Something odd's going on in Ealing, and I think the Japanese should be told

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The Independent Online

As I drove into London this morning I think I inadvertently stumbled upon some enormous, international confidence trick.

As I drove into London this morning I think I inadvertently stumbled upon some enormous, international confidence trick. The problem is that I've no idea who to report it to. The journey started ordinarily enough. Road kill was particularly heavy: two badgers, five pheasant, four squirrels, a couple of pigeons and one unidentified, flat furry creature. Just past Burford, a man driving what looked like a car he'd bought from the set of Mad Max, tried to run me off the road four times. I had the temerity to overtake him on a dual carriageway, a capital offence in some counties. I eventually managed to lose him near Witney as he took the turn towards the hospital. I only hope that his inability to finish me off didn't affect his performance in the operating theatre.

On reaching Oxford I managed to avoid two bananas and a water-filled balloon that were hurled at me by a couple of chavs from a footbridge. I'm not sure if it was a targeted assault. One of them did look a lot like someone I got into a fight with at a petrol station a couple of weeks back about who was going to use the free air first. Maybe I'm just being paranoid. That's what everyone in my village is saying. I know they are.

Anyway, I finally get to the outskirts of London and prepare myself for the long, slow crawl into town when I noticed 20 or so Japanese tourists dotted around the side of the road complete with cameras, guidebooks and maps. Nothing that odd you might think. Except for the fact that they were wandering down the side of possibly the ugliest bit of road in Britain. This particular stretch, just as you pass Ealing, has already suffered severely from compulsory purchase orders where the road was going to be widened. The project was then cancelled leaving hundreds of boarded-up, exhaust-fume-stained houses making the area look not unlike the Bronx. There are always police here moving you on as there is literally "nothing to see here". The touristic highlight is either the Carphone Warehouse or the Gypsy Corner traffic light system.

This is the fifth time in two weeks that I've spotted Japanese tourists here and I'm starting to think that Ealing Council are up to something. My hunch is that they are sick and tired of no one coming to visit Ealing, and the Olympic bid going to Stratford was the last straw. They decided to get pro-active. I suspect that they have started to advertise Ealing in Japanese tourist brochures and have managed to lure travellers from the Orient with the promise of cheap beds and a chance to see a different side to London. The scheme seems to be working well but I can't help but feel sorry for these poor lost souls as they wander around the proposed new area for a major bus depot taking the usual industrial amount of photographs.

Three of them were trapped on a traffic island and lorry drivers were roaring past hurling abuse at them. Another two were on the verge of being mugged in a vandalised bus stop. I nearly stopped to help but I was hungry and needed some breakfast. When I got to the last set of traffic lights two more were clearly trying to get some help from passing drivers. I opened my window and popped my head out.

"Can I help you?" I asked unenthusiastically.

"Please, where is London Eye, Big Ben, Tower of London, we no like it here, we velly scared," said the eldest of the two.

I thought briefly about giving them a lift into town but decided against it. It would only lead to trouble. They would want to become my friends and we would have to exchange cards and I don't have one. Then I'd have to visit them in Tokyo and I don't really like the place so I thought it best to just leave it. I'm nice like that.

I told them that they were in Ealing and that they needed to find a Tube station and head for the centre and not to return, but they didn't seem to understand. I sped on into town grateful to be in a city that I knew and loved. As I parked the car I saw a newspaper headline screaming "London tourism plummets". I now know why but I can't be bothered to tell anyone.

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