Friday, early evening, almost the rush hour. Bromley-by-Bow, tip of the platform, between the swearing lads playing football and the being-demolished hospital. A steady trickle of brightly painted District line trains rumbled through the station, delivering and collecting a handful of disinterested locals, then beeping shut and moving on. And then, round the curve from West Ham, came the distinctive silver-and-red front of the last ever unpainted Underground train. Nobody else noticed, but I whipped out my Cybershot for a final photo. One of the three LU staff in the driver's cab smiled, and I smiled back. He recognised a transport geek with a camera when he saw one.
On board, in the maple-floored carriages, a handful of travellers continued on their westward journey as per usual. There was an inkjet-printed clue stuck to the window with sellotape (Last unpainted "Silver" passenger train, 1952-2008) for those who cared to notice, but most didn't. Never mind, the driver had a 30 second non-automated tannoy message up his sleeve to alert passengers to their unwitting part in history. "Ladies and gentlemen, you are travelling aboard the last unpainted etc etc will be taken out of service at the end of the day etc etc the next station is Mile End change here for etc etc." Some passengers looked around and smiled, others checked out a few vanishing heritage features for the last time, but most just carried on reading the paper or staring at the tunnel wall.
At Tower Hill the train suddenly got a lot busier. A crowd of young American tourists bundled aboard before the doors closed, filling the aisles and grabbing every dangly bobble they could find. This was suddenly a very ordinary rush hour train, standing room only, rattling beneath the City. At Monument I gave up my seat to a half-term family, and rose to grab one of the remaining black drop-handles in the maelstrom above. Because, you know, you can't ride on the last train with dangly bobbles without embracing the full dangly bobble-swing experience. There's something comfortably reassuring about hanging onto a firm but flexible plastic teardrop as your train rocks and judders from station to station. It may be easier to find something to hold on to when they're all ripped out in favour of replacement green grab-bars, but it won't be half as much fun.
At Embankment an impossibly optimistic number of commuters attempted to enter the carriage. I think they were all just trying to get home, rather than to enjoy one final dangly bobble experience for themselves. I left them to it. I had a blogmeet to attend in a nearby pub, and they're even rarer these days than nostalgic last-train farewells. So I disembarked and watched the unpainted train slide slowly out of the platform, before heading back to the real world above. During the next seven hours I met lotsoflovelyoldschoolbloggers and drank lots of bottles of Becks, while the train continued on two last end-to-end journeys.
And, what do you know, at quarter to midnight we both just happened to be back at Embankment station, the last train and myself, so I nipped aboard for one really-final ride in the wrong direction. The train was semi-packed with comatose revellers and burger-munchers, plus (hanging around behind the driver's cab) a slightly more obvious presence of transport geeks with cameras. After a couple of stops I left them to their final journeyto the sidings, switched platforms and took the red, white and blue train home. They'll all be red, white and blue trains home from now on. And no hanging around.
What's on this weekend? Spring Into Summer Saturday 30 & Sunday 31 May
40 free guided London walks. Purley Festival Friday 29 - Sunday 5 June
Bunting week, below Croydon. E17 Art Trail Sat 30th May - Sun 14th June
250 arty Walthamstow things.