Wednesday, 2 January 2013

An obsession with numbers

Clive Mortington-Jones loved numbers. As he stood waiting for the local commuter train on the first day back at work after the Christmas break, he worked out that his season ticket had actually gone up by 4.53%, a little unfair when his salary would go up by 1% at the end of the month, albeit backdated to August 2012, and when this morning’s radio new had reported an average 4% rise on train fares. Who were the lucky bastards who were getting a below 4% increase that enabled the average increase to be 4%?  
He counted the other people waiting. Ten on both sides of the track.  So, absolutely spot on average. The week before Christmas it had fluctuated between 40% lower – perhaps reflecting the number of office parties and subsequent hangovers – and 30% higher – could that have been people taking the train into town for some last-minute shopping?
The 7.47 was running late. It was already 7.49. Expected 7.52 the board said. So, for 2013 100% late. If you calculated over the last twelve months, however it would be – he fished his notebook out of his inside jacket pocket and did a quick bit of mental arithmetic – 15.3%. Still not brilliant. It rather suggested fares ought to be reduced, not increased.
He started to work out what might be the effect of cutting fares. That would no doubt result in job losses, which would push up the percentage of people unemployed, which in turn would reduce the nation’s spending power, further affecting the whole economy.
As the train approached the platform he reflected that yes, of course, it was obvious: fares had to rise.
What he couldn’t possibly know, and it’s likely that even if he hadn’t spent all of his time calculating, he wouldn’t have noticed because she kept her face unreadable. Just 5% of the people waiting at the station were glad to get back to work. Molly Andrews, a pretty but shy office junior, had been missing her daily fix of staring at the good-looking young man who waited on the opposite platform for the 7.47 every day.                                

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