Recently I came back to London from Stockport on the train, a Penguilino, geddit? – specially decorated for Christmas by a little girl who won the competition. Family fun is one aspect of Virgin’s presentation. More solemn is the locomotive which urged us to remember the dead of two world wars: Lest We Forget. But patriotic Sir Richard would presumably like us to forget that for tax purposes he lives abroad, and can only spend 60 (I think) days in the year in Britain. Or that the branch of the company that runs the train franchises is registered in, where else, the Virgin Islands.
Waiting often for the local train at Hadley Wood I observed Virgin’s takeover of the East Coast franchise. Same trains, same timetable, same fares, at least for now, but different decoration. At first the odd locomotive dressed as Virgin, but over a few weeks all the trains and carriages turned red and white. Whereas kids tag walls and bridges, Branson tags the trains themselves, all the way from London to Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Do you call them taggers? That’s what he is, essentially.
Recently a flier came through the door from Sadiq Khan, Labour candidate for next year’s London mayoral election. He’s started early. Lots of pictures of Sadiq: at school, outside the Houses of Parliament, in high vis. vest at a Crossrail site, dressed up for his graduation, (he ‘got a university place based on my talent rather than my ability to pay’,) and looking pretty fresh after completing the London marathon, wearing on his chest, above the number 26730, the logo, white on red, ‘Virgin Money’. More publicity, based on Branson’s ability to pay rather than his talent.
But Virgin’s mail shots come in plain white envelopes, in an attempt to stop you chucking them straight in the bin, as if they were ashamed. I sent some back. They still arrive, but now not addressed to me but to ‘the householder.’
An ad for Virgin’s transatlantic flights uses these slogans: ‘play with yourself’, and ‘nine inches of pleasure’. Do you think Branson could be making the west a dangerous place to be? I find myself agreeing with fundamentalists of various persuasions, from Old Testament prophets and my grandmother to ayatollahs, Al Quaida and Isis that our world is decadent, corrupt and doomed. What was that song? About the Eve of Destruction? Google ‘virgin’ images and up come hundreds of red pictures. A dozen or so of Branson holding Ditta von Teese in a bikini over his shoulder or in his arms, and a dozen more holding other more or less naked women: it doesn’t seem to be enough for him to pose with them, he has to actually lift them off their feet. The virgin Mary hardly gets a look in on Google, but there’s one soppy picture of a little girl in Ireland about to receive her first communion. Very little spoils the perfect Virgin happiness. Any discordant images are mostly of the crashed space craft in the American desert, the violently shattered wreck all the more shocking seen next to triumphant grins, the white beard and all those white teeth. No surprise that the space craft doesn’t work, it’s the only Virgin enterprise that tries to do something new, as opposed to taking over or developing a business that’s already operating. But to read their publicity you’d think they had laid all the track from London to Scotland and invented trains.