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The One With A Good Service

Tube 13 - 7th April 2011

New Year. New Route. Same old tube challenge.

We're back. The clocks have gone forward, spring and warmer and lighter weather is finally here, and a date that we've had penciled in our diaries since the turn of the year is upon us at last. It's time to go round all 270 tube stations, yet again.

Everything that is different about this time is based upon what we all didn't like during the previous times out. No major changes in the route per se - just the order in which we do 'set' pieces. I had said to Chris that I wanted to do certain things in a certain order, and he's worked his timetable magic to make sure that all but one of them (a run which was uphill, which would be nicer to do downhill) was possible.

The same three people - myself, Vicki and Anthony are on the challenge itself. Chris leads the line as the controller, with Matt & Kate - this time all day - running the all important supply and pointman duties. You won't ever catch me doing a tube challenge solo ever again, you need the team. You need the morale. You need other crazy people doing it with you.

We stay over in a cheap hotel in Wembley the night before. None of this 'crash at mine' with too many people snoring squeezed into a small place. A nice meal, a drink, good chat, and a good nights sleep - we all felt very refreshed in the morning as we got up.

I think this might be a quote from Top Gun. I have no idea why I would do this at five o'clock in the morning.


Ealing Broadway

Our train out of our starting station at Chesham at 06.50 was an early train up from Wembley Park. It actually runs a couple of minutes late making us nervous even before we've started, but it eventually makes it up on time to the top left of the map. Anthony isn't with us - he hasn't spent the night in the hotel with us and instead joins us at Chalfont where he's parked his car for the day, and the six of us are suddenly all together, on our way up to Chesham, to do this damn thing that we do all over again.

The late start is attributable to the timetable changes. A major change has occurred since last time, there is now no 'shuttle' service between Chesham and Chalfont. In preparation for the new S Stock trains being rolled out this year, all Chesham service are now direct, meaning that the timetable for the morning period has changed quite significantly.

Ealing Broadway

When Chris and I first sat after the timetable change in December of last year, we had a moment of panic where it seemed that there was no good starting time, until we realised we were being stupid and forgetting about the Chiltern train service. We'd never had to use one of those before in a challenge (it's perfectly ok to do so), but we were going to have to this morning.

So our train down from Chesham to Chalfont was a Metropolitan Line tube train, but the one up from Chalfont to Amersham was a Chiltern National Rail service. By the time we get to Amersham, it's already past seven o'clock.

Amersham is busy - the busiest I have ever seen it on a challenge day. The London bound platform is bustling full of commuters, some of whom we get chatting to when I see a Chiltern Turbo train approaching the platform slowly. "That doesn't stop here" a woman told us politely, "The next train is the one you want", which of course I did already know, and we watched the Met line train come out of the siding and roll into the platform on time, and as the train fills up almost immediately we have to make a beeline to get some seats.

Ealing Broadway

Departing Watford, I cheerfully noted that "We were already doing better than last time", because this is where it had cocked up so early on. The train up into Watford was four minutes late that day, and we'd missed the train out of Watford and that had put us behind for the rest of the the time. This time though, on time, on the stretch down from Watford to North Harrow we all stretched vigorously ourselves - our legs - to prepare us for that first nasty run of the morning.

At North Harrow - a tiny mistake on my part you could say. I am so used to not seeing an H9 bus here, that I forgot to look and see if there was one. Fifty metres down the road as we're running towards Rayners Lane and an H9 bus overtakes us. "Shit! The bus! I totally forget to look for the bus!" I shout to other others - focusing on my breathing as I do, obviously - and the clunky diesel engine spits out it fumes as we see it crawl up the hill on the other side of the road and ahead of us.

Ealing Broadway

In the end - it doesn't matter, but only just, because the traffic is heavy on the Imperial Road and it only would have got us to the station about a minute faster - and as our pace was good - we made the connection, well ... just. I'd got a text from my cousin Phil who was coming out to meet us that there'd been a signal failure already at Knightsbridge early that morning and it was affecting the Piccadilly Line. How much we didn't know, until right before we got off to make the run, word came in that they were operating a shuttle service only between Rayners Lane and Acton Town. But how would that affect the times? We'd find out.

Matt finds out for us first - he's the point man at Rayners, and he has his work cut out to make sure that we made the first connection onto a train which was leaving five minutes early because of the imposed shuttle service. In my mind I was confused. Technically we were five minutes up. But we'd probably make the same connection anyway later, and yet we'd only just made it because it was leaving early! Damn tube.

As the train heads south down the Piccadilly, I realised how I had my usual tingly nose sensation that I've had before. What is it about the first run of the day that makes your nose tingle? No one's been able to answer that for me, not even Google. I swap more texts with my cousin who is coming up north to meet us, but he messes up - overshoots - goes one station too far, and we never see him. I call him though and he fills us more in on the Piccadilly - it is still screwed, and trains are being diverted down the Heathrow branch instead - probably so that they could reverse them at Northfields (the depot) and pump them back into service eastbound more quickly to get the service back on track. This isn't good for us, so we decide it's time to change lines.

