Sorrows can come as single spies

There’s been some correspondence recently somewhere (possibly the londonpaper (lower case intentional), but it may have been the Guardian) about why, if you’re reading a paper on a train, the next person’s paper is always more interesting than your own – even if you’re reading the same paper.  This isn’t often precisely the problem on my commute, as I tend to be the only Guardian reader for several carriages, and the dear old thing can usually hold my attention until at least Luton.

Today, however, I found my attention wandering early on.  It might have been about the time I’d read the cricket pages and made my way through to the Toynbee zone.  Anyway my gaze strayed in the direction of my neighbour’s laptop.  Normally this isn’t very fruitful, as the staple diet of the trainbound laptop-pecker is the spreadsheet – but this chap was working his way through his e-mails.

Couldn’t help noticing (that not always entirely honest phrase) that what my fellow-traveller was looking at was a report from some kind of company that specialises in sending out mystery diners to report on the customer experience in restaurants.  Inevitably, this consisted of a series of tickboxes – yes/no answers as to whether the staff had faithfully followed the corporate script.  As far as I could see, although the gastronomic nark seemed to have enjoyed the food, the crosses in the little boxes soon mounted up, mainly because the – no doubt  ill-paid and harassed staff –  had failed to do all the things that I personally find a little irritating when visiting a restaurant – introducing themselves by name, pointing out (more expensive) alternatives on the menu, explaining all the ingredients in a particular dish and so on.  And there were greenfly on the windowsill, apparently.  At the end of the tickboxes the thing did a little sum and came up with the baleful verdict (in red)  – FAIL.  Result a quick e-mail to the manageress saying “not pretty – please comment”, or similar.

Now, this really does strike me as an utterly abject and ignominious way to earn a living – going around eating free dinners (decent ones too, from the sound of it) – no doubt saying “Very nice, thank you” when asked  whether “everything was alright”  and then going off and sending off a secret dossier to the middle managers of the chain concerned, resulting in the ruin of some poor lower middle managerial bugger’s morning and no doubt some serious grief for the cleaners.

For all I know,  the whole country is swarming with these wretched spies.  Lord Sidmouth must feel that he was ahead of his time.

(The more fastidious ethical philosopher might question the entitlement to indignation of someone who is reading someone else’s correspondence over his shoulder and then reporting on it on a pseudonymous blog – but well, it’s … er … obviously quite different.  Think of it as counter-espionage). 

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