I entered the "queen of the suburbs" under cover of darkness. Having failed to penetrate the borough of Ealing last week it was a congress that couldn't come too soon. I hope that's enough smut for you on a Sunday evening because it's all you're going to get. I'm now elevating the tone with a reminder that the true purpose of this article is to draw attention to my forthcoming Virgin London Marathon run and, most particularly, my related fund-raising efforts for Shelter. Please GIVE THEM YOUR MONEY. People called Bill, Matt and The Joy of Cesc have done precisely that in recent days. Some people reading this have not. What's so special about you, huh?
I emerged from Turnham Green Underground station at dusk equipped for a long haul to an engagement with the well-known London Mayor. I wore, for the first time, a sporty little rucksack containing my camera, notebooks and voice-recording device and felt only slightly foolish with it attached to my back as I set off at a cautious jog along an elegant road called The Avenue. I passed a white-painted house bearing a blue plaque in honour of the botanist John Lindley and the London Buddhist Vihara before my path curved left and became Southfield Road which led to a four-way junction where I paused beside the Southfields Hydrotherapy and Dog Grooming Centre. This is an eclectic city.
I continued north along Acton Lane, passing under its railway bridge, until I came to Acton High Street, which forms part of the long, lateral A4020, most of which is called the Uxbridge Road. It was properly dark now, with rush hour road traffic building. I detoured down Gunnersbury Lane, saw a fire station and doubled back by way of Denehurst Gardens with its mock-Tudor touches and a four-bedroom house to rent for £530 per week.
Once reunited with the High Street a London Cycle Network sign told me I was one mile and a quarter from Ealing town centre. The Persian Nights restaurant beckoned seductively at the junction with King Edwards Gardens. Almost next door stood the Middle East Food Market, offering halal Mediterranean food and Lebanese sweets. To my left, large mansion blocks stood back off the roaring highway, to my right on the far side a row of semis did the same. Christmas lights still sparkled around the Dante Pizzeria, but hurrying through dark, unfamiliar streets in the cold took me rather bleakly back to my earliest days in London as 1980 came into view and I earned my first, tiny cheques from journalism.
I passed Ealing Common Tube, with its old-fashioned roundel. But this is a car-driven landscape: the junction with the North Circular makes a lone pedestrian feel very small. Then came the centre of Ealing where a team of shop-fitters, vivid as if captured inside a giant light-box, pared table tops for a forthcoming noodle bar and a crazed motorist raced a red light, hooting at pedestrians to clear his way. For me, it was time to refuel. I'd seen what I was looking for - sometimes only a Belgian bun from Greggs will do.
The cut through to Ealing Broadway station put me back in known territory. At its far end stood the largest Polish shop I've yet seen in London, the Parade Delicatessen distinguished by its curved frontage and collage of hand-written ads in the window. A young woman tried and failed to bum a pound from me. Further on, on Haven Green, glum queues waited for the E10 and E1 towards Greenford. I left them to it, walking on to Castlebar Road before running as fast as I could bear to up Castlebar Hill. Crossing into Kent Gardens, I noticed the paving slabs glittering icily on the street lights. My hands were cold. Left into Scotch Common where Pitshanger Park and Cleveland Park were just black blanks in the night, though this deepened my cover when I slipped into the latter and had a Paula Radcliffe moment behind a bush.
Forsaking the main road, I went straight on an turned right along Avalon Road where all was deep shadow and quiet. A lady emerged from one house, pulling on her leather gloves. We exchanged exploratory smiles but stopped short of saying, "Good evening." There were add-on porches and carriage lamps, mini-drives and parking spaces that would once have been front gardens: landmarks in suburban social history. I hit the Ruislip Road and went west. To my left were school grounds and playing fields. To my right I now know that the River Brent flowed invisibly.
It revealed itself as I at last approached Greenford, snaking beneath me as I crossed Greenford Bridge to the sound of birdsong in the trees. But now all was brightness and retail: a Lidl, a Costcutter, another Polish deli, this one called the Polka. Junction improvements were taking place at the crossing with the A4127 Greenford Road. Then came the wide pavements of Greenford Broadway. Sikh men spoke conferred proprietorially in shop doorways. There was a 95 pence-plus store, a Pound-plus, an Iceland and the Hurricane Pool Hall.
I spotted my destination, the Greenford Hall, illuminated in brazen mauve, beyond the crossing with Oldfield Road South. This was the venue for Mayor Johnson's public meeting on transport. An elderly lady on a disabled scooter, heading for the meetings too, cursed the motorists who didn't notice her and cursed the Mayor too. "I'm here to boo Boris Bear," she said. "He's been messing with the taxi cards." It's a theme I might re-visit.
Once the meeting was over I ran flat out to Greenford Tube, pounding through the underpass beneath the Greenford roundabout on the growling Western Avenue and leaving Boris and his entourage in the dust. They were catching a bus. Pah! The Central Line stop is right at the Hillingdon edge of the "queen of the suburbs" and very close to where Running London began. The next leg of my journey will take me north into Harrow. Until then, please sponsor my efforts on behalf of Shelter if you can. Two minutes spent with my Virgin London Marathon giving page and it will be all over. Thanks.
I completed this leg of my journey on January 19, 2011. My accounts of all the other legs are archived here.