At Acton Town (a local-ish station to me) the platforms are heaving with passengers - more than you'd normally see. "But the District isn't fucked", I announce cheerfully "And they're on their own tracks, separate to the Piccadilly", and so we all get out and change trains and lines... A check of the working timetable to make sure, and sure enough, an eastbound District trundles in just a few seconds behind its schedule time.

Ealing Broadway

With potential early disaster avoided on the Piccadilly Line, we find ourselves heading for Richmond and back earlier than we have planned - but no problem, we're seasoned pros and I know the route, and the runs, and the door positions of where to stand and change without having to really check.

We get a six minute turnaround at Richmond, but the display boards are screwed, and are showing 'next trains' out for a time an hour before - weird. We decide not to chance going to the loo which we know is there and wait for our train to depart - enticing other confused passengers onto the right train with as, who are also having a hard time deciphering the incorrectly displayed boards.

Ealing Broadway

I call Chris ... he's at the change point ahead of us that is back on our route. It is just past 9am in the morning. The banter is good, and the feeling is positive. We have got further than we did last time without having anything go wrong, and we've even worked our way around the mess of the Piccadilly Line, in short - everything is great.

Not.

The first sign of trouble comes at Stamford Brook. We're just at the point where I'm thinking "We're lingering a little too long at the platform here, aren't we?" when the driver comes on to announce that there is a problem with the train ahead at West Kensington.

Shit. Oohh, shit. But hang on - what's this? The doors start to beep and close, and we move on ... problem sorted already?

No.

At Ravenscourt Park our trains pulls in, the doors open, passengers come on and off but mainly on. And our train sits there ... and sits ... and sits some more. It's a non-moving train, for sure. I call ahead to Chris who tells me to talk to Matt who's waiting at Earl's Court for us, to advise us on the Olympia connection. "The Olympia train has been cancelled" he says grimly, and just as I'm processing that, our driver comes on to announce that there is a signal failure at West Kensington, and he'll give us more information when he has it. We all look at each other, twitching. I'm taking it more personally than everyone else, and in the back of my head I start to think of other possibilities.

Sadly - or brilliantly, depending on your point of view - I work it all out in my head without the need to look at a tube map - I know it too well. And I turn to Vicki and Anthony, and announce that it's time to run. "To where?" "To Hammersmith!" I say, and before they really have a chance to argue, I am squeezing my way through the passengers on the packed train and jumping onto the platform and running towards the stairs.

Annoyingly, my all-day-travelcard balks at the gateline, and so I have to swipe my Oyster instead ... costing valuable seconds getting out of the station. Anthony starts to go right ... "No! LEFT LEFT LEFT LEFT LEFT!" I shout, and I lead the way, running down the small alley. Right at the end, then left onto the main road and then we are running along the cycle path towards Hammersmith.

"What's the plan?" pants Anthony as we run. "We pick up the Piccadilly again at Hammersmith - hope that it's working now, and we can come back and get West Ken later", knowing that we'll do Hammersmith, Barons Court and Earl's Court, but West Ken (where the problem is) will be skipped and we'll have to find a way of coming back to it this afternoon or this evening.

A bike 'dings' it bell from behind me to alert me to its presence, and I swerve out the way and let it go past. "Hammersmith ahead!" I shout, and for a moment wonder if we should go the H&C/Circle branch instead, but we don't ... I've already set my mind on getting back on the Piccadilly, and all we surge into the station, down to the platforms ... just in time to see a train departing from the platform. Bugger.

There is a District train sat on the eastbound too already - obviously not going anywhere, so I turn and chat to a friendly station assistant that's seen us run in to ask if there's an update. There isn't. The District is not moving. Take note, London Underground this is not a 'Good Service'.

Another Piccadilly comes in! That's good, isn't it? Yes, yes I think it is because it will take us to Earl's Court to make our connection to take us up to Edgware Road and back on track - sans West Kensington. But at Earl's Court everything is a mess. The effect of the non-District is being felt, and the staff in the station have arranged temporary barriers to guide people's walking routes inside the station and avoid congestion, but all that means to me is that instead of running the nearest set of steps to us, we have to run a little along underneath, to the back set of steps, where we get up, and ... just miss a train to Edgware Road. FUCK! If we'd have been able to run up the first set of stairs, we would have caught the train. "Sorry!" said Matt, appearing from nowhere. But there's nothing he could of done. Earl's Court is a swirling mess of irritated looking people, still with no eastbound District service heading towards the city.

We've just run one bit, can we run another, I wonder? I think we can. "It's running time again!" I say, not quite believing what I'm about to suggest. "Again!?" says Vicki, clearly not relishing the thought. "Let's do it!" says Anthony, and so we do ... and I am off leading them out of the station barriers - past the display board that is quite quite clearly showing 'Good Service' on all lines - including the District, and start running again.

