Harlesden on the Hoof

The Evening Standard (London, England), February 28, 2001 | Go to article overview

Harlesden on the Hoof


DESPITE Sebastian Coe's recent attacks on Linford Christie's integrity, and despite Christie having been found extremely guilty by an international athletics jury, I continue to sympathise with the plight of the athlete.

Why? Because (thanks to junk science) I too was once wrongly suspected of substance abuse. Last year, I was fictionally stopped by the rozzers on suspicion of having taken a substance called "alcohol" (apparently, some unscrupulous journalists use it as a performance-enhancing drug, even though it is on the National Union of Journalists' list of banned substances). I was breathalysed, given a urine test, and was then declared to be 800 times over the legal limit. As a well-known teetotaller, I naturally called for such roadside tests to be immediately banned since they are clearly unreliable, and I can prove it. You see, there is a substance in croissants called "yeast" which produces infinitesimally small quantities of "alcohol," and as it happens, I had that very morning eaten 875,000 croissants by mistake. So, let me state this again. Despite all the evidence of my guilt, I am clearly innocent, and will take my case to the High Court, that sanctuary of natural justice where Liberace wasn't homosexual, Robert Maxwell wasn't a cheat and Jeffery Archer wasn't a liar.

Last night's Heart of Harlesden (BBC2) revealed that Linford Christie was raised in that part of north-west London, and comedian Rudi Lickwood offered an innocent explanation for the sprinter's legendary fleetness of foot. The area has an unfortunate reputation for shootings, he said, so residents are accustomed to legging it whenever they hear a gun being fired, "and that's why Linford ran as quickly as he did". Another contributor to the BBC's latest docusoap even claimed that, "Harlesden is synonymous with Harlem", which seemed a trifle hyperbolic, because even more genteel parts of New York have murder rates that are way out of the British league. Nevertheless, Dean Samuel's brief horizontal appearance in a pine overcoat chillingly brought home the reality of the statistics as became the 14th person to die in vicious and pointless gangland war.

Despite the area's reputation violence, last night's programme portrayed Harlesden as a vibrant, enthusiastic, and generally decent place, which houses one of country's largest black communities. "I'm a black British youth and I'm quite proud of that," declared Rudi with characteristic British understatement, and although he joked inordinately about Harlesden's shortcomings when on stage, he clearly loved the place. More hard-headed was Martin Edwards, a young reporter on the Harrow Observer, who knew that a local shooting could be a lucky career break him, and that someone's blood splashed all over the pavement could result in his byline being splashed all over the front page. …

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