“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. 

 
 
 
 

Canada’s gay neighbourhoods are struggling. Can queer pop-ups plug the gap?

Vancouver. Image: Getty.

Queer life was highly visible in Western Canada last year. In May, Vancouver declared 2018 the “Year of the Queer,” celebrating decades of service that the city’s cultural organisations have provided for lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender, queer and two-spirit (LGBTQ/2S) people across the region.

Yet 2018 also saw the loss of multiple queer venues and gay bars. While economic forces, such as rapacious gentrification are part of the story and struggle, our research shows that something creative and generative is happening in the city as well.

In the face of changing urban landscapes, economic hardships, and more straights moving into historically gay neighbourhoods, queer pop-ups — ephemeral gathering spaces whose impact lingers among revellers long after the night is over — now play a large role in the fight for LGBTQ/2S equality.

Scattered gay places became neighbourhoods

Queer life germinated in “scattered gay places” across cities in North America from the late 1800s to the Second World War. Inside cabarets, bars, theatres or outside in public parks, washrooms and city streets, queers found spaces which could hold and celebrate transgressive sexual connections while also providing respite from daily experiences of discrimination and social exclusion.

After the Second World War, scattered gay places congealed into permanent gay bars and residential “gaybourhoods” in a period anthropologist Kath Weston calls “the great gay migration.” Queer people flocked to urban centres and sexual subcultures flourished in cities like New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Toronto.

The formation of queer community spaces has always been controversial. Cultural and legal backlashes marred early developments. A host of laws and regulations tried to suppress and contain homosexuality in North America by limiting its presence in the public sphere.

These measures resulted in frequent hostilities, police raids and violence. Queers congregated together not just to find love or community, but to protect themselves, to protect one another and to find refuge. Pride parades, now celebrated worldwide, commemorate these early turf wars.

Pop-ups revitalise queer spaces

Researchers have written a great deal on the cultural and political importance of gay districts in urban centres, and they have grappled with concerns that these areas, along with the establishments they house, are fading.

But innovative urban forms challenge arguments about the death and demise of queer spaces in the city. Our research suggests that queer pop-ups, or temporary cultural gathering spaces, cater to diverse and often marginalised queers.

Some gaybourhoods are dwindling in their residential concentration and gay bars are dropping like flies. But new queer place-making efforts are emerging.

Two of the authors at the queer pop-up in 2018 at East Side Studios in Vancouver. Ryan is on the far left, back row, Adriana is on the far right of the back row. Image: author provided.

Unlike gaybourhoods and gay bars, pop-ups are intentional in how they address persistent, intersectional forms of inequality. Queer pop-ups offer patrons a space to explore non-binary forms of gender and sexual identities, and especially a place to experience collective effervescence among queer people of colour, and femme lesbians.

Some pop-ups create environments that are explicitly trans-inclusive, consent-focused, and sex-positive. Pop-ups are not panaceas for queer life. Pop-ups can also be places where issues around socioeconomic status, gender identity and expression, and racial inequality are called out.

Yet these spaces directly and indirectly encourage dialogue on inequalities within the queer community, conversations that help produce safer spaces for marginalised queers to find each other and forge enduring queer consciousnesses.

Turf wars

Queer pop-ups show similar trajectories of infighting and compromise that the LGBT social movement encountered from the late 1970s through the early 2000s when trying to forge a collective consciousness, gain social visibility and win legal rights.

These turf wars, expressed as contests over space and inclusion, are generally sparked over three perennial concerns: privilege, race and gender. One interviewee, a 20-year-old self-identified queer, trans person of colour (QTPoC), who spoke about Vancouver’s gay district told us:

“I tend to avoid the gay bars on Davie [because] a lot of the gay bars there have now been taken over by cis-gender, heterosexual people. I’ve [also] heard from a lot of QTPoC friends that they are often uncomfortable going to gay bars on Davie, because it’s usually very dominated by cis-gender, white gay men.”