"To High Street Kensington!" I say as we risk death running across the zebra crossing outside Earl's Court station without really looking. "Do you know the way?" shouts back Anthony. "No! Working that out now!" I reply, fumbling in my pocket as I run, getting my iPhone out, switching back ON the 3G, and firing up Google Maps to see where the hell we are, and where the hell we're going to. I've never run from Earl's Court to High Street Ken before, but I've got a vague idea of what direction its in, and by the time the map is up on my screen, I confirmed that we are heading in the right direction through the posh back-streets of Kensington, and we'll be at the station in a few minutes.

Whist I run. I think about the day. About how it's all broken down and gone wrong already. I don't think about the running, I think about the cause and reason for why we're having to run just now, and the unfortunate answer is, is that the tube just doesn't work as well as it should, which makes me sad.

At High Street Ken, my legs are killing me. That's two runs quite close together that I had no intention of doing so early on in the day. I look at Vicki, and it looks like she's in pain - not so hot on the runs either.

I call Chris - he's still waiting for us at Edgware Road - except of course he has a idea of a switch, and I proffer my own suggestion, and between us we hedge a plan that'll get us back onto schedule - albeit with some stations missed out that we'll have to re-do later. Except that will cost time. Time we don't have. And I press the 'End' button on my phone to terminate the call, and as I do, realise that no records will be broken today. And we've only been going less than three hours.

Ealing Broadway

The next half an hour is a blur. We make a change a few stops up the line that I have never done for real (but, by chance, walked it as a practice just yesterday), and then change to make the train that we want to make - except missing out a couple more stations. Stupidly there's a tiny crumb of comfort in this mess in that I liked that I worked it all out on the fly - including how we would go back and do it later. Yeah yeah yeah, brownie points to me for flippin' knowing the system so well, but that's all. Nothing could get the time back. It was going to be another day of failure.

The train in question that we wanted to make was on the Central line - our guaranteed timetabled Hainault loop train. They're every twenty minutes - three an hour, and I knew what time it would be heading east. We make it with two minutes to spare ... Chris with only just seconds as he walks the bit that we ran to make it, and I have no time to fire off an update before the dark tube tunnel swallows us up and takes away our mobile phone reception for a while. It's not until we are back out in the open air that I could broadcast to the world once more.

(Later, much later, I discovered that of all my tweets this day - this was the one that provoked most responses back at me. Humorous, serious, and supportive. It made me really like twitter at that point. Thanks everyone.)

So here we are on the Central Line ... which had also had its own problems this morning with a signaling system failure at Loughton, but appears to be running ok by the time we get there. I don't envy that job you know ... and at the same time, really wish I could sit in at a control centre one day and see how it's done. It must be quite complicated for a line controller to get trains back in the right places with drivers 'n' all.

All this went through my head, along with other mixed thoughts about the tube, as we sped around the loop, plotting ahead, and enjoying the most leisurely stretch of the tube challenge day.

We start to play games as we do. Last time, Vicki entertained us with her animal impressions - and I don't know how that started. This time, we're prepared and it occurred to me a few days ago that playing charades would be fun ... as long as you only have to guess the names of tube stations. West Ham, Hyde Park Corner, Redbridge all get rolled out and easily done. Totteridge & Whetstone proves somewhat more difficult. And we immediately instigate a ruling that you are not allowed to do the station we have just been to, or about to arrive at!

At Woodford we change to head up to Epping without any hassles. We squeeze in a quick toilet break too. As we get on the train, I have to side-step to avoid what looks like a basket or woven casket of some description. It's only when I sit down and gather my thoughts that I realise that there's something moving inside - hang on, make that several things moving inside! PIgeons?

"Are those pigeons?" I ask the slightly scruffy man sitting nearest to them who I assume to be the owner. "That they are" he says in a Farmer Giles type-of-voice, and we indulge in conversation for a few moments about why and where he's taking them to a place in Harlow ... by train!

After a while he gets round to asking us what we are doing, and when we tell him he rather oddly suggests that we don't go to Epping, "But change at Loughton for the West Rusilip branch", "as you'll want to go there first!" he insists, and suddenly the conversation becomes a bit odd. I attempt to placate him, "Ok we'll go to West Rusilip - just as soon as we've been to Epping!" I say confidently, and he seems comfortable with that, and goes quiet on us.

There's no panic at Epping as our same train in is also our same train out in four minutes time. The problems that they'd been having that morning were obviously well on the way to recovery, and unlike the District I felt myself commending the Central line for running a real 'Good Service' in spite of problems it may have had earlier. Central vs District? I'll take the Central Line anytime please, it's trains are shinier too. (Although they're about to get a mid-life refurbishment, along with a new seat moquette pattern which disturbs me as it's blue in colour, not red! What's that all about?)

I was so cocky about being here for a few minutes that for the first time on a tube challenge I actually go outside of the station - something I have never done before - and snap a picture from the outside. Epping; cute. I note too, that there is a fast-food burger style van here, which might be useful to know in future if there was more time and we were hungry. I go back inside the gateline though to discover all the others using the loos that are here, and we have just two minutes until our train departs.

