Beep… beep……. beep… The irregular sequence signals commuters checking out at the Oyster terminal on their way home from work. It is early evening at Hayes and Harlington station, a ramshackle work-in-progress as work on London’s Crossrail (Elizabeth Line) continues. Tired looking commuters, perhaps more male than female, emerge and stride purposefully towards the High Street. A young woman is apparently shouting to herself as she walks erratically across the pavement and into the new strategically placed Tesco Metro – I guess she is having a difficult phonecall.
We are staying at a similarly strategically placed hotel, handy for both Heathrow Airport and Crossrail. I am taking the early evening air for a leg stretch and wander up the appropriately named Station Road, a typical London high street, once the village of Botwell, which became the town of Hayes, which was in the county of Middlesex until it was abolished in 1965 (I remember the fuss), and is now in the London borough of Hillingdon.I savour the atmosphere. It is just like so many similar London high streets over so many decades – Peckham in the 1960s, Leytonstone in the 1970s, Manor Park in the 1980s, Willesden in the 1990s, Acton in the 2000s – that great busyness, the small shops open at this convenient time, huge fruit and vegetable stalls with much greater choice than in the provinces, even today. And a great variety of races and ethnicities, perhaps more middle eastern and east European than in former days. You can so see why London voted to stay in the EU with free movement of people. How will it thrive without?
There is also a fair sprinkling of national and international brands, such as the aforementioned Tesco, more than before. But still many independents maintain their position. You can see why, with their dedicated managers fussing and making sure all is well.
Later, all has quietened down. The station is almost empty, and presents a pretty picture from the hotel window. This part of London will soon sleep.