired in work clothes before I am ready to accept defeat.

One of those non-existent days passes and low and behold the second irritation for the day strikes... that old devil called “Sod's Law”. I leave the house giving myself plenty of time to get to Victoria Coach Station and all is going well until the Victoria Line segment of my journey that is. At every stop we seem to need to wait for a signal to enter the station and as the minutes pass I'm no longer able to comfortably read my copy of Stylist. Rather like that old pointless habit of pressing the traffic light button repeatedly, I always seem to think when panic strikes I'm better off waiting at the ready so I can leap into action as if this strategy is actually going to fix the delay. The Stylist is tucked back into my laptop bag and my coat sleeve is slightly rolled up to allow easy watch face access. Two stops out of five and a second disaster is announced – there's a broken down train in front between Warren Street and Green Park. I'm well used to delays on the somewhat unreliable Victoria Line but thankfully they normally don't occur at such a crucial time.

I finally arrive into Victoria Train Station with a mere five minutes before my coach leaves to attempt a walk that normally takes ten minutes. I'm characteristically heavily laden and trying to run through the underground. Typically Victoria Train Station has closed off the normal exit so I have longer to go and my trousers have decided to try and embarrass me but all four sets of traffic lights are in my favour. I make it into the coach station bang on six, extremely red faced and drenched. Coaches to the north are unfortunately the furthest departure points so I pant on through dragging my case behind. Last week when I got the coach from London to Leeds I arrived in plenty of time and the coach was delayed departing by two hours. Today seats near the departure gate are disturbingly empty, the computer screen message board is blank and those passengers waiting around have no idea if the 561 has gone. I desperately ask a near by policemen if he's seen it and he usefully rather obviously tells me that he doesn't work for National Express.

My fate is now left in the hands of the lady at the ticket desk. I'm hoping my pitiful appearance might help my case but she goes by the book and I have to buy a new ticket for a coach leaving an hour later. Typically after already waiting an hour, my Megabus coach is delayed by 45 minutes due to “adverse weather conditions” on the M1 – clearly conditions that didn't affect the 6pm National Express Coach. The phrase “Sod's Law” comes to mind again and I wonder where it comes from.

As I am a bit of a language geek when I finally arrive in Leeds, I whip out one of my many dictionaries and the one of most use turns out to be my dictionary of modern slang which tells me that “Sod's Law” is “the supposed tendency for things to go wrong in a perverse or annoying way”. Attributed to Murphy's Law back in the 70s, it seems the phrase has a whole other name and actually isn't that old but and's_law vaguely suggest it's etymology dates back further. So there you go, no clear answer but certainly a phrase who's dictionary definition aptly matches my unfortunate day.

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