If you came to London from elsewhere, the festive season is when the city spits you back out.
At 7.20pm on December 23, you'll find me racing down a platform at Euston station. I'll be buckling under a bulging sack of presents (okay, a backpack full of laundry) and desperately trying to make it to the unreserved carriage on a Virgin intercity train. Around me, WH Smith bags will thwack against thighs, giant wheely suitcases will scatter kids like skittles, and a sweating man will curse the day he decided his parents deserved the Harrods Supersize Luxury Cheese Hamper.
Once on board, I'll battle for a seat but end up spending the entire journey squatting on the floor outside the toilet. Wafts of thrown-up party buffet will spill out from under the door adding a '1am in Wetherspoon's' ambience to the journey. At some point a wobbling pile of suitcases will fall on me as a businesswoman rummages through them to get to her laptop. She will tut at me. A snotty child will cry. Some lads on tour will chant things. The train will be delayed. My legs will go so numb that I'll have to use force to uncurl them in order to stand up. Then, finally, the train will pull into my hometown more than an hour after its scheduled arrival time and I'll be greeted by the smoke of the Unilever factory and - if I'm really lucky - local celebrity Kerry Katona.
I know this because this December 23 will mark the fifth year I've got the train back from London to where I'm from, and exactly the same thing has happened every time. While adverts show festive families placidly driving home for Christmas with tinsel round their necks and Mariah Carey on the radio, I'm stuck with the ten tracks I saved on Spotify for offline play and a stranger's knee in my face. And don't try and tell me your drive was just as much of a nightmare: it might have taken you an hour-and-a-half to get out of the city, but at least you had a seat.
There's a special place in hell for a train out of London at Christmas. It's the capital's last cruel joke of the year, especially for those of us who moved here from somewhere less good. Just as we start to feel like a real Londoner - a part of this city that we've come to love - it viciously boots us out again. 'You may have bought that M&S gin-in-a-tin,' it sneers in parting. 'But don't think you'll have any room to drink it on the train.'
We've already crammed a month's work into two weeks in December, spent our evenings chatting to boring frenemies at Christmas parties and sweltered in our winter coats on the tube. And how are we repaid? With a stuffy six-hour, delayed train without an onboard shop.
The only upside is that by the time we eventually reach our less-good-than-London destination, we're so broken that it seems quite inviting. The town's lone Pizza Express appears all welcoming and we can't wait to spend a quiet afternoon in John Lewis with Nan. Suddenly the provinces look cosy and quaint, not just a dull interlude in our big-city adventures.
That said, if you could avoid getting the 19.30 to Warrington on December 23, it would be very much appreciated.
Illustration: Nate Kitch
Want more ranting and raving? Read Emily Gibson's column on why it's time to take a stand against crap presents.