Diary of a Commuter


Harriet Lynch, Capital Markets

From hay bales and hedgerows to a City office

Diary of a Commuter

Monday morning, rush hour.

Not that you would know it. I am currently sat in a remote countryside train station, awaiting a train that will stop at every station in existence between here and London.

Yes, I am another of those country mice that commutes to the Big City for work.

The number of people moving out of cities and into the countryside is expected to grow substantially over the next few years. According to the ONS, the rural population will increase by 6% over the next decade. Already, tens of thousands of people are leaving urban areas for the countryside. Soon, long commutes like mine will be the norm.

Perhaps then my train will be slightly more frequent. Until then, I settle in for my half hour wait at the station - I couldn’t possibly miss the train because it comes just once an hour.

Rule number one of long-distance commuting: DON’T BE LATE.

I arrive in the City and try to adapt to my new surroundings, beginning by wiping the dog hairs from my dress. My pace immediately quickens. My road crossing skills are far from exemplary, if not slightly dubious. I have had one or two sudden embraces with unsuspecting cyclists.

One thing the city dwellers will learn, when they all start moving out to join us in the countryside, is that smiling at strangers is just what we do. In fact, a smile is often accompanied with some sort of verbal acknowledgement, perhaps the word “Hello”.

But here in London, my smiles are greeted with confusion.

Instead of returning my smile, they quickly turn away and try to get as fast away from me as possible. It is saddening.

I am particularly early today. I round the corner near the office and am met by a metal railing and a locked gate. The office building is on the other side and I can’t get through.

This is the only route I know between the train station and my office. I know that another route must be found imminently. I feel the panic rising: my extra time is swiftly being eaten into.

I whip out my iPhone and am now running around trying to follow the blue dot, which doesn’t seem to know where I am. Finally, I find my way through the masses of buildings, streets and nifty alleys and slow down to a walk. I am overdressed and I can feel my brow break out in a sweat – 5am in the countryside is a little chillier than 7am in the city. My overcoat seems somewhat over the top now.

At my desk, my to-do list has grown overnight.

In fact, it keeps growing, though I am sure I have achieved things today! I am surrounded by Post-its galore, real and digital. They are colour coded, prioritised, satisfying.

I field a call from my dog sitter, AKA Mum: “Yes, she is moulting; yes, you can brush her; yes, I am sure she would love a chew; no, I would prefer you didn’t let her on the sofa.”

My day whizzes past in a whirlwind of emails, phone calls and more emails.

I saunter out of the office.

As soon as I hit the street, I change my pace and hurtle towards to the train station. Yes, you guessed it: the train comes just once an hour!  

Now that I am firmly ensconced back in the countryside, it’s time to network.

No, not swanky hotels, wine bars, or Thursday night drinks!

Instead it’s wellies, tweeds, dogs and shotguns.

Shooting is worth £2billion annually to the countryside, attracting people from all walks of life. I have often found myself discussing the finer points of shooting with bankers, financial advisers and fund managers, many of whom have been a fantastic people to know.

I am sure many of you are thinking, is it worth it?

A recent study by the ONS has shown that, unsurprisingly, our commute to work negatively impacts our life satisfaction and sense of wellbeing. Commuting makes us less happy and more anxious. Predictably, the more time we spend travelling to work, the more anxious and unhappy we are.

But bizarrely, once we hit a journey time of 3 hours, the negative effects of commuting drop off: we become less anxious and our life satisfaction drastically improves, putting 3hr-commuters second only to the non-commuters.

There is no explanation offered for this sudden change. But for me, the explanation is simple. I get to enjoy the best of the city and the best of the countryside. Admittedly, sometimes it is as if I live a double life.

Sometimes, as with my dog-related phone calls and my countryside networking opportunities, my two lives intermingle harmoniously. Yes, it takes me longer to get to my desk than most of my colleagues but I am much happier for it.

Commuting from the countryside has its ups and downs, but for me, it is the only way.