Recently I had the misfortune to be in need of a train in middle England on the very day the snow came to middle England.

As each successive time on the departures board rearranged itself into the word CANCELED, a collective muted groan, accentuated by some with a beetled brow or pursed lips, was the extent of the would-be passengers’ reaction to their collective fate. We’re English. We deal.

I on the other hand was seething. I could handle the enervating, damp chill, the numbness in my extremities, I could forgive the foul brew masquerading as coffee in the station’s caff, but I wasn’t prepared for the inane stream of drivel issuing from the PA system.

Monotone female voice: “We apologise for the cancellation of the [12.17] service to [Hereford]. We are very sorry for any inconvenience this may cause.” Followed without pause even for an automated breath by turgidly identical apologies for “…the [12.25] service to [Birmingham New Street]…”, “…the [12.42] service to [Soli-fucking-hull]…”, “…the [12.47] service to [London bastarding Paddington]…”, and on and on this awful, whinging litany continued until – she began again at the beginning. And just when you thought she was finished, a male voice seamlessly interposed itself:

“Due to [severe weather conditions] we are experiencing disruptions to our passenger services. We sincerely apologise to passengers for any inconvenience this may cause.”

And back and forth this doleful duet harped.

At least you knew where you stood when back in the day some surly NUR* or ASLEF** shop steward would have barked down the tannoy to the effect that “this station will be closin’ forfwiv due to the unsafe workin’ conditions for the membership”. Followed rapidly by the roaring to life of assorted Hillmans, Vauxhalls and Austin Minis in the employee car park.

Apologies: meaningless, automatic, automated, automaton apologies. Apologies for telephone queues, out of stocks, for the horse in the hamburger, for plane delays, train delays and rain delays, apologies for shagging the intern, for letting my family down, for letting the fans down, for taking my trousers down, for fucking the choir boys, for bombing the wedding feast.

And who’s to blame? Earnest, humourless, lifeless, dreary-arsed, bloody consultants that’s who. No doubt there’s an entire industry of cock up consultants, confessional specialists, excuse executives, and grovel gurus devoted to counselling companies and public figures on how to deal with fuck ups. Devoid of empathy, as inhumane as the automated solutions they foist, they work to rule every bit as earnestly as those union shop stewards did back in the 1970s.

The sanguine response of my fellow passengers suggests that they’ve become inured to the inanity. Which is the really sad bit. Yet another time honoured aid to social cohesion stripped of all meaning by the vapid exigencies of some specious school of brand management.

*NUR: National Union of Railwaymen
**ASLEF: Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen