DJ Taylor: Why do extreme commuters do it? It's all down to the rural lifestyle...


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The Independent Online

Trimingham Parva is a charming Suffolk village, halfway between Woodbridge and Saxmundham. If anything detracts from its amenities, it is the sound of Gary Zigo goading his shiny Land Rover along the back-road to Woodbridge station each weekday morning at 5.15am. Why does Mr Zigo have to leave home at this unearthly hour? Well, as he will proudly inform you, jobs in commercial property need an early start, and Gary's boss in Fenchurch Street likes his boys to be around by eight.

The metropolitan workforce is full of acronyms these days, from the DIFKs ("Doing it for the kids"), to PTFs ("part-time flotsam"). Gary is an ExCom, or "Extreme Commuter".The drive to Woodbridge takes him 20 minutes, the ride to Ipswich another 30, followed by a 70-minute push towards Liverpool Street. And all this is to ignore the final hand-to-hand struggle of the Circle Line.

There are far worse ExComs than Gary – he knows game inhabitants of Buckinghamshire rectories who beetle down to Clapham Junction – but his 30 hours a week on road and railway carriage put him up there with the hardcore and their fund of occupational horror-stories: the hours spent in broken-down trains in sidings outside Colchester, the 70-mile taxi-trips around storm-blocked lines.

Why does Gary do it? All down to the rural lifestyle, isn't it? Marion and the girls don't want to live in some clapped-out London suburb where you can't nip round to the off-licence without the stroppy kids staring at you. And whoever said time spent on a train was wasted? Why, when he isn't logging on to the firm's intranet or checking his email, Gary can get through 10 to a dozen movies a week on his laptop: only last year he did all his Christmas shopping somewhere between Manningtree and Shenfield.

No one who heard Gary express these sentiments could doubt that he means every word. In reality, the Zigos' take-up of the rural lifestyle has been fairly limited. They attend the local church once a year on Christmas Eve and ignore the half-dozen excellent shops in favour of excursions to Colchester. Apart from occasional winded saunters around the back-lanes, Gary's principal leisure activity is watching Sky Sports on the big plasma screen in the snooker room. Meanwhile, the girls are getting just the tiniest bit bored with living in the country and Mrs Z is talking about riverside developments in Putney.