“26 minutes late”: The diary of a Thameslink passenger

This is not my train platform. But it really does look like it. Image: Getty.

Earlier this month, as people in relationships (read: millennials looking to halve their rent) are wont to do, I moved into my boyfriend’s house. This was a big step for two reasons: I have never lived with a partner before, and, bigger still, he lives in Croydon.

So I live in Croydon now, I guess. No it’s okay; don’t feel too bad for me. It’s up and coming, haven’t you heard? My rent is much cheaper and my house much bigger, I have a garden for the first time in the past three flats, and somebody cooks me tea. Plus, obviously nobody will ever want to come over because I live in Croydon! Win, win, win, WIN.

There is a downside, though. Croydon is London’s southernmost borough. It is not on a tube line. Getting to work using Transport for London services only would involve leaving 50 minutes earlier to spend 1hr40 on two buses; probably more, allowing for rush hour.

I am fortunate that I can afford not to have to do this, but alas: I now exist fully at the mercy of Thameslink. This not a position anybody should ever have to be in, with the possible exception of Chris Grayling. 

So to pass the time, and in the hope of getting some content out of my morning misery, I’ve been keeping a Thameslink diary. I travel each morning between Norwood Junction and Blackfriars. All train times reported below are accurate, and can be found here.

Monday 14 January

Arrive at Blackfriars one minute late this morning. This Croydon lark isn’t so bad.

Tuesday 15 January

One minute late again. Not a big deal, I even have time to go to Tesco on the way to the office.

Wednesday 16 January

You guessed it: one minute late. What is up with all you Thameslink haters? I mean chill out, guys, it’s fine. Somebody should consider changing the timetable though, it’s clearly a 9.08am train, not a 9.07am one.

Thursday 17 January

I have been tricked. Thameslink is not fine. My train is 11 minutes late. This means I am stood on the platform for 13 minutes. It’s -1C outside, and I can’t feel my hands. Must remember to find gloves tomorrow.

Send editor apologetic message.

Friday 18 January

My boyfriend, who leaves an hour before me, texts me to say the trains are fucked and his has been cancelled. I avoid my usual train altogether and get the later one, which is running just five minutes late. This is better than yesterday, so I can’t complain. Am I being indoctrinated by Thameslink?

Send editor apologetic message.

Saturday 19 and Sunday 20 January

Thameslink doesn’t even run on a weekend! Doesn’t even bother trying! Pathetic. I am trapped in Croydon.

(This is a lie, there are slow trains available. I remain in Croydon.)

Monday 21 January

My train is 26 minutes late! Twenty six minutes! I really, really must start checking the Trainline live departures app before I leave – it’s -2C outside, and I could have had an extra 26 minutes in bed.

There is seemingly no reason for the delay either; the man on the tannoy pipes up every few minutes with a very precise, updated count of how many minutes late the train’s running now, but never offers an explanation. I feel like he’s enjoying it.

Send editor apologetic message.

Tuesday 22 January

After yesterday’s complete disregard of the timetable, a three-minute delay doesn’t feel so bad. This really is how they trick you into thinking small delays are the norm, isn’t it?

Still bitterly cold though, and the platform wait is painful. Must remember to find either my gloves or a cure for Raynaud’s disease by tomorrow.

Wednesday 23 January

Assume the trains will be delayed because it snowed last night, and despite the fact that it didn’t really settle, this seems like the type of thing that would render Thameslink totally incapacitated.

I allow myself a few minutes lie in, then realise I am wrong: the train is only two minutes delayed. Have to run to station.

Lesson learnt: don’t try to apply logic to Thameslink.

Thursday 24 January

Ding, ding, ding – we have a winner. Train is a record-breaking 32 minutes late.

To be honest, this has all worked out very well for me though: I remember to check the app before I leave, which says the train is 20 minutes late, so I leave the house late anyway.

Of course, the actual delay is much longer, but I still reduce my wait on the platform. Plus, lots of people don’t bother waiting (understandable), instead opting for slow trains, which means I get a seat. A treat!

Send editor apologetic message.

Friday 25 January

Train is on time today, is Thameslink feeling ok?

Side note: in my two weeks of commuting I have become smart. I have realised that by walking down to first class, I increase my chances of getting a seat ten-fold. I employ this new tactic today, and am confused why everybody else in first class quickly flees the carriage as I get on.

Then a man approaches asking to see my ticket. This has never happened before; I didn’t think these trains had ticket inspectors. He must have got on when I did. I hand him my ticket. He asks why I thought it was okay to sit in first class, when I don’t have a first class ticket. I shrug helplessly and gesture towards second class, which now resembles a tin of sardines.

The man says he’ll let me off with a warning this time, and tells me to go stand with the masses in second class. First class is now empty, bar one quite embarrassed-looking man and the ticket inspector, who is sat in my old seat.

Saturday 26 and Sunday 27 January

See last weekend re: Thameslink.

