In 2007 I’d parked in Sipson, the village that was scheduled to disappear under the planned third Heathrow runway, and was on my way to the camp set up by Climate Change protestors. As I lugged along a basket of food that I was going to try to sell (to a group that it turned out only accepted voluntary donations), I found myself in deep countryside, in a lane beside a ditch and hedgerow dripping with the blackberries, hips and haws of late summer. Just 500 yards to the south there was the Bath Road and beyond that hangars, aviation fuel tankers, security fences and Holiday Inn and Radisson Edwardian hotels. I stumbled on a description for where I’d found myself: this was Middlesex.
This turned out to be a useful label for various places in Greater London that made a powerful impression on me but had little to do with the usual picture of the Metropolis. There were the routes out of London: the Bath Road, which both stage coaches and motor-coaches used to leave for the West through Chiswick and Brentford; the London to Birmingham railway line — I think I have a memory from my very earliest childhood of passing through the now demolished platforms of Willesden Junction station.
There’s an English tradition of being lost for words if someone asks where you come from. After my first jobs on newspapers in Acton and Wembley, and currently running a business in the bleak triangle of land near the site of the former mainline Willesden Junction, I do feel as if I belong in Middlesex.
I found the Middlesex I glimpsed out of the window of a four-berth sleeping compartnment as fascinating as the Scottish Highlands I was bound for with my parents. They wanted to put me right. There was a hierarchy of places and Willesden Junction was at the bottom. But I’m pleased to have travelled from my parents’ preferred world Oxbridge, the Inns of Court, Whitehall and the Palace of Westminster — to somewhere with a less obvious romance of its own.