It always seems to start in a pub.
This is hardly surprising for me, given that I’ve spent my entire adult life in the booze trade, but I think it’s often very true that the finest adventures in life undergo formation and fermentation over a couple of chilled beers. This time it was over the course of several pub conversations – mostly in our St Albans local, The White Lion – that everything started to take shape. Keith and I had been helping with the fundraising for some time for the “Crazy Ladies” London Marathon run – the Crazy Ladies being our respective wives, Liz and Sue, and two other friends, Lisa and Sian. Many people (our wives included – who really should know better) had asked us several times what sort of Marathon type challenge us “lazy men” would undertake in response to the girls’ superb running efforts.
The usual question – now that your wives have done it, are you going to get off your backsides and run the London Marathon next year? (I wouldn’t, of course, dignify that with a sensible answer). We did consider entering the marathon and walking the entire route with a shopping trolley full of beer – taking it in turns to sit in the trolley and be pushed – but it was fairly obvious that it would take so long that the beer would be horribly warm by about mile seven. Plus, picking the wrong trolley (i.e. one of those with a mind of its own, or one broken wheel) would also lead to extreme crash hazards every time we hit a downhill stretch. Bad idea.
So what suitably Herculean task could we undertake instead? Myself and Keith considered the possibilities over some more hop based brain food whilst our respective wives continued to pound the streets. At this point we had already heard of, and talked about, something called the London Tube Challenge, where you try and visit every tube station on the London Underground in the shortest period of time; we had also mentioned the Circle Line challenge, when you have a drink at a pub by every Circle Line station (a particular favourite amongst Aussies and Kiwis, apparently). You can see where this is going can’t you?
What if, we reasoned, you had a drink at the nearest pub to every station on the whole Underground map? How long would it take? Could it be done? Had it been done already? How many stations are there? How much would it cost? And how many brain cells would we have left at the end of it?
It clearly needed research, which we undertook in the sort of haphazard fashion that I suspect will become very familiar over the course of this challenge. After about 45 minutes on Google and half a dozen e-mails, we had concluded that nobody had ever done such a thing before, and we would be looking at 185 tube stations. A challenge indeed…..it would certainly take several days to complete (we thought maybe 9 days, initially), which, given that we are both hardworking young men, would need to take place over several weekends.
We needed to set some ground rules. This clearly required another visit to The White Lion for inspiration – four “quick” pints later, we realised we had plenty of ideas, but nowhere to write them (idiots). This is how the Official Rules for Keith and Jamie’s Grand Tube Challenge (With Beer), came to be written on three small food order tickets. Very professional.
The Official Rules (subject to change when we think of others as we go….)
1. All days must be started and finished by both Mr Keith Lewis and Mr Jamie West
2. Routes may be chosen and adjusted at will, but all stations must be visited
3. Always use the nearest pub to the tube station, based on the pub search websites we used (fancyapint.com, and abeerintheevening.com), personal knowledge, and, er, eyesight. Judgement can be used for stations with multiple exits.
4. Acceptable drinks – half a pint of beer or cider, a bottle of beer, a spirit and mixer, a glass of wine (only just acceptable), or a shot – limited to 2 a day depending how full we are.
5. We must undertake at least 1 Essential Pub Conversation on each day out. Making sense is optional.
6. No taxis – unless there is torrential rain, the pub is very far away, or we really really want to.
7. If the same pub is closest to 2 stations, we can have two drinks there – but we must at least enter or leave every station.
8. Guest appearances are most welcome – as long as they buy drinks!
9. Drinks bought will be recorded (including prices), and wherever possible one of us must drink something English.
10. Total number of days, the spend, plus the start and finish date will be recorded – if only to remind us how much time and money we have invested/wasted (delete as appropriate).
Equipment required: Ourselves, money, travelcards, a tube map, an A-Z, a pen and pad (which we may even upgrade to a Dictaphone!), a camera, and a plan. Of sorts.
Fully planned and only slurring slightly, we informed our ladies that we had a Marathon worth doing, and they were suitably impressed – “Let me guess, does it involve beer?” said Sue. Uncanny…..
More planning sessions followed, until we realised that, although there were still a lot of variables involved in the task (I almost understand Donald Rumsfeld and his “known unknowns”, and “unknown unknowns”. Almost.), we really needed to get involved and give it a whirl, rather than just talking about it. Since I am world class at procrastination, I really needed Keith’s influence here – “why don’t we just set a date, go and drink some beer and see what happens?” or words to that effect.
So without (much) further ado, we plumped for Saturday October 4th, a date that would surely resonate through future history. The route was to be a gentle Starter for Ten (or perhaps 20), in a “nice” part of town – we decided to tackle the Southern end of the District Line, starting at Richmond, and finishing (hopefully) at Wimbledon. Fairly straightforward really.
It was at this point that Keith informed me that he had a bit of news about the size of the challenge. Turns out that our information may have been mildly dated with the estimate of 185 Stations. It would seem, with the advent of the DLR and various extensions, that the actual figure is somewhere in the region of 275. Before a beer or even a ticket had been bought, we had magnificently increased the size of our task by over 40%! Impressive work fellas.
Fairly straightforward eh? If only…..