Unless you’re arriving from the West, thereby ruining the Queen’s sleep over in Windsor (because, like a particularly loud American once said within earshot of yours truly, Why have they built a castle next to an airport?), you’ll be spending the last minutes of your journey bobbing along the winds over the city, cruising from East to West. Those of you that are sat on the right-hand side will be treated to quite a spectacle: the palisade of skyscrapers of Canary Wharf, tailed closely by those in the City, with the Shard south of the river, then Tower Bridge, Westminster, the Eye and the big green blob of Hyde Park. Even at night, even if you don’t like London, it’s a sight to behold.
Then, between these lovely views and the bump on the runway and the usual Welcome to London Heathrow announcement, what remains is a seemingly endless expanse of, well, stuff. Mile after mile of houses, roads, train lines, green commons and the brown river, interspersed by the odd recognisable landmark. The Royal Albert. Westfield. Charing Cross hospital. Southall’s Gurdwara, if you’re Sikh. But everything else, well, what about it? You fly over it, then roll past it on the Piccadilly Line (or on the Heathrow Express if you don’t value your money too much), and as far as you’re concerned, it could very well be another planet.
Ever wondered what’s out there?
Well, let’s take for instance the corner of West London that has been my home for the past five years. If you’ve flown into Heathrow, you’ve seen it. Yes, we don’t score too high in terms of imposing landmarks, especially if you consider that the Overground overpass is one of the tallest points.
But we make up for it with a nice promenade on the Thames that comes with roaming dogs as a standard and is pretty much guaranteed to be a mud inferno, worthy of Passchendaele, between September and May, with frequent forays well into June.
But rest assured, it very much isn’t Little Britain here. Folks voted 75% Remain, here, and the average Joe won’t have a problem admitting that Somerset brie is just a pale mockery of the real dairy gold. Perhaps it’s because we’ve got places like the Business Park, built by none other than Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, who by they way used to be housed a little downriver in Hammersmith, before they went mainstream and relocated in the City, perched atop the Cheesegrater like a bunch of owls with pink trousers. But we’re not bitter, because they’ve left us with a beautiful Business-park-cum-Virgin-gym-and-Japanese-garden where we can work for oil prospectors, big dairy conglomerates, Saudi NGOs, TV outlets and, oddly enough, even the Pokémon company. Whatever they do.
So, here it is what you’re missing. Pleasant, perhaps a tad boring, confidently florid and moderately at ease with itself. Certainly neither artsy nor quirky. Until you meet the family living a few roads down from my flat, that is.
Yep. In my rather nondescript neighbourhood there’s space for a home entirely covered in mosaic including a mermaid, an octopus, a few skulls, a kind of Kali Goddess, Hokusai’s Great Wave and a denunciation of capital punishment (see the Keep the faith heart?), inhabited by a quirky family who I heard playing great acid jazz at 2 AM during a house party. And everyone else seem to be just happy that they are around.