My phone beeps - a text! It's @diamondgeezer - a well known London blogger - who I've told in advance that we were going out today, and some rough times as to where we'd be and when, and he's been following my tweets all morning and has come out to find is. "Wait for us at Loughton", I text him "Second to last carriage from the back", and sure enough less than ten minutes later as well roll into Loughton he's standing there half grinning on the platform waiting for us, and he enters the carriage to join us.

We chat politely - even get him to sign up a witness statement (even though I now suspect it's pointless) and prepare ourselves for the run down to Leytonstone High Road to get the Overground train to take us over to the Victoria Line. DG comments that he's going to follow us "But by waiting for the bus", and our combined effort of bus, train and running means that we beat him to it by about ten minutes.

 

Ealing Broadway

We make it to the top of Victoria line where Kate is waiting to meet us. More importantly she is Kate waiting-to-meet-us with food and drink in hand! We slurp, we devour, we try not to get crumbs on the nice shiny floor of the new Victoria line train that we are on but probably fail, and in fact we get so consumed consuming that by the time we're rolling into Kings Cross ready to change trains and someone says "Are we in the right carriage?" that I realise we are not, shit!

We've got on right at the back of the train, and as we headed south we should have moved forward a carriage at at a time at each stop (sometimes you can make two!) but we've all completely forgotten to do so - that's not a good sign that we're on the ball is it? So when we bundle out at King's Cross with about a hundred other passengers who are immediately in our way - we need to avoid them. No problem! And I merely employ a tactic that I do during my normal commuting experience - and run over to the other platform. Yeah now, admittedly this doesn't work if a train has just tipped out there, but there wasn't - by running over to the northbound side, we found ourselves in a passengers free space, and we all sprinted down along to the steps at the end to make our next connection.

Ealing Broadway

Chris should have been waiting for us here as point man, but he was particularly conspicuous by his absence. A train is rolling in, and I'm unsure if we should get it or not - King's Cross is one of the places where we have a choice about which direction we should go in depending on what we're doing, and Chris should have been here ahead of us to advise us. But he's not! Where is he?

I make the decision of which way to go and jump on a train and the others follow. At that point my walkie talkie which had got no response from Chris when I'd shouted into it a moment ago suddenly bursts into life, and I hear his voice. There then followed a quick game of "Where are you?" "On a train! Where are you?" "On a train! Where are you?", which gleans us no useful information whatsoever expect to tell us that both of us were on a train, but which one, and which direction? Too late. Our train moves off into the tunnel, and Chris was going, cut off from the radio, and it was just the three of us riding again ...


It's just about under an hour later. We've been on trains, mainly in the middle but with a little sojourn to one side to knock out two stations that we needed to do, and another 'bonus' one out of order which we now realise we can do now and maybe save us some time later. And that done, we can head up the Jubilee line. We play tube charades once more, another 'Ham' station comes out (Hampstead), and Geoff tries to explain that the mime of him putting an apple in his mouth and rolling over gently, is that of a pig being cooked on a spit roast, and a pig = ham. Geddit? No? Ok, maybe you had to be there. Whatever. It's just nice not to think about how rubbish our day really is, and so puerile miming games is fun. The sexy female voice of the silver-line helps too...

Sweeping north across the bridge just before Canons Park station, we spy down onto the parade of shops below. I'd never seen it before, but someone pointed out to me, and I suddenly had the massive desire for a coffee. And to watch a classic American sitcom series.

Grange Hill theme tune on the Central Line? Now the Friends theme tune entered my head for the Jubilee Line. But surely it should be on the Central Line too though!

At Stanmore though there's only two minutes to turn around and we all judge that this isn't enough time to use the toilets. Urine must be passed though, and I suddenly spy Anthony crouching down in the corner of the empty carriage relieving himself. I don't feel like I really need to go, but advocate the the party line of the 'Safety wee' and also have a moment of relief ... at filling just half a bottle, dammit. Anthony wins. I can't remember what we did with the bottles though, oops.

We go one stop south, it's an easy change here from Canons Park to Edgware - there are three frequent buses, or failing all that a shortish run. As we roll in, Chris is already there on the radio telling us it's just 3 minutes 'til the next bus ... which will take 6 minutes, 9 in total to Edgware for a 10 minute schedule planned - lovely jubley.

Except ... no bus comes. A 186 is clearly indicated as being 3 minutes away. Then 2 minutes, and of course 1 min, and I step out into the road to look for it - and I couldn't see it coming. Where is it? Then the countdown board goes blank, indicating that the bus should be here, now, but it isn't ... and then ... as we all watch the board - it disappears! No bus at all. The 186 has vanished. Convincing proof that sometimes the countdown system is just sometimes flaky and gets things wrong, rubbish.

"This is bloody rubbish!" I announce for everyone to hear at the bus stop. And we all know what it means we have to do now - we have to do it the hard way and starting running. Which is fine, but what really gets me of course is that we've wasted time waiting for a bus that didn't' come, and it would have been better if no bus had been indicated, and we'd of just started running from the moment we got here.