A 28-year-old white, cisgender, queer male found pop-ups more politically and culturally radical than gay bars. He put it this way:

“It’s very rare that we’ll ever have a conversation about politics [in gay bars]. It’s just about partying and things that we kind of see as very stereotypical portrayals of gay culture: like going out, dancing, drinking, fucking.”

Historically, gaybourhoods have served an important role in the fight for LGBT rights, but they have also developed to cater to a specific cis-gender, white, middle-class, male sensibility. One 30-year-old, white, trans DJ put it bluntly, “the mainstream scene is just not welcoming to trans people, in my experience,” adding that verbal transphobic harassment is common in the streets of Vancouver’s gaybourhood.

At Vancouver Pride this year we were reminded of this schism at a local pop-up event. “Gay men won’t come here, it’s too trashy,” shouted a white Australian lesbian playfully to friends over loud music. We were at Eastside Studios, a large warehouse turned into the newest collaborative queer venue in Vancouver.


The comment was striking because it highlights the visible bifurcation occurring in queer life and queer consumption in Vancouver. Many gay men tend to patronise businesses and events in the West End, Vancouver’s official gaybourhood; whereas, other members of the LGBTQ community are scattered across the city at events and venues that are far less permanent. Eastside Studios attempts to break through the homonormative bent some gay bars perpetuate. It is a space that generously houses some of the struggling pop up events who lost space to gentrification in Vancouver’s out of control rental market.

Historically, pop-ups arose as the first signs of urban sexual transgression. They continue to emerge as spatial innovations which nurture transgressive queer diversities that do not have space or representation in the gaybourhood. Weekly social media blasts via Facebook or Instagram and word-of-mouth dissemination play an important role in linking queers around the city to these events. Pop-ups take different tones and establish different vibes among patrons. Collectively, pop-ups highlight the many important projects local queers are undertaking to increase the plurality of what queer life looks like and how it is expressed.

Struggles for equality

Marriage is the leading story in many headlines these days, but queer struggles for equality were never only about relationship recognition or acceptance into the mainstream.

Queer struggles are also fights to resist oppressive normativity, to end racial inequality and white supremacy, to end sexualised violence, to reconcile generational traumas associated with colonialism.

Continuing these fights is perhaps what makes queer pop-ups unique. Organisers of these events are intentional and responsive to such concerns. They seek to create new worlds that soften the impact of inequalities, both in gaybourhoods and in other parts of Canadian cities as well.

Pop-ups nourish queer lives; they emerge as temporary meeting grounds where diverse, oftentimes marginalised, queers flock for community and collective, momentary release. Here an image from a Man Up pop-up event in Vancouver. Image: Shot by Steph/Facebook/The Conversation.

Many of these spaces are an opportunity for patrons to travel in a re-imagined world, even if only for the night. While not all pop-ups that appear survive, the ones that do matter, fundamentally, because they create spaces that resist heteronormative culture and homonormativity, address intersecting inequalities, assert and anchor queer cultural and political identities, and promote well-being for a wider portion of the community in ways that gaybourhoods used to and have always had the potential to.

Pop-ups nourish queer lives in ways that gaybourhoods and gay bars historically had. They emerge as temporary meeting grounds where diverse, oftentimes marginalised, queers flock for community and collective, momentary release. They allow patrons to dance and comfortably explore the implications of their gender and sexual identities around like-minded individuals. At times they are more than friendly social gatherings, becoming sites where the moral arch of the community is shaped through demonstrations on urgent issues impacting queer lives and the surrounding community.

Queer pop-ups are vibrant locations that work to push forward the unfinished projects of social justice first envisioned during gay liberation.

The Conversation

Ryan Stillwagon, Ph.D. Student, Sociology, University of British Columbia; Adriana Brodyn, Ph.D. Candidate, University of British Columbia; Amin Ghaziani, Associate Professor of Sociology and Canada Research Chair in Sexuality and Urban Studies, University of British Columbia, and D. Kyle Sutherland, PhD Student, Department of Sociology, University of British Columbia.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.