“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. 

 
 
 
 

To see how a city embraces remote work, just look to Helsinki

A deeply rooted culture of trust is crucial to the success of remote work. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

When I speak to Anssi Salminen, an account manager who lives an hour outside Helsinki, he’s working from a wooden platform on the edge of a Finnish lake. With a blanket laid out and his laptop set up, the sun low in the sky, Anssi’s remote work arrangement seems blissful. 

“I spend around half of my time working somewhere else other than the office,” he says. “I can work from home, or on the go, and I also travel to the Netherlands once a month and work from there.

“The emphasis in my work has always been that it doesn’t matter when or where I work, as long as I get things done.”

For many people around the world, the shift to remote work was sudden, sparked by the coronavirus pandemic. Finland, however, is finding the transition much less significant. Before Covid-19, the Nordic nation already displayed impressive levels of remote working, with 14.1% of its workforce reporting usually working from home. Only the Netherlands has a comparable percentage of remote workers, while the UK lagged behind at 4.7%, and the US’s remote workforce lingered at around 3.6%

Anssi works for one of many Helsinki-based companies that offers its employees flexible policies around when and where they work. That arrangement is in part due to the Finnish capital’s thriving start-up scene. In spite of being a relatively small city by global standards it is home to over 500 technology start-ups. These companies are leading the way when it comes to keeping employees connected wherever they choose to work.

“Our company has a completely location-free working policy,” says Kasper Pöyry, the CEO of Helsinki-headquartered software company Gapps. “All meetings are made available for online participants and facilitated accordingly. Some employees have worked extensively from abroad on a working holiday, whilst others prefer the comfort and social aspects of the well-stocked office. Whatever works for our employees is what works for the company.”

Like Gapps, many Helsinki-based firms are deeply preoccupied with providing the necessary technology to attract talent in a vast and sparsely populated country. Finland has only 15 inhabitants per square kilometre, and companies understand that in order to compose teams of specialised expertise, they may have to seek talent outside of the city. Local governments take a similarly proactive stance toward technological access, and Helsinki offers free, unrestricted, high-speed Wi-Fi from city-wide hotspots, while the country as a whole boasts some of the best coverage in Europe. 

But encouraging remote work isn’t just about optimising the potential of Finland’s workforce – companies in Helsinki also recognise that flexibility has clear benefits for both staff and employees. 

“The idea of a good work-life balance is ingrained in Finnish culture,” says Johannes Anttila, a consultant at organisational think tank Demos Helsinki. “It goes back to our rich history of social dialogue between labour unions and employers, but also to an interest in delineating the rules of working life and pushing towards people being able to enjoy their private life. Helsinki has been named the best city in the world for work-life balance, and I think that this underlies a lot of the mentality around remote work.” 

For Peter Seenan, the extent to which Helsinki residents value their free time and prioritise a work-life balance prompted his move to the city ten years ago. He now works for Finnair, and points to Finland’s summer cottages as an example of how important taking time to switch off is for people in the country. These rural residences, where city residents regularly uproot to enjoy the Nordic countryside, are so embedded in Finnish life that the country boasts around 1.8 million of them for its 5.5 million residents

“Flexible and remote work are very important to me because it means that I don’t feel like I’m getting stuck in a routine that I can’t control easily,” he says. “When I’m working outside of the office I’ll go down to my local sauna and go ice swimming during the working day, typically at lunchtime or mid-morning, and I’ll feel rejuvenated afterwards… In winter time especially, flexibility is important because it makes it easier to go outside during daylight hours. It’s certainly beneficial for my physical and mental health, and as a result my productivity improves.”

The relaxed attitude to working location seems to pay off – Finland is regularly named the happiest country in the world, scoring highly on measures such as how often its residents exercise and how much leisure time they enjoy. With large swathes of unspoiled countryside and a national obsession with the outdoors, sustainability is at the forefront of its inhabitants’ minds, leading to high levels of support for measures to limit commuting. In January, Finland passed a new Working Hours Act, the goal of which was to help better coordinate employee’s work and leisure time. Central to this is cementing in law that employees can independently decide how, when, and where they work.

Yet enacting the new ruling is not as simple as just sending employees home with their laptops. For Kirsimarja Blomqvist, a professor of knowledge management at LUT University, perhaps the most fundamental feature that remote work relies upon is a deeply rooted culture of trust, which Helsinki’s residents speak of with pride. The anecdotal evidence is backed up by data which suggests that Finland boasts one of the highest levels of trust and social cohesion in Europe, and equality and transparency have always been key cornerstones of political thought in the country.

“Trust is part of a national culture in Finland – it’s important and people value it highly,” she explains. “There’s good job independence, and people are valued in terms of what they do, not how many hours they work for. Organisations tend to be non-hierarchical, and there is a rich history of cooperation between trade unions, employers, and employees to set up innovative working practices and make workers feel trusted and valued. 

“It’s now important that we ensure that this trust can continue to be built over technology, when workers might have been more used to building it face-to-face.”

As companies begin to look hopefully toward a post-Covid future, the complexities of remote work are apparent. Yet amid issues of privacy, presenteeism, and social isolation, the Helsinki model demonstrates the potential benefits of a distanced working world. The adjustment to remote work, if continued after the crisis, offers a chance to improve companies’ geographical diversity and for employers to demonstrate trust in their workforce. On these issues, Blomqvist believes other cities and employers can learn a lot from Helsinki.

“People are now beginning to return to their workplaces, but even as they do they are starting to consider the crisis as a jumping point to an even more remote future,” she says. “The coronavirus pandemic has been an eye-opener, and people are now interested in learning from Finland’s good practices… We are able to see the opportunity, and the rapid transition to remote work will allow other countries to do the same.”