Go home to my parents in Norfolk, and am cheered to see the Abellio Greater Anglia service is just as terrible as Thameslink. The two-hour direct train that I booked has become a three-hour service, with a change at Cambridge.

The suffering is nationwide; we can take solace in knowing that it is as least fair.  

Monday 28 January

I have a dentist appointment this morning and go to work much later, so am not at liberty to comment on the state of the rush-hour trains. The ones at 11.30am are fine though. Perhaps Thameslink aren’t morning people.

Tuesday 29 January

A terrible tragedy has befallen Thameslink. The exact details are not yet clear, but all evidence suggests one of their trains has gone missing. Abducted, perhaps. This morning, it is forced, and I have no reason to believe it would do this were it not a crisis situation, to not just delay but cancel the 9.07 train to Blackfriars.

We must all embark on a nationwide search immediately, and respect their privacy at this difficult time.

I wait for 13 minutes before deciding to just get the next London Bridge train – Southern Rail not Thameslink, but also delayed (They’re the same people – Ed.) and a tube to work, because it’s fucking freezing and the next Blackfriars train isn’t for another 20 minutes.

Don’t bother sending editor apologetic message, they’re getting a bit repetitive.

Indra Warnes is, eventually, the online sub-editor at the New Statesman. 

 
 
 
 

Could twin towns bring Britain back together?

An unlikely pair. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Twin towns: an irrelevant novelty to most of us, a peculiar name on a village’s welcome sign. But could linking one British town to another – a domestic reinterpretation of this long-standing European practice – help bring Britain back together in a time of national crisis?

Born in the aftermath of World War II, town twinning aimed to foster cooperation and solidarity across Europe. Communities entered formal alliances, nurturing friendships and shared histories. Coventry forged links with Dresden and Volgograd, then Stalingrad, marking the devastation faced by their citizens during the war.

The democratisation of Greece, Spain and Portugal during the 1970s led to a new wave of twin towns across Europe, as did the fall of the Soviet Union a decade later. Since its inception, the focus of town twinning has been on uniting people through relationships. It is a testament to the initiative’s success that many of these remain to this day; Coventry recently enjoyed a performance at the city’s cathedral by Volgograd’s children’s choir.

While European relations have improved since the 1940s, unity at home has received less attention. As a result, Britain is riven with deep economic, political, educational and cultural divides. These fault lines are increasingly determined by geography, with a growing gap between our big metropolitan cities and almost everywhere else.

In comparison to other European countries, we face staggering levels of regional inequality; six of the ten poorest regions in northern Europe can been found in the UK. As outlined by Alan Milburn, the government’s former social mobility tsar, “the country seems to be in the grip of a self-reinforcing spiral of ever-growing division. That takes a spatial form, not just a social one.”

These divisions are poisoning our body politic. As Adam Smith argued in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, putting yourself in someone else's shoes is vital for developing a moral compass; in doing so "we conceive ourselves enduring all the same torments, we enter as it were into his body, and become in some measure the same person with him..." But this is difficult when we have little interaction or experience of those with opposing views.

This is increasingly likely in geographically polarised Britain, with the places we live dominated by people who think alike. Our political leaders must commit time and energy to bridging these divides, just as the leaders of Europe did in the aftermath of the Second World War. By forging links between different parts of the country, a new era of domestic town twinning would do just that.


School exchanges between sister towns would offer an opportunity for children to be exposed to places, people and perspectives very different to their own. This would allow future generations to see things from an alternative and opposing perspective. It may also embed from a young age an awareness of the diversity of experiences seen by people across our highly unequal country.

MPs would be encouraged to spend time in their constituency’s sister town. First-hand exposure to voters in a very different part of the country would surely soften the views of even the most entrenched parliamentarian, making for a more civil debate in the Commons. Imagine the good this would do for Parliament today, with Brexit gridlocked because of the unwillingness of MPs to compromise.

In 2016 the Carnegie UK Trust launched its Twin Towns UK programme, a pilot linking twenty towns across the UK to examine how they might develop together. Emerging benefits include a reduction of insularity and a greater awareness of the bigger picture. Its focus was not on bridging economic divides – towns with similar socioeconomic characteristics were twinned – but initial outcomes from the scheme suggest a broader programme of domestic town twinning could have a powerful impact.

Looking further back, Camden has been twinned with Doncaster since the 1980s, a relationship that unionised Camden Town Hall workers forged in a display of solidarity with striking miners during the 1980s. Funds were raised to feed families of striking workers at the pit and Camden locals even drove north to deliver presents at Christmas. Though the relationship appears less active today, it serves as a powerful reminder of twinning’s capacity to bring people from very different places together.

As we prepare for Brexit it’s imperative that we protect existing twin town relationships with our European partners. This is of vital importance when we know sadly many of these are under threat from austerity and gloriously un-PC mayors. But we should look to breathe new life into these traditions too, where possible. Domestic town twinning would do just that: a step towards bringing Britain back together, just as a continent was reunited after the devastation of war.

Ben Glover is a researcher at the think tank Demos.