Ealing Broadway

At Golders Green, another friendly face is waiting for us. Hello to Pete who was waiting for us on the platform, and stays with us for quite a few hours. His constant (and I do mean constant) banter is initially a lot to consume, but ultimately rewarding as it provides relief, as he talks about everything that is in his head - his theories on life, the world and the underground in general and he entertains us as as he accompanies us back for the next few hours.

Sunshine. On my face. Ooh, I'd forgotten what that was like and I close my eyes for a moment and enjoy the dark amber inside of my eyelids as the sun flutters on and off with shadows cast my object in the outside world of our speeding train. For a few delightful moments, I am lost ... far away in my own little world ... anywhere but on a tube train.

In a P.A. announcement from the driver, the harsh reality of the real world was brought back again. "Ladies and Gentlemen I've just been informed by the line controller that this train will now be terminating at Oakwood". Oh, yeah ... we're on the Piccadilly line now heading for Cockfosters, except that now this train isn't going to Cockfosters anymore. We all look round each other, grimacing, and then realise what this is going to mean. "It's going to eat into our time to make the Mill Hill East train", I say grimly. Which if we were to miss - would put as another fifteen minutes behind schedule. Aaah, shit.

That signal failure at Knightsbridge may have been several hours ago at the start of traffic this morning, but its effects are still being felt now. The train we were on was meant to be going to the end of the line, but so as to try and catch up with the pattern of service, trains often get cut short or diverted, and this is what was now happening to us.

So we get turfed out at Oakwood. Grumpy. And waste five minutes waiting for the train to reverse. Still grumpy. A member of staff from the gateline comes down to advise passengers coming into the station that the train to the right would be the first train to London, and not going one up to Cockfosters. Very grumpy now. The staff member asks us where we're going. "Everywhere!" all of us say in near-unison, and I turn away now reaaally freaking grumpy now.The train leaves - slowly - heading south, and it's a whole more two minutes for it to clear the points, and the signal, and the train that's been waiting to head north that has been held up by it comes to finally take us to Cockfosters.

We get there six minutes later than we should have been. Don't ask me how grumpy I am right now.

Six minutes is a whole train - sometimes two - to catch in tube challenge world. And as fast as we can run, and as swiftly as we can make the bus, nothing was really going to get that time back, and two minutes out from the station, I see the Northern line train departing from High Barnet going over the bridge as we go under it on the bus - the one which I knew that we had to catch if we were going to make the Mill HIll East connection.

Matt is there waiting for us at High Barnet, radioing us in to the right platform without us having to look. I make a casual attempt to make a note of the departure time, and tweet, knowing that with that missed connection it would put us 15-20 minutes back, and no hope at all of having a good time at all now.

Sure enough, we just miss the train at Mill Hill East by about 90 seconds, and when we get to Finchley Central. Chris is there waiting for us, and in fact talks me in on my phone as we approach the station, to the point where I even hear the 'beep' of the doors of the train that we want to be on in the background behind him as it leaves ... annoying.

I use the toilet here. So does everyone else. The banter has dropped to a low murmuring level and everyone seems to go and find their own space. We all need to zone out now a little and have our own moments. Personally, I walk down the platform a little and lean against the outside glass wall of the recently refurbished waiting room that is here. My lucozade bottle slips out of my pocket as I angle my knees up to sit, and I instinctively go to take a swig out of it, before - woah! Stop. check. is is an actually drink, and not a bottle I've recently deposited in, isn't it? I take a sniff. It's lucozade, confirmed. And swig. It's nine minutes 'til the next train, I'm still grumpy.

We ride on up to the tube's most awkward station to get to (I would rate this trickier than Olympia, because there are Overground services to Olympia, and it's easy to walk to - Mill Hill East isn't as easy to get to by bus or on foot), and have to wait five minutes in the nice afternoon sunshine for it to go back again. I'm not feeling it though. Even when Matt starts playing Finchley Central on his iPhone I can only raise a small smile, but I do appreciate it though. Anthony is eating strawberries, where did he get those from? I have no idea, but I gladly accept his offer of some and munch a couple down.

Back into the centre of town and the tangled interwoven commotion of the central area once more. Due to a sneaky move earlier to try and knock out a station to save us time, we cut out on doing a run that we'd planned on doing. We then reverse at a station that I've never reversed at before (and makes me wonder why not) and we were in and out within eighteen seconds - a [like] button required on the change methinks. And then we head back down to Earl's Court to hopefully pick up on an Olympia train.

I have no idea where Chris is at this stage but I hope he's somewhere at Earl's Court. As we get to the platform ourselves though, I see the beautiful sight of the Ken O train gliding into the platform, and I bark into the radio "Chris! Chris! Chris! Where are you? Are you here? Olympia's in!", and from nowhere I hear his voice "Getting on it now!", but I don't see him ... it's like King's Cross all over again except this time - Ah! there he is, with Matt and Kate - the whole support team, and with Pete who's with us too. And suddenly for one little glorious moment of the day there is a small journey - just the one stop - where the entire team is riding together, up the short spur to Olympia where we must get out and run again.

