An Unquiet Night in Suburbia
"HAPPY the country without history" is a saying from I don't know who (could it be GBS?). Thinking along the same lines I suppose you could say some people are fortunate to live in a neighbourhood that isn't often in the news.
Not since the Krogers were caught as Russian spies has Ruislip featured in headlines.
Though things have changed since the Metropolitan Railway could advertise "the quiet of the English countryside", (right above) attracting trippers and suburban settlers, the northern end of the London Borough of Hillingdon is fairly quiet as places in Greater London go.
Even the USAF base, whence police dragged away Committee of 100 peace protesters in the 1960s has gone, largely replaced by commercial stores. As for the old bit of Ruislip by St.Martin's parish church, though not far away a small electronics factory has been taken over by a US company which is closing it down, the only other big news lately has been the refurbishment of the duck pond by Hillingdon council, and the fight by regulars and bar staff at the 600-year old Swan pub against takeover by a yuppie cafe chain.
So there was quite a lot of excitement on Thursday evening when, about nine o'clock, sirens were heard and a steady stream of emergency service vehicles - police, ambulances, fire engines and rescue unit vehicles - began issuing from Ruislip High Street into Bury Street and later into Eastcote Road. Some bold souls even turned from their pints and the Tottenham Hotspur v. Seville match on the box to go out and see what was going on.
Lights flashing and sirens sounding the vehicles kept on coming. Word came by mobiles that a 'plane had come down on Ruislip lido, or at least in the woods nearby. Someone 'phoned a friend, anxious that homes had not been hit. A lad arrived who had been at the pub by the lido and heard a plane flying low overhead, and later helicopters. The road was said to be blocked off by emergency vehicles while a search was going on in the woods.
We might have thought that meant a light aircraft had crashed. Six people were rescued from one which hit trees at Denham golf club last August. But the number of fire appliances and even more, of ambulances, which had kept going up the road seemed excessive for such an incident. (It reminded me of the Clapham Junction train disaster, though then the ambulances kept coming to and from the hospital where I was working, whereas as somebody pointed out none had returned yet from this incident. But then they might have been taking the injured to Mount Vernon, in the opposite direction).
The football ended, then there were the adverts, and no message flashed up on screen to say there had been a plane crash. The news came on and still there was nothing about a plane crash, or Ruislip. We told each other it must have been an exercise, to test the emergency services' response to such an incident.
Feeling relieved, I went home, though I still checked the news later and again today. Nothing about a plane crash, and nor was there any sign of a disaster when I visited the woods and lido today - just children and geese splashing around enjoying the sun.
Relatively quiet though the Ruislip area is, it lies between Northolt airfield on one side and NATO headquarters at Northwood on the other. Planes and helicopters do disturb the quiet from time to time. It's good to know the emergency services are making preparations to cope with any contingency (though how they would get down the High Street through parked cars and daytime traffic might be another matter). Even so, considering the scale of the exercise on Thursday night it feels strange to see nothing about this on the news.
Having been in the vicinity by coincidence, I thought I'd mention it. Perhaps I should have dashed out of the 'pub and caught a bus to see for myself, if I could get close to the scene. That might have been more interesting for you dear reader, but we experienced journalists know we can usually find out what we want without leaving a bar, and can always make up some colourful details to fill out the story if need be later on. Only joking, honest. Just as well nothing happened.