“UKIP’s idea of hell”* is where I live, Hounslow. It’s nestled between one of the world’s busiest airports, Heathrow, and the frenetic energy of London. Allow me to introduce you. It’s a multi-cultural neighbourhood representative of the diversity that makes the capital an adventure to live, work and travel in. Tube commuters always have stories to tell, and Hounslow boasts three stations: East, West and Central, as well as an overground train station. It also starred alongside a rather delectable Jonathan Rhys Meyers in ‘Bend it Like Beckham’.
This summer (alas) I didn’t use Heathrow instead I enjoyed a staycation marvelling at spectacular sunsets while drinking tea on the sofa.
This means there’s no material for an entry about funny Irish signs or a happy place. But what about showing a little love to the place where I grew up? Yes. So, here’s five highlights worth passing by:
1. Highwaymen haunts
To escape from the concrete greys and pollution infused air there’s a wild corner of Hounslow consisting of 200 acres of natural habitat. Hounslow Heath is made up of a variety of vistas some of which have a very Game of Thrones (GOT) vibe but would be more conventionally described as wetlands and wildflower meadows.
It also has edges of woodland that would be befitting of a Teddy Bears’ Picnic. And if you’re looking for something “fluffy”, as described by a friend, there are swathes of tall wavy yellow grasses. A whopping 330 plant species make up the Heath’s unique vegetation including rare heather and bee orchid flowers.
There’s a whole lot of life on the Heath including gangsta foxes. I kid you not. There was one Sunday run when friends and I, all consecutively passed the most badass fox. She did not flinch as we swooshed by but I swear she gave us the side-eye. Other residents of the Heath who I have yet to meet include grass snakes, rabbits and would you believe 132 species of bird have been spotted there including honey buzzards, now that’s a name.
The Heath and humans have a long history with old boy, William the Conqueror using it as a hunting ground following his 1066 AD takeover of the English throne. Oliver Cromwell also stationed an army on the Heath during the English Civil War in the 17th century.
Staying in the 17th century, one of the most criminal periods of Heath history began with highwaymen who robbed travellers and bejewelled aristocracy at gunpoint. For around 200 years the Heath was Britain’s badlands. It was considered to be one of the most dangerous places to pass through. Some highwaymen had a reputation for being gentleman thieves with the most famous being Claude Duval. The French-born Duval is reported to have released a wealthy couple for £100 in exchange for a dance with the beautiful wife. Smooth.
Now, we have tube carriages rather than horse and carriages. It’s still a busy route with the cramped Piccadilly tube line merrily trundling through. In place of highwaymen there’s now the rarely spotted busker singing a medley for commuter small change.
Travel is really important in Heath history, think about the name of the airport, Heathrow. Do you see it? Heath – row. The Heath was the sight of the first daily international commercial flight from the London Terminal Aerodrome in 1919.
And finally a little alternative fact in homage to the politicians who play with the truth.
Alternative fact: at night unicorns come to play on the Heath. They dance across the grasslands spreading magic. Some of the daytime visitors who enjoy weed can testify to having seen them.
2. Fantastic beasts
There are no unicorns at Hounslow Urban Farm but it is the only Rare Breeds Approved Conservation centre in the capital. It’s the largest community farm and the only one in London and not far from where I live [smug face].
The site covers 29 acres and is home to animals of all kinds including: Dexter cattle, Bagot goats, Boa constrictors, Buff turkey (I didn’t make it up!) and alpaca which as one friend said are, “eyelash goals”.
One cold winter day, my mum and I visited the farm. Mum made a friend (bit like the corn dog) there was a snowy white hen who decided to follow her. She stopped when mum did and walked when she did. I have no explanation.
The other animal that caught our attention was an Exmoor pony who was standing stock still. She seemed frozen, I don’t know much about ponies so maybe she was just daydreaming about ice cream.
If you aren’t the best sleeper you have to check out the pot bellied pigs while they snooze. Their slumber is very deep. There’s no worries or cares as they fill the air with a cacophony of rumbling, grumbling and snorting.
Alternative fact: Old Macdonald founded the Hounslow Urban Farm, E-I-E-I-O.
Disclaimer: photos from this trip were less than award winning and so another trip had to be made to the farm from which the above photos were taken.
3. Star school
Away from animals and nature to one of the most strangest looking buildings in Hounslow, the Heathland School (Heathlands). It’s worth a look if you happen to be in the area although most of the main view has now been obscured by greenery. The geometric shape of it, for me, has echoes of Brutalist architecture (I don’t know why I know this).
In the 1975 official opening prospectus my favourite line regarding the design is: “Many aspects of the design and its execution provide on the spot examples for pupils of modern technology.”
During my research in the local archives I came across some real gems about Heathlands. I really liked school rule number 4 from the 1974 handbook: “All the movement in the building and on the staircases must be at walking pace, on the left hand side in single file.” This rule serves well especially to the pupils who go on to commute on the tube where ‘stand on the right, walk on the left’ is a commandment.
Did I mention that I was a pupil of Heathlands although not during the 1970s. Forever embedded in my psyche is the school motto, ‘Committed to Excellence’. Yes, that’s exactly why I am the awesome individual that you might know. One bright star from my school year went onto work for NASA! Most definitely excellent. There were also medics, finance whizzes and half dozen or so Oxbridge graduates from my year. We were fully committed to excellent academic achievements.
Alternative fact: the building is an alien ship here to indoctrinate pupils with the magic the secrets of success, a touch of creativity, as well as the usual maths and science knowledge.
4. Guardian angels
Another really striking feature in Hounslow are the angels of the Holy Trinity Church based in the High St. I always found the angels fascinating as sculptures especially when I was knee-high-to-a-grasshopper.
The angels are made of polyester resin and fibre glass sculpted by Wilfred Dudeney, head of Arts, Crafts and Liberal Studies at Isleworth Polytechnic in 1963.
Alternative fact: when the world gets a bit too shady the angels come to life at night to manifest everyday miracles for ordinary folk.
5. Treat yo’ self
Indulge me with this one but no mention of Hounslow could miss out the jewel of its shopping crown – the Treaty Centre. It celebrates being open for 30 years this year having first opened its swishing electric doors in 1987.
On the second floor, off to one side there are beautiful stained glass windows retained from the old library that once stood where the shopping centre now is.
Within the Treaty Centre there is a Poundland which I mention because the High St has a range of bargain stores which also includes the 99p store, Sam’s 99p Store and Pound World. One friend who was visiting from Italy told me how she loved the wonderland of shops with quirky knick knacks. Hounslow can make your pound stretch.
The key highlight of Treaty Centre throughout my childhood was the library which is no longer located there. I was rather sad to hear it moved. I spent a signficant amount of time there with my trusty chums prowling the shelves to snatch the best books to help with those coveted good grades. Before t’internet and Wikipedia, learning was gleaned from tomes known as encyclopedias. I did love that library.
That dear reader is the end of this jolly jaunt around the place I call home. Thanks for making it this far and I do hope you have a ‘happily ever after’ day, or night, or in-between.
And if you’re wondering, in my day job I write for brands and businesses as a freelancer.
*“UKIP’s idea of hell”*: Chabuddy’s Guide to Hounslow High St, a more tongue in cheek travel guide.