Run again? Oh. Yeah. The running. Why do I always forget about the running? We're now back in the part of the map where we'd missed out stations this morning due to the District having a 'Good Service', remember? And it means that when we get to Olympia, we're shooting off on foot to somewhere different to where we'd never normally go. West Kensington, Barons Court, Hammersmith, Shepherds Bush and High Street Kensington are the five viable options you can do on foot/bus from Olympia, and we were doing one of them.

Except even now as we try to make up lost time and ground it still wasn't to be our day. "Bus!" I shout, "Get that bus!", as I see a bus approaching on the other side of the road. Anthony presses his special energy-burst button inside of him and sprints ahead to get the bus before us and hold it for a few seconds ... only ... for the bus stop to be CLOSED ... what? Yes, closed. There is road works taking place, cones and barriers all around, and is there a temporary bus stop a few meters before or after up the road like there normally is? Is there ... fuck it ... no. So instead, we have to keep on with our knackering run, crossing back over the road as we do, my empty lucozade bottle ready for me to pee into falling out onto a zebra crossing on the road. I look back at it, and look back at the car that had stopped to let us cross ... it's a police car, and for one fleeting moment I make eye contact with the officer driving - what's he going to do, arrest me for littering? But it's gone, the moment going as my momentum takes me on, through the busy cars, people and everyone that's about, trying to get up to the next bus stop. We don't make the bus we've first seen, but we do make another a minute later, and it takes us the last two stops we want to go to get us to where we want to be, and the last little short bit to the station to where we want to get our next train.

Ealing Broadway

And it's agony. It's annoying. The whole day feels like it's falling apart, and I question myself the futility behind this all, why I shouldn't be doing it, and why why why the whole day is so so bad right now, and what is my motivation for doing this all in the first place?

Pete - admirably - has just about kept up with us. He might not though had a train come straight away, but we had to wait a minute during which he arrives - puffing - and clambers on with us at the last moment. We do the stations we'd missed earlier. All it does it make me more grumpy at the fact that we're having to do them, and how good a 'Good Service' really is.

I point to the display board showing 'Good Service' to Chris ... and he laughs. "You know" he says, "All the while I was waiting for you this morning when you were having trouble on the District, I was looking at a board and it was showing 'Good Service'". "What when it was all backed up at Ravenscourt Park?" "Yup ... the whole time, it never changed". Seriously - District Line trains stopped to the point where it's quicker to go on foot between stations, and nothing changed on the status to indicate otherwise.

Into the south. To knock off the majority of the mere 28 stations that lie south of the River Thames. Wimbledon treats us nicely with a 93 bus straight away which buoyed me momentarily. Kate is waiting for us at South Wimbledon, whilst Matt and Chris have gone to Morden early to get what's now become the de rigueur food moment of the day - some KFC. Kate wasn't to be missed out though, so a perfectly-aligned-door moment of the day (that we weren't even there for!), as Matt hops on a northbound train that when it pulls in South Wimbledon says 'Hello' to Kate, hands her the food, and the doors beep all in one fluid movement as he goes again to the next change point, leaving Kate to munch on her food to wait for us.

Ealing Broadway

We get to South Wimbledon quickly, a small delay waiting to enter Morden, and then a comical run-over and-across and-back-down some steps moment (rather that waiting for the doors on both sides of the train to open, and just walking casually cross-platform!) was laughed at then instantly forgotten as Chris produced the fabled bucket of greasy winged energy for us to chew on for the next twenty minutes - delicious.

The mood becomes jubilant again, and another spontaneous game of Tube Charades broke out. Victoria? Four syllables! And she merely had to point at herself for the 'whole thing' for us to get Vicki's name-sake station, brilliant.

Standard stuff for the next hour as we change, change some more, and even get a Circle Line train within 3 minutes, instead of having to wait for 9 as you sometimes have to with their awful gaps in service. Although for what felt like about the tenth time that day, the train didn't move for two minutes as it just sat in Tower HIll, "Being held at a red signal", and then ... eventually, out of Zone 1 and towards Upminster.

Upminster and back is only second in the day to the Hainault loop for when it feels like you have a little downtime. As you knock off stations without having to do much except sit and let them go past, and you always get time to sit, talk, play charades, and reflect on the day so far. And of course - work out how far behind schedule you actually are.

At Upminster - just over two hundred stations in to our day - we just have to wait four minutes, which then turns into six because the C2C train is running late - to take us back west towards London. And it's at this point that I relax because I know that we're not going this far out of the centre of town again for the rest of the day, but in doing so maybe let the adrenalin that's been keeping me going all day kick in, and I start to feel tired ... really tired.

And on the journey back west on the train, I start to realise that my motivation is going at last. Earlier in the day, I had been bumping along up and down depending on what has happening, but now we were on the gentle curve down to end the day, and when you know you're not on for a record time, it becomes increasingly more difficult to keep going. Even another less-than-20-second change of direction at a station doesn't really help, and I can feel motivation physically starting to wane.

