What a strange little community Harlington is. The village, just off the Heathrow peripheral road, is a bog-standard interwar development, with pebble-dashed semis ranged down drowsy culs-de-sac. Only when the flight approach into the airport switches to the north do you realise you aren’t in some still sleepier part of the ‘burbs.
The only reason I even know what Harlington looks like is because a few years ago I walked to Heathrow from my house, along the Grand Union Canal then across Hounslow Heath. Otherwise I would’ve remained in the same blissful ignorance of the airport’s surroundings as the rest of its 20 million annual users.
Now a protest camp has been set up between Harlington and the adjoining village of Sipson, and already there are fears that the peaceful environmental campaigners have been infiltrated by eco-warriors and anti-globalisation protesters. Instead of waving their little banners ineffectually at the thousands of holidaymakers who will be being thrust over their heads by carbon-dumping jet engines, these hardcore elements are going to provoke security emergencies and generally try to disrupt the running of Heathrow.
I would say “smooth” running, but this would be an oxymoron. BAA, the company that has a monopoly stranglehold on London’s airports, is determined to have another runway there, and, as yet, the PM has shown no more inclination than his predecessor to stop it. Soon, he’ll be mouthing the shibboleth that restricting Heathrow’s growth is tantamount to putting a bomb under the entire British economy.
It’s nonsense, of course. Heathrow is, was and always shall be a disastrous airport for London: it’s too near the capital, it operates at way over capacity, and has no high-speed rail link to the rest of the country. Building more runways and terminals is simply putting a sticking plaster on this wound, which continues to fester with more and more traffic.
I don’t doubt that there is already a hardcore element at the camp that wants to screw things up for BAA and British Airways, which benefits from an equally monopolistic position with its landing slots. I have no more time for these quixotic Luddites than I do their opponents: they’re the lineal descendants of every bellowing Trot and febrile class warrior it’s ever been my misfortune to attend a demonstration with. I don’t think their “direct actions” will be any more effective in galvanising the Government over climate change than the pop poseurs of Live Earth.
Nevertheless, I can’t help but have a sneaking hope that they will screw things up and this despite the fact I’m jetting away from the airport myself, this coming Saturday. If my flight is grounded by eco-warriors, I’ll take it as a divine signal, and spend my time at their camp, perhaps delivering a few stiff lectures about the economic implications of the Stern Report on climate change. At the very least, I can help familiarise the protesters, most of whom probably arrived by road, with the local area.
One hundred days after Madeleine McCann’s abduction, paedophile hysteria continues in Clapham. At the playground on the Common, I was accosted by a park-keeper: “I just wanted to warn you, your son was trying to go into the public toilets, but …” and here his voice went tremolo with self-righteousness, “… I stopped him.” I pointed out that the predatory men in Clapham were more interested in sex with each other, and he recoiled as if I’d propositioned him. Was he really saying we should be on general alert for paedophiles? If this nonsense persists, with nine-year-olds being barred from the gents, we really are in trouble.
I was up in Edinburgh at the weekend for the Book Festival, and had dinner with assorted literary luminaries at a fancy restaurant in the New Town called Orosola. There were spectacular views: to the south, the Castle mound and to the north, the Firth of Forth and beyond.
However, the political perspectives were narrower. One pro-SNP Scot pronounced: “I wish Salmond would get on and have the referendum. There’s always a dip in the economy after a country becomes independent and I’m worried about my pension.” A second, more sceptical Scot was even more to the point: “If they vote for independence, me and my pension will be on the next train to London.” With patriots like these, who needs a homeland?
Tony Wilson, the impresario and TV presenter who has died aged 57, was the founder of Factory Records and the Hacienda Club in Manchester, which nurtured bands like Joy Division and the Happy Mondays, while continuing to present pawky little current affairs items for Granada TV.
Immortalised by Steve Coogan in the film 24-Hour Party People, Wilson was egregious, insufferable and a tireless promoter of his home town.
I only met him once, in the early Nineties, when I went up to Manchester to do a chat show he was presenting. John Hume, then leader of the SDLP, who had just received the Nobel Peace Prize jointly with David Trimble of the Ulster Unionists, was also a guest.
The air of sycophancy surrounding the Great and hefty Irish Peacemaker was beginning to nauseate me, until Wilson whispered in my ear: “No wonder it’s going so well, it looks to me as if he’s eaten Ian Paisley …” We won’t see his like again …