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'I'm determined to get back to Bury St Edmunds from London, by any means'




Legend has it that when producers of Alan Partridge were considering where the inept broadcaster should call home, they had a shortlist of two: Milton Keynes and Norwich.

As anyone who has seen Steve Coogan’s creation will know, they went with Norwich - giving the city another unlikely celebrity to sit alongside Delia Smith, Wes Hoolahan and Tim Westwood. Poor Milton Keynes is now best known for its roundabouts and a football stadium that would have hosted a World Cup game, had England been awarded the World Cup.

Norwich was supposedly given the nod because of its lack of transport connections, being ‘just a bit too far from London’.

Bury St Edmunds station: Offering no connections to London. (20388586)
Bury St Edmunds station: Offering no connections to London. (20388586)

By the same logic, there have been times I’ve wondered if Bury St Edmunds would have been a better choice for the hometown of Alan Partridge. Even on a good day, getting the train into the city can take more than two hours. But the most frustrating part is the journey back. A search on thetrainline for connections from ‘London Any’ (a search term reeking of desperation) tells me the final chance to get home is to catch the 9.39pm from Kings Cross to Cambridge. Nine-thirty-nine! To make that one you’d probably have to elbow children out of the way who are still queueing for Platform Nine and Three Quarters outside the Harry Potter shop. It’s too early to see a football game, a show, or do just about anything apart from go out of the station barriers and turn around.

The last train to Norwich leaves at 11.30pm, which makes a place considered too far from London sound comparatively urban.

So when I was offered the chance to see a talk on the climate crisis at the Barbican last week, I was inclined to turn it down. My options seemed to be: Leave the talk early to make the last train, or drive. When the talk was set to finish at 9.30pm, it seemed pointless to even attempt to go if I was going to miss at least half an hour of it to make the last train. And I’ve never driven in central London; but as someone whose ventures into central Cambridge, and even Hatfield, by car count among the most stressful experiences of me life, I don’t particularly want to try.

But by midnight of the evening in question, I am back at my house in Bury, having stayed for all of the talk and caught the train. Was this a miracle? No, it was more of a cheat. I found a way. The solution to the riddle presented itself. In the end, I drove to Stowmarket - which is on the same line as Norwich - and parked for the evening. It was a slog, deprived me of alcohol and left me in the hypocrisy of having used a car to attend an event about stopping climate change. But, it did show me that with a lot of determination and a fair amount of coffee - having an evening in London and returning can be done. Just.

Bury would have made a nice setting for Alan Partridge, but it is a relief it was not chosen. And besides, we have celebrity residents of our own, who actually exist, like, reportedly, Channing Tatum and Jessie J. Maybe they take the train at Stowmarket too.


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