Anthony & Vicki try to life my spirits. At West Ham, we're reminded of playing charades, and someone does an impression of ham. I raise a smile. "This is just ham", says Kate in an announcers voice. "Please mind the gap between the sandwich and the filling". And we all laugh a little more.

The mood is lifted again as we traverse the entire length of the Bakerloo line, except that we are brought back down again. We have to make the dreaded change at Queens Park (Some say that Earl's Court and/or Edgware Road are the Bermuda Triangle stations of the tube ... I respectfully disagree and would like to nominate Queens Park for that honour instead, where any strange train movement is possible), and by the time we get to the northern stretch of the line, we have one minute to get in and out of Harrow & Wealdstone ... and we don't make it. Matt is there ahead of us, and with a journey time from South Kenton (two stops) to go, we've got 8 minutes to journey it in, and yet as our train arrives in north, the southbound one that we want starts to leave. Matt looks possibly more frustrated than me - maybe he think I'll be angry at him for some reason - but there's nothing he could have done.

It's the final nail in the coffin in terms of having a decent time, and I call Chris who is waiting for us at out next 'Run to...' point to tell him the bad news, and I concur with him a sneaky thought that I've had. If we're now about an hour behind, does that mean we've got time to complete? Can we get to T4 before it closes? Will we miss the last train back into London from Heathrow? I start to worry that we don't, and that we won't even make all the stations. That's the trouble with starting as late we we did - it's perfect if it all works and runs to time, but if it doesn't, then the margin for slack for at least a completion lowers dramatically.

A voyager train bursts through on the opposite platform and Vicki is startled by its velocity through the station and its close proximity to us. "Or was it a Pendalino?" someone asks, a brief highly-train spottery discussion ensues about how you call tell the difference between the two when they're firing through the station just a few feet away from you at 120 mph. I don't join it, I just turn away, reach for my phone and do an update:

Ealing Broadway

We get onto the Met again after a run to Northwick Park. There's time here for just one more nice thing to attempt to raise us from the gloom. The train that we are on being driven in to Uxbridge is being done so by a man I know! Hello to Richard who (when he saw us on the platform waiting for his train to pull in) knew that we must be at least an hour behind because he'd already worked out earlier that we should miss him. We didn't. We got his very very late train - by which I mean his train was on time, but we are just very late getting it.

Another moment of irony is when we make the change from Ickenham to West Ruislip. The times of the trains at this time of night are one every ten minutes at x9 past the hour. So when we get out of Ickenham I check the time, and see that we've either got four minutes to make the next train, or fourteen. Wow ... even if we ran like crazy, we wouldn't make it, so I announce that there's no point in running as we've got plenty of time to walk leisurely to West Ruislip stations. Bad Choice. As out of nowhere - A U1 bus appears! The fabled entity of suburban mini-bus sized buses drives past us, and I see it too late. "Bus!" ... Anthony sprints ... towards the bus stop ahead, but gets there too late. If we'd not walked upon leaving the station we reckoned we'd have been at the bus stop as it approached and we would have made it.

I call ahead to Chris to tell him there's a bus coming. I want to know would we have made it or not. By the time we get to West Ruislip he tells me that there was a whole minute between the bus being at the station and the previous train leaving. i.e. We could have made up ten minutes of time if we tried. Fail. Dramatic fail.

Of course, if we'd been on record pace we'd never of walked. We'd of run, and then it would have been a different time of day anyway and that bus wouldn't have been there. But it still felt like another knife in the gut. Not just another nail in the coffin, but the grave diggers now pouring the earth on top of our casket.

So somewhere on the Central Line, I stop writing down times. I don't think I've ever done this before and it's a mark of just how dejected I now am. I note this to Vicki, subtlely suggesting that this might be the time for her to stop taking photos too ... there's just no point. The mood in the carriage is now probably at the lowest that it's been all day.

We make a change on the Central Line and I write down the train number on the front ... it's 113. "Ends in 13" says Chris. "Attempt thirteen ... unlucky thirteen ... train something-and-thirteen" he says, and I do manage a bit of a smile. This'll take us west into Ealing Broadway where although no one's officially said it I think we all know that we're going to stop. If we were carrying on, we'd make a connection down to Acton Town to change onto the Piccadilly to take us through to Heathrow, but it's not going to happen now.

Ealing Broadway

"Rubbish" I say quite vehemently. "It really has been rubbish" and think back to the major delays of the day. The mess that was the District Line this morning and having to go back to complete stations cost us 45 minutes, a bad Canons Park to Edgware cost us ten minutes, we missed the Mill Hill East train we wanted - 15 minutes - and the Bakerloo change at Harrow & Wealdstone was another ten. That's about 1 hour and 20 minutes behind where we should of been and if we did go to the end, we'd have a final time of about 18 hours and 5 minutes. Compared to the three attempts we made last year, that's the worst one yet.

