You’re reading this (indulge me) in hour three of a five-hour train ride. Spread out on the table in front of you are an unread novel with an illustration of a teacup on the front (teacup book covers are the new pink stiletto, keep up loves) and a greasy Marks & Spencer salad box containing a single flaccid bean. Also: a paper mug (quarter full of coffee, which on arrival was as hot as an electrical fault, but within seconds had chilled to tepid), a bottle of pop, two magazines (one which explains which celebrities are too fat, the other too thin, for balance) and the remains of someone else’s pasty. The air smells of sneezes. Your knees are stiff. Your feet are wedged between a rucksack and something unidentifiable but warmly sodden. The air conditioning chills not just your skin but your guts and memories, too.

And through the window a landscape grumbles past – a derelict abattoir, a pylon strung with trainers, a field scattered with phone chargers, a lone sheep, staring into a bleak but “beautiful” rural void. A sheet of snow ices a pond of spilt Ribena, a child waves from an attic extension. You see these sights and feel these feelings, and you feel whole – this is your journey home for Christmas. And this is why I envy you.

My journey home for Christmas takes 50 minutes, 55 if I have to change at Manchester. I am from the far reaches of the train station, the parts of Leeds that smell of cut grass all year round. Home is a parade of corner shops broken in half with clangs of sunlight, Red Bull tins and the sound of happy dogs. “Have you ever been to —,” I once asked a man, discussing my home borough. “I tried,” he replied, “but I think it was closed.”

My texts home are often little letters to the suburbs. I’ve lived in the citiest bit of the city all my adult life, but hold a warm room in my heart for these greenish areas accessible by single-decker bus. Where odd mittens are pronged on fences like severed heads, where the sky is literally massive. Where children play out in the streets until dinner, or would, you know, if they weren’t pregnant and/or addicted to Skyrim.

But at Christmas, when all my colleagues trundle their wheelie cases into the building, ponytailed and Ugged for the long journey home, I feel a lacking. There they go, streaming through the corridors two days early. “Bye!” they call backwards. “Have a lovely shl…” The words get lost in their slurs of relief, a whole afternoon of train ride ahead of them. While I slog on, logged in, mouse still clicking to the bitter end.

My train ride home is merely a gesture on Christmas Eve, a few minutes without phone signal, rather than the transforming journey from dark to light, from new home to old.

I go home. They’ve had the heating on since October, much to my dad’s disgust. There’s a good Turkish grill there that does takeaway. It’s lovely. But it’s normal – there’s no strangeness in returning home, no huge “hellos” when I ring on the bell, no leaping up of dogs. Not that we have a dog any more – Lassie died – but still. I switch the kettle on myself. I raid the fridge for chocolate biscuits as though I am in my own home.

I imagine my friends’ Christmas homecomings as quivering performances of affection and mirth. Stomping off their snowboots at the door and rebirthing into a well-lit kitchen, where the meal they loved as a child waits steaming on the table. Where babies have been born since they last visited, or puppies bought. Perhaps they’ll introduce a new boy- or girlfriend and there’ll be an adorably awkward hug, drunk on sincerity. Someone will cry. I love Christmas at home, but there’s no novelty. So, for a change, this year I plan to travel via car and via the country lanes rather than the motorway. It’ll take a little longer, but at least, at least I’ll ache.


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