A month ago, I was worried about the places in this big wide world I might now never get to see, even if Covid-19 doesn’t take me. Then the focus narrowed to all the places, lovely and unlovely, in this country I might not visit. And now, logically enough in this great narrowing of all our worlds, my concerns are closer to home.
I have lived in London, on and off, since coming to college in October 1987. My first visit was around a decade before that, with my mum and dad, when I was about 10. Only two things stick in my mind from that day. One was the awesomely terrible old taxi rank below Euston station. I had rarely seen a black cab before, let alone hundreds in one place spewing out stuff that, even then, I suspected couldn’t be good for you. The other memories I have are of the tube: the distant rumble, rumbling louder and louder, and the gentle breeze slowly stiffening into a wind as this strange-looking train exploded out of the tunnel. It was the Piccadilly line. I know this, because I remember vividly that the train was bound for somewhere called Cockfosters. Four decades on, it pains me that I have yet to get to Cockfosters.
For a while now it has been on my bucket list to have got on or off a train at every single London Underground station. The valuable lesson I have learned of late is that when you get these ideas you need to hurry up and do them, because you never know if a global pandemic is going to come along.
I have just spent a deeply soulful hour going through the list of all 270 London Underground stations. It gives me solace that I have visited the first and last on that list: Acton Town is very close to me and Woodside Park is where my brilliant CBT practitioner plies her trade. I tell a lie, she’s actually nearer Totteridge and Whetstone, but I used Woodside Park once just so I could, you know, cross it off my list. She might want a word with me about this nonsense, come to think of it. But if I had never been to Woodside Park, I would never have come across the astoundingly photogenic little shack, Café Cairo, that sits outside. That would have been a real shame.
I have 85 stations left to tick off my list. This will plainly have to wait until restrictions on unnecessary travel are lifted. What on earth would I say to someone in uniform asking me what my business was in Arnos Grove, Fairlop or Sudbury Hill?
Naturally, it is stations towards the end of my line that I need to get to. I am rather kicking myself that the one time I went to Upminster, I didn’t stop off at Upminster Bridge while I was in the area. Soon. There are a few stations I will be able to knock off quickly. I will be down to 82 after a morning in Northwood (Northwood and Northwood Hills); 80 come late afternoon, by which time I’ll have done Ruislip (Ruislip, Ruislip Gardens and West Ruislip), and the number will reduce to 77 during an evening in Hounslow (Central, East and West). Bring it on.
Unnecessary? Strictly speaking, even in ordinary times, yes. But to me, no travel is ever unnecessary. It is with a shudder that I now recall what I used to say to anyone who asked me why I had been somewhere random: “To go, to see, to feel, to breathe the same air as different people.” Breathe the same air? Please God, may this nightmare end soon.
• Adrian Chiles is a Guardian columnist