Long Reads

Christmas trains: “An ode to the friends I made on the train home for Christmas”

A Christmas train delay resulted in an unlikely Facebook friendship with three fellow passengers for this writer. Ten years on and they’re still exchanging birthday wishes.

Nothing brings the British together like the universal frustration of Christmas Eve train delays due to bad weather – and prosecco. I know because 10 years ago I was facing spending Christmas Day somewhere between Reading and Castle Cary.

The Christmas train home to Cornwall is always an adventure. There’s the mass charge to secure a seat as soon as the platform number appears on the departure screen at London Paddington. After all there is nothing worse than paying £60 to perch on your suitcase next to the toilet for four hours. Then the awkward manoeuvring of luggage to ensure your bag of presents makes it intact, followed by the sweet, sweet reward of cracking into the M&S train picnic before the 18:03 has even bid farewell to west London.

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That year things started well, but as the hours ticked by we realised we’d be lucky to make it to Cornwall before Santa and his sleigh. Bad weather meant every rail passenger’s nightmare: fallen trees and flooding on the line. 

But, after the collective calls to family and friends to vent our frustrations and tell them to stay put until we had more information, our own little Christmas miracle occurred. We took off our headphones, put down our phones and started to chat – offering up half-eaten boxes of mince pies, glasses of prosecco and tales of Christmas party revelry to pass the time.

train home for Christmas
Christmas trains: “We bonded over the prospect of spending Christmas stuck between two stations”

That night two things happened: I made three new Facebook friends who I still exchange birthday wishes with a decade on. One was the woman I was seated next to who had upped the ante on the train picnic front with a tapas selection. Very exotic circa 2009. The others? Two men who had been forced to sit in the aisle because they’d lost out in the Paddington train charge. But were smart enough to pack plenty of fizz for the journey.

Over the course of the next few hours we found we had much more in common than spending Christmas Eve stuck on a train: mutual friends, a love of Padrón peppers and the shared experience of leaving Cornwall aged 18 to pursue our dreams in London. We quickly added each other on Facebook and promised to meet up on the return journey.

While that pledge didn’t materialise, and our lives went in different directions, we’re still in touch from afar. Two moved back to Cornwall and settled down, while the other one stayed in London like me. We may well bump into each other again on the 18:03 train this Christmas Eve.

Oh, and the second thing that happened that night? I swore off Prosecco forever more having developed double-vision by the time I made it to Truro. That was much more short-lived than our Facebook friendship, lasting only until my mum poured the buck’s fizz a few hours later.  

Images: Getty, Unsplash.

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