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The Dunkirk Spirit


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Coming back from Scotland last Friday, our Virgin East Coast train started losing time. We were 15 minutes late. Then we were 30 minutes late. As we got closer to London, some of us gathered in the space between carriages, eager to get off.

This behavior will irritate some of you. You will be asking, ‘Why the hurry? Why not sit back and wait like all the other smug, patient bastards?’ To properly answer these questions, I would need hypnosis but I think it has something to do with coming from a large family and preferring large portions.

What I can say is that my behavior tends to follow a pattern: I like to sit at the front of a plane, near the doors of a bus and close, very close to any snacks or buffet. I don’t need to sit near toilets. In fact, I prefer distance.

Anyway, as our train crawled into London, people were getting antsy. We were 45 minutes late and they were going to miss their connections. It was Friday evening. They had plans and people to meet.

At 50 minutes late, the mood in the inter-carriage area began to change. Could we possibly be 60 minutes late? A woman pulled out her phone and showed us her app. It had a circle to indicate the accumulated minutes of lateness. Tick, tick, tick.

At 55 minutes late, the mood was tense but excited. People began to smile at each other. This was the Dunkirk Spirit, the British at their bonding best. ‘Come on Richard Branson. Slow it down, pal!’ Now we were a team. Team Full Refund. If we made it to 60 minutes, we would have our full fare refunded (thank you EU regulations).

People were talking to each other. We were friends. If there had been a bottle of brandy, it would have been shared mouth to mouth without anyone wiping it on the sleeve of a jumper.

At the 58 mark, the train ground to a halt. My new friends held their breaths. The woman with the app held up her phone. ‘We made it!’

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