Posted on December 13th, 2009

By Shelton A. Gunaratne©2009

The “strangest thing” that could happen to a traveler struck me at about 4.45 p.m. on Friday, July 20, 1990. It shattered the image of London that my father had impressed on me as the “greatest” city in the world.

I purchased a few groceries from  Marks & Spencer in Hammersmith and was about to leave the store to  walk toward the tube station along King Street when a security guard (later identified as George Cox of Storewatch Ltd.) pounced on me to search my waist for “shoplifted goods.”

It had never occurred to me that anyone could ever suspect me of being a shoplifter.  But a suspicious Cox had been watching me moving to a quiet nook of the store to open up my waist. The prejudiced mind of the white security guard instantly made him cocksure that I, a colored Asian, was stuffing my waist with goods to avoid payment.

True, I was meddling with my waist away from the crowds. But I was merely counting the bills in the money bag wrapped around my waist””‚a safety measure suggested by travel experts to elude the wily thieves and pickpockets of Dickensian fame.

By a strange coincidence, a passerby took offence at the manner the security guard was searching me on a public street. Using his high-decibel vocal chords, he demanded an explanation from the store personnel, who seemed relentlessly unapologetic about their foul procedure despite my explanation that I was merely searching my money bag.

It tuned out that the passerby who came to my defense was a gentleman by the name of Bryan LaBroy, a Dutch Burgher who had left Ceylon in the late “ƒ”¹…”50s. To show my gratitude, I bought him a drink at the nearest pub, and we talked about our mother country.  LaBroy volunteered to be a witness in case I decided to file a suit against the store.

When I told Martin Axon, my English brother-in-law, about the lack of remorse that Marks & Spencer personnel showed through their self-righteous behavior, he decided “to make a fuss over this matter.” Three days later, he lodged a complaint with the company protesting its callous treatment of a customer of color.

On Aug. 2, I received a set of gift certificates valued at £100 from Marks & Spencer as a “material gesture” of regret for the indignity to which a security guard subjected me on July 20.  F. J. Kieran, solicitor for the company, in a letter dated July 25, said, “We wish to offer you our unreserved apologies “¦ Our staff who were involved in the incident have specifically asked that they be permitted to associate themselves with the apology.”

We decided not to pursue the hassle of legal recourse for higher compensation.

I used the gift certificates to purchase a St Michael brand jacket (£ 49.50) and a pair of shoes of the same brand (£ 17) at Marks & Spencer in Marble Arch. On another shopping spree at Marks & Spencer on Kensington High Street, I exhausted the gift certificates to buy more St Michael brand products, including another pair of leather shoes (£ 20) and a pair of trousers (£ 19).

I never went back to Marks & Spencer in Hammersmith, which was the closest to Shepherds Bush where I stayed during my London visits.

Shepherds Bush was a good location for me to explore the delights of exploring the Brentford Arm of the Grand Union Canal and the lower reaches of River Thames. The mishap at Marks & Spencer robbed my confidence as a globetrotter of Asian origin for a while but my adventures as a jogger helped my rejuvenation.

 Brentford Arm

First, I shall recount my encounter with the Brentford Arm of GUC, which follows the engineered course of River Brent from the Hanwell Locks to Brentford, the terminus of the GUC.

Aug. 4, 1992: After getting off the bus in Acton Town late afternoon, I crossed Gunnersbury Park from the north and walked southwestward to Brentford to see the confluence of River Brent at its meeting place with mother River Thames. Then I crossed the Brent at Dock Road to watch Thames Lock 101 and explore the scenic Marina area. Thereafter, I walked along Augustus Close and re-crossed the Brent to find the public footpath alongside the stretch of river-cum-canal (a.k.a. Brentford Arm) that heads northwestward from Brentford to Hanwell Flight of six locks. Brentford Gauging Lock 100 lies just to the north of High Street. I left the canal at the crossing point of Motorway 4 on the eastern edge of Osterley Park. Then I proceeded to Boston Manor station to take the tube home.

Aug. 6, 1992: I continued my exploration of River Brent this evening. I got off the tube at Northfields station and walked southward to Boston Manor Park, where I joined the Brentford Arm footpath again to resume my walking and jogging from where I stopped at the M4 crossing on Aug. 4. I passed through Clitherow’s Lock and Osterley Lock to reach Hanwell, where the River Brent departs the GUC and heads northeastward and crosses the Paddington Arm at Alperton.

The Hanwell Flight of six locks raises the GUC by just over 53 feet (16.2 m). These locks have turned into a safe haven for birds, insects, small mammals such as water voles, and wild flowers. Almost every lock has a lock-keeper’s cottage. At the top of the flight of locks towards Norwood Green is the Three Bridges designed by engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel. From this point, the Grand Union Canal Walk takes you southwestward to North Hyde, and northwestward to Bull’s Bridge, where the Paddington Arm branches off to Little Venice. I left the canal at Uxbridge Road thereby completing my exploration of the Brentford Arm.

