It’s 7am and the over-promoted housewives and life-sapping male worker drones of West Yorkshire have squeezed on board the 07:00 Northern Crisis. Not the first London-bound service of the day, but crucially the one that doesn’t stop between Leeds and London, other than to let the fresh air out when it gets to Wakefield; the one that gets into the capital at 9am, enabling a reasonably rapid commute and just enough time to chow down on a substantial 2 hour work sandwich before hitting the head office for that really important meeting.
The whole carriage listens to the first important call to the office, or more likely an unfortunate co-worker still in his pyjamas, at top volume at about 7.05am. Yes. I’m on a train. Yes. London. It’s a conference. Or a regional heads meeting. Or a request to bring the milk in and drop the kids off at nursery. Or just a check in to the boss to make a very conscious display of how hard and how early the work is being done. Hang on. I’m in a tunnel. Can you hear me? Hello? Oh.
Hiya. Sorry, I went through a tunnel.
And on it goes. Call after call. Loudly-discussed “HR issues” with words like “operational” and “criticality” thrown around with the sort of abandon that suggests that the caller genuinely believes they are real words and not just silence-filling office stupidity concealant.
Then there’s breakfast. There must be breakfast – because it’s early and we’re off to London and we’re working. Acquired from the station in aspirational cardboard packaging. Or sourced from a trolley that always runs out of hot water by the time it gets to the third carriage, and that offers a strange array of morning fayre including Stella Artois and fruit cake. Either way, breakfast is always purchased before the breakfastee realises that there isn’t quite the space to eat it, squashed in amongst 4 laptops on a table no bigger than a child’s desk. No matter: spread out, let everyone else smell your early morning cheese and onion crisps – and take a few more calls with your mouth full. We are so pumped about the very concept of our London-bound breakfast that we even consider using breakfast as a verb.
Of course, you could always abandon your seat and wobble precariously down to the shop, which the train guard insists on calling a “buffy” car, despite the fact that it doesn’t offer a buffet and is located in half a train carriage. In the so-called buffet car, a world of choice awaits in plural form, described in typically over-sibilant style by the guard as offering “Teas, coffees, crisps, snacks, sandwiches, wines, spirits and a range of tasty breakfast toasties”. They proudly brew Starbucks. And we reluctantly drink it, wondering if we’ve just been got by a regrettable bit of branding, and feeling slightly cheapened.
Elsewhere, tensions rise in the quiet coach, a zone remarkable only because while the soothing warble of an iPhone is banned, apparently yacking on relentlessly for two hours about your problems at work in a broad, grating Leeds accent is not. Woe betide anyone whose phone accidentally rings in here: the red mist descends and a hastily-assembled jury threatens to have you thrown onto the track. You could slaughter a pig with impunity in the quiet coach, but the second that phone gets answered you are at the mercy of mob justice.
Despite the tense atmosphere created by everyone feeling like they’re sitting in someone else’s dreadful office, London arrives sooner than anyone might have guessed, thus explaining the palpable sense of panic as soon as Finsbury Park, or even Stevenage, hoves into view. The guard inexplicably announces that we will shortly be “arriving into” King’s Cross.
This signals the point at which the amateurish traveller hits the panic button, packing up the laptop, grabbing their coat and both bags and heading for the door even though there’s still fully ten minutes of faffing around to be done before anyone is allowed off the train.
Still, there’s not a second to lose. This economy won’t fix itself, so Yorkshire’s mid-ranking business élite have arrived on the Northern Crisis to fix it.
Strangely, judging from the number of Harrods bags on the return journey, all their crisis meetings must finish early.