At Ealing Broadway, there is a false celebration. "Hurrah! We've finished ... err ... what have we finished?".

We've finished 11 stations short of a full completion is what - and we're not going to go as far as we can go because we can't make it back home again.

I suddenly realise a terrible thing - I didn't even note our arrival time at Ealing Broadway to see when our official finish was - it's ok, someone else has made a note of it, and I pointlessly jot in down in my notebook.

We have our photo taken and it's hard to work out if the smiles on our faces are genuine or not - or whether it's just relief that what has not been a good attempt has finally come to an end.

Ealing Broadway

We all plod off slowly down the platform towards the exit. "Can I come and crash at yours then?" asks Anthony. "Sure!" I chuckle, not realising that he doesn't have a place to stay. Matt & Kate head for the bus, Chris has worked out that he can get a late District Line train to where he wants to be, and we all go our separate ways. It's a subdued parting.

I get home at almost exactly midnight. There is a tube map hanging on my wall of my flat as you enter the front door and it's the first thing that you see. Right now thought, it's the last thing that I want to see.

Well, until tomorrow morning that is, once I've had a good nights sleep and then I'll be considering what date we can go out again for another attempt ... on a day when there might actually be a good service.


Tube 13 statistics:

Stations visited: 259/270 (Missed South Ealing to Heathrow)
Start time: 06:50.13 Finish time: 23:44.19
Time taken: 16 hours, 54 minutes, 06 seconds
Projected completion time if we had done all 270 stations: 18 hours, 5 minutes.

Number of people: 3
Support team: 3, plus 2 others that came out to say hello

Other attempts:

Tube 1 | Tube 2 | Tube 3 | Tube 4 | Tube 5 | Tube 6 | Tube 7 (World Record)
Tube 8 | Tube 9 (Tube Relief) | Tube 10 | Tube 11 | Tube 12 | Tube 13 | Tube 14 | Tube 15 | Tube 16 | Tube 17 | Tube 18 | Tube 19 | Tube 20 | Tube 21 | Tube 22 | Tube 23 | Tube 24 | Tube 25


Epilogue

• There were a lot of tweets sent on the day (mainly by me!) but from the others too, and in terms of the response we had to the #spwt hashtag (Still Playing With Trains), there were more people on board [sic.] than ever before! Thanks for all joining in, and as i didn't tweet my way around challenges five years ago, it makes me wonder what we'll have in another five years time.

• Some of my favourite tweets replies to us, included:

• A week later, Diamond Geezer blogged about his experience of meeting us.

• Kate's complete set of Flickr photos from the day are here.

• Chris later worked out, that when we ran from Ravenscourt Park to Hammersmith, we probably would have been better off going to the H&C/Circle branch of Hammersmith and tackling that part first. We wouldn't have broken the time, but we might have got round all the stations that way.

• Several weeks before this challenge, we wondered if we were allowed at any point to use a 'Boris Bike' (Barclays Cycle Hire scheme) during the day to make a connection - There are three possible points in central London where we reasoned it may be quicker to use a bike. In the original rules laid down by Guinness it says that bikes are not permitted, but that of course was before the cycle hire scheme was introduced, and seeing as they are a form of paid-for public transport, we thought they might be usable.

So check I wrote to Guinness World Records, and simply asked:

"Is one allowed to use the Barclays Cycle Hire scheme when doing the 'all stations' London Underground challenge".

Which I thought was a fairly straightforward question, as a "Yes", or "No" answer would have sufficed. Instead, they sent me back a reply which said:

"Thank you for your recent letter regarding planned record attempts using the TFL bicycles/cycle hire scheme.

Generally speaking the reason why separate record categories would not be created for these bikes specifically is that they do not require a greater amount of skill to ride them. However, you are more than welcome to submit a claim via our website (www.guinnessworldrecords.com) at the 'Apply Now' section, explaining your record proposal and we will research the claim in detail."

And to be honest, I still haven't got the faintest clue what that means now, as I did on the day when I first read it. Part of me thinks that they think i'm asking if I can ride round to all the tube stations just using a bike, and haven't had the sense to realise that I mean when making one change between two stations.

The upshot is, is that we did not us a boris bike at any point to make a change.

• The fabled 'Good Service' was a story in the news recently, when it turned our that there was only one day in the whole of 2010 when nothing went wrong and there really was a Good Service all day. You don't need a perfect day of service for a tube challenge of course - there can be problems - you just don't want them to be where you are at the time that they're happening, or have a later knock on effect to you.

• In the few days after this attempt was made - whilst I was putting together this write up - a story came out on the BBC that London tube delays are increasing. And this, just at the time that it is carrying the most passengers in its history.

• And finally ... an option that we hadn't thought of. Vicki and I are looking at a tube map waiting for a train about a week before the challenge and she comes up with this idea : Is there a schedule flight between London City Airport and Heathrow Airport? Because then you could fly via a publically scheduled form of transport from one side of the map to the other ... impractical, for sure, but still a genius idea!