The Christmas shutdown just makes us drunker, fatter, lazier and lonelier | Ian Jack
It might feel like the near-total lack of trains and tubes at Christmas was ever thus, but in fact it’s a fairly recent development. Religion and economics may be equally to blame
One of the great paradoxes of British life is our behaviour in the Christmas season. We are the least Christian country in Europe – quite possibly the least Christian of any country in the world that has a substantial Christian population – and yet we observe the anniversary of Christ’s birth with the kind of rigour last seen in the Hebridean Sabbaths of the 1950s. No public transport moves. To get from A to Z without a private car or an overpriced taxi is impossible. The rest of the world carries on much as it always does: trains carry Catholics from Paris to Frankfurt and Calvinists from Geneva to Milan; Lutherans sail on Baltic ferries; airliners fly Baptists across oceans and continents. But when these aircraft touch down at, say, Heathrow, their passengers find themselves marooned; the country beyond the airport is impenetrable unless they can afford its inflated cab fares. It lies there hushed and immobile, smelling faintly of roasts, quite unlike anywhere else.
“Oh, but people need their Christmas,” the apologists for this tyranny say, meaning that to ask people to work on 25 December would be an offence against the natural order, imagining that British Christmases have been like this since Dickens was a boy. In fact, our immobility is relative recent: a late-20th-century phenomenon. London Transport ran its last Christmas tube in 1979, British Rail its last Christmas train in 1981. Presbyterianism’s complicated relationship with the festival meant that Scotland held out for some time against the English trend, preferring a closedown at New Year. My parents, for example, were married in Fife on Christmas Day, and in my childhood the railways were no quieter than they were on Sundays, which in those days meant quiet – signals wouldn’t betray the coming of a train for hours – but not dead. Now, engineering work can shut down important lines for the entire post-Christmas week. This year, for example, only the most intrepid traveller should try to reach Glasgow from southern England after the last train has left Euston on Christmas Eve; several days of closures are scheduled north of Watford and again north of Crewe.
Source: Guardian Transport