Three set off to cross London in the morning rush hour, from Crystal Palace to Kenwood House. Who wins?: 2 hrs 24 mins: 'Train to the nearest Northern Line Tube, then a short bus ride, easy peasy'. . .oh dear]

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Indy Lifestyle Online
I'll have started work - no, I'll have finished work - before you get to Kenwood,' says Stephen Wood, gripping his bicycle handles under the shadow of Crystal Park's transmitter, ready to race. I am not so sure. London's public transport system is, surely, not as bad as that? From the map it looks pretty simple - train to the nearest Northern Line Tube station, then a short bus hop at the end. Easy peasy. At least I'll beat the car.

7.45. The others speed off. I trip lightly down to Crystal Palace railway station in 20 minutes. The nice man in the ticket office says to change at Balham, and there will be 13 minutes to wait before the next train.

Plenty of time to admire the station. Buddleia is growing profusely from the brickwork, the gutters are blocked with weeds and there is litter all over the tracks.

8.13. On time] And everyone got a seat. It takes 17 minutes and pounds 1.40 to get to Balham. There but a hop to the Northern Line.

8.33. Stroke of luck - the Tube is waiting at the platform, and it is going to Archway via Bank. Plenty of seats inside. I do hope Stephen Wood's thighs are holding out. A young man gets on reading Dante. There is a poem opposite. Yes, the literate travel by Tube .

8.40. A full hour gone, no hitches, and yet I am only at Clapham North.

9.00. Old Street Tube station - now there are 20 spare seats in the carriage, but the Tube seems to have suddenly lost its will to live. It keeps stopping in the tunnels.

After four or five jolts I begin to feel like a rat in a trap, and the trap itself is suddenly looking dirty and very old. Stop. Start. Stop. This is like the M25 at rush hour, with added claustrophobia and dark.

9.22. The Tube has made it to Camden Town but it seems exhausted by the effort. People are looking at their watches, shaking heads, frowning out of doors. Opposite an advert asks 'Are You On Your Way To A Tension Headache?' Yes, definitely. .

9.32. We leave Camden Town] In five minutes we are at Archway. Eager tourists are getting on, anxious for the Northern Line Experience. London Underground could hang some wet sheets on the route and turn out the lights, and they would have a ride to rival Alton Towers. White-faced up the stairs. Sunlight. Space. More than that, a bus stop.

9.45 Two hours gone now. Bus stop E at Archway carries no information about where its buses run. A nice man says the 210 goes to Kenwood.

9.50. Astonishing. A 210 bus, already, with empty seats, for 70 pence. It crawls up the hill through Highgate High Street, but after the Northern Line any movement at all is welcome and unexpected.

10.09. Gotcha] After a mere two hours and 24 minutes. After a brisk little walk in the wrong direction from the bus stop, I have found Kenwood's front door.

'Have you seen a bicycle?' I ask a man in uniform. He frowns for a bit and then says: 'Much, much earlier I did, about 9.15, if that's the one you mean.' The car too. At the cafe there are no aspirins, but there is Stephen Wood's empty breakfast plate. The man himself is already at work.

I was wrong. He was right. London's public transport is as bad as that, and the Northern Line is a Nightmare from Old Street.

(Photograph omitted)

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