Just your average Northern Rail service Ingo Mehling/Wikimedia commons https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en

In a supervision last year, my supervisor told us about how trains became the ultimate symbol of the modern age. Unlike every other 19th-century loser clopping along by foot or carriage, the train-going man was the suave, rational man of modernity. In Middlemarch, the introduction of a railroad indicates that the tides are turning, and we, as a nation, have to decide whether we will progress into the future or remain as train-fearing yokels. I don’t think that, when George Eliot was writing her novel, or when my supervisor was preparing the reading for that particular class, however, either were thinking about the East Midlands Rail service from Sheffield to London King’s Cross.

20 minutes late at 8am on a Monday, and the train I am taking is slowly rattling its way past Chesterfield. The bloke next to me has been slowly working through a Sainsbury’s egg and cress sandwich for the past 30 minutes, and out of all of the meal deal main options, that is one that really shouldn’t be slowly savoured for the sanity of everyone around you. Where there isn’t egg smell, there is feet smell because the person behind me has decided to take their dogs for a walk, so to speak, and now the smell of athlete’s foot is permeating the air of carriage C on my EMR train (taking the slow route to London, because fate is a cruel mistress, but more importantly, because it was ten quid cheaper on Trainline). If this is modernity, then I shudder to think what preceded it.

“I am unfortunately stuck trying to co-ordinate tickets for trains and sofas to surf on”

This is, of course, minorly hyperbolic. I think that trains are, for the most part, a pretty good form of transportation. And more importantly, no one is really forcing me to take a two hour journey all the way down to the big smoke. No one that is, apart from my raging FOMO.

Alas and unfortunately, like any other Cambridge student who is not from London or London-adjacent areas (here you are, home counties, it’s your time to shine as places kind of like London, but without all the stuff to do that makes London good!), I often find myself desperately lonely in the holidays. Where my friends from down south can swiftly cobble together last-minute plans to meet for coffee, I am unfortunately stuck trying to co-ordinate tickets for trains and sofas to surf on. Unfortunately, when you live three hours and 40 quid’s worth of train journeys away, the normal last-minute social planning that seems to fly at uni doesn’t quite cut it.

“At uni, you can knock on someone’s door and be off gallivanting around the Grafton in 15 minutes flat”

Now this could be yet another gripe at how London-centric the UK is. As I browse grad scheme after grad scheme that will force me to sell a kidney and relocate to the big smoke, I’m tempted. But I get the London hype. Let’s face it, the big smoke is, well, big, and there is quite literally everything there. And as much as I am a proud Yorkshirewoman through and through, to the point of chucking Henderson’s relish on every meal I make, I’m not delusional enough to try and convince my friends that Sheffield has anything going for it aside from some nice hills, a marginally better nightlife than Cambridge, and some cheaper pints. So no, my train-inspired whinge is not another (admittedly easy) dig at the capital. Rather, it’s a dig at poor planning.

At uni, you can knock on someone’s door and be off gallivanting around the Grafton in 15 minutes flat, so I get that once you go home to good public transport (deliberately ignoring whatever has been happening with the Elizabeth line for the sake of my argument) and a network of uni friends-sans-essay-stress, you can simply continue the last-minute spontaneity.


Mountain View

Cambridge is just London 2.0

But dear lovely London friends, please do not involve me in this spontaneity. I am beyond touched that you have invited me to a party tomorrow at your friend’s house in Golders Green. Unfortunately, I will have to decline because Trainline is going to try and rob me of 80 good British pounds, and because the last thing I want to do is be returning on the train hungover. I miss you all very much, and would very much like to leave the North at some point, but please can we plan this at least a week in advance? I’ve realised that I will probably never get over my social FOMO, and I’m happy to pay the price of stinky feet in my face and a loud phone conversation behind me (to the girl I overheard last week, please dump him). But if you want your non-south or south-eastern friends to be able to make it to your party/gathering/séance, please give us enough heads-up to buy cheap train tickets.