River Thames

Next, I shall focus on the delightful spots I enjoyed along the lower reaches of River Thames, which runs from west to east demarcating the south side of London. It runs parallel to the Paddington Arm of GUC, which demarcates the north side of London. My jogging excursions included long patches of pathways along the Thames from the Limehouse-Greenwich end in east to the Bushy Park-Hampton Court end in west.

  • My No. 1 choice is jogging on any of the 24 bridges that span River Thames from Kew Bridge to Tower Bridge and exploring the pathways in the vicinity to absorb the unique beauty and splendor of each.

I fell in love with the charm of Hammersmith Bridge, not very far from Shepherds Bush. Many a time, I would sit on a bench along this 310-meter suspension bridge to enjoy the river scenery at sunset; or simply walk or jog from Hammersmith on the north side to Barnes on the south side. The bridge, when lit up at nightfall, provides scenic solace to the pub crowd along the newly repaved River Walk, a joggers’ paradise. Once I jogged all the way from the bridge to Chiswick House, a medium-sized Jacobean mansion built in 1774 as a summer residence for the Earl of Burlington.

The 262-meter London Bridge, often shown as a hallmark of the “greatest” city, has a history going back to the Roman period. Its sad history is captured in the nursery rhyme:

London Bridge is falling down,
Falling down, falling down.
London Bridge is falling down,
My fair lady.

 The neighboring 60-meter long Tower Bridge (built in 1894) is the only Thames bridge that can be raised to allow large vessels to pass through. The two bridges closest to the Palace of Westminster””‚Westminster Bridge (green) and Lambeth Bridge (red)””‚bears the respective colors of the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Those who visit the British Parliament and listen to political debates might find a few minutes of self-propulsion on these two bridges and the adjoining Vauxhall Bridge enough payback to clear their minds.

Further to the west are a number of bridges that could add immeasurably to a jogger’s joy. A few of my favorites are the charming Putney Bridge (1729/1826), the only bridge in Britain to have a church at both ends; Kew Bridge (1759/1903), close to the Royal Botanic Gardens; Battersea Bridge (1773/1890), a cast iron and granite five-span cantilever bridge; and Richmond Bridge (1777), a stone arch bridge close to Richmond Palace.

  • I also pick one of the 17 underwater tunnels in Greater London built beneath the River Thames as a high-priority choice for exploration by foot: the Greenwich Tunnel in East London.

 The Greenwich Foot Tunnel, classed as a public pedestrian highway, connects Island Gardens at the tip of the Isle of Dogs with Greenwich on the south side. Part of the fun is getting to Island Gardens by Docklands Light Railway. The entrance shafts at both ends of the tunnel lie beneath glazed domes. Lifts, as well as spiral staircases, take the walkers to the sloping tile-lined tunnel.

Aug, 11, 1990: My 10-year-old son Junius and I found the walk through the tunnel awe-inspiring and adventurous. We stopped at the tea-clipper Cutty Sark exhibit near the glazed dome, and visited Greenwich Park, the home of the Old Royal Conservatory. After walking around to admire the flower gardens, we took a train from Maze Hill to Charing Cross.

Aug. 22, 1990:  Junius and I returned to Greenwich to visit the Royal Naval College. The temptation to walk through the tunnel again was irresistible.                                                        

 Although I have focused on canals and the Thames River bridges as a bonanza for joggers, I must in passing mention the London parks as an added bonanza. For example, an excellent jogging path is available in Green Park””‚one of London’s royal parks in the vicinity of Buckingham Palace. The 47-acre park is located between Hyde Park and St. James Park, which is another excellent place for a run. The 300-acre Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew””‚featuring more than 60,0000 species of plants as well as dozens of decorative structures, museums, galleries, glasshouses and wildlife areas””‚can be another paradise for joggers. The Broad Walk and its network of pathways are all too tempting.

June 9, 1990:  Junius and I spent the day at Kew Gardens. We visited the Kew Palace, a favorite of George III; and Queen Charlotte’s Cottage. We walked around the entire garden and ate lunch at Kew Bakery. We enjoyed the exhibits of the six glasshouses””‚palms, temperate, Alpine and Australian plants, as well as the bamboo, heather, rhododendron and rock gardens.


Next: An Irish escapade in Glencolumbkille 

(The writer is a professor of mass communications emeritus, Minnesota State University Moorhead.)



MAP OF LONDON WATERWAYS ©H. Henniker-Major: The lower portion details the Grand Union Canal and its Paddington Arm (with the linking Regent’s Canal) and Brentford Arm (linked with River 

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