The fascination of train announcements

There is something quite fascinating about the announcements made on trains. Is there any form of public speaking that varies in quality more.

Sometimes the announcements can be delivered in an unbelievably apathetic tone, like it’s the last thing the train guard ever wants to do. A lot of it just sounds plain rotten. Sometimes they are so slapdash that you wouldn’t guess that making these announcements was something these people did as a job, several times a day.

Other guards take the other extreme, taking a bit too much pride in the announcement. A lot of them try to talk posh, with sometimes disastrous consequences. Then you get the ones that think they are stand-up comedians.

I recently bought a CD that revels in this all. The MMs Bar Recordings, by Sandra Cross, is a collection of recordings of conductors making various announcements about the buffet bar situated on Coach F of Midlands Mainline trains running between London and Leicester.

The sound quality is variable, and the quality of the announcements even more so. But this is, of course, the whole point.

Listening to this record, which lasts almost 30 minutes, I found myself asking questions like, “who ever says ‘bottle of pop’ these days?” And, “why do they always say ‘for the price of £3.50’ rather than just ‘for £3.50’?”

There is a comedian who tells a joke, but delivers it in the most bored tone. Countless conductors say ‘expresso’, with a phantom ‘x’. There are mis-steps, slip-ups and technical glitches. There are real laugh-out-loud moments.

I just love the concept of this CD. It takes something ostensibly mundane, but asks you to analyse it carefully. It reveals so much. I am reminded of the John Cage quote about noise: “When we ignore it, it disturbs us. When we listen to it, we find it fascinating.”

These announcements are designed to be ephemeral. Most conductors treat it as such. Most people on the train will avoid listening to it. But put it on a CD and it becomes essential listening. 30 minutes’ worth of announcements made between 2006 and 2007 are now immortalised.

The MMs Bar Recordings is possibly the most bonkers album I have ever bought. And I love it.

Comments are closed.