A Right Old Passage: A Moving Tale of People....
By Julia Moore
Airports - the new ‘stop and watch’ phenomenon. I hate them. A personal nightmare which forces me to confront my inner demons (which become ‘outer’ demons at any given terminal) - forced co-existence with the unchosen, the unwashed (literally, in the event of long delays) and the unlovely. Famously unsentimental, I look, longingly at old photographs of the original Heathrow ‘departure lounge’ - a tent placed at a rakish angle adjacent to the runway. I do believe I can spot a tray of tea and scones. How the engine draught did not raze it to the ground several times a day remains an unanswered question, but this was an era of a different world. I expect labour was sufficiently abundant that the tent was re-assembled each time a jet took off, and jolly men, doffing caps, were happy to execute such a task.
Today is beyond compare, not even sexy enough to be called ‘space age’ - pilots are not yet clad in Baco-foil outfits (not even on the appalling and cruel no-frills airlines, you know who I mean), nor do cabin crew look like the staff of the SS Enterprise - representing all planets in a harmonious, if confused, effort to be at peace with each other. My last flight witnessed a near punch-up between cabin crew colleagues, but it was well-controlled, the seething anger suppressed amongst the trolleys and rubbish bags. The ‘unease’ was, I think, caused by a failure by one member of staff, beckoning to another, to run down the aisle with a top-up pot of boiling water during a period of turbulence - common sense, one would think. But no, clearly a member of the public thought that his £30.00 flight fee entitled him to be awkward over tepid coffee, seat-belt warning be damned. What would his sense of self-entitlement be if he flew 1st class - the right to order the pilot to fly where he (the passenger) chose? The right to open the window if he fancied it?...see what I mean about nightmare scenario?
When waiting for folk at arrivals halls, I often mull over the prospect of maintaining the ‘first class/business class/ quicky-boarding/platinum/air-miles segregation right through the ‘travelling experience’. Why stop the categorization at disembarkation?.. passengers ought to disgorge into the arrival halls through ‘Golden Globe’/Oscar-type tunnels - with carpets and fanfares as they arrive. The economy passengers, by contrast, should be ushered out via a side-door, much like the final scene of ‘The Nun’s Story’/Audrey Hepburn. Here - for those of you non-film watchers - a remote hand merely flicked a switch, which opened an impersonal door onto the real world, as said Ms. Hepburn spurned her life as a nun. Cast into the world without so much as a kiss or hand-shake, friendless and penniless - much as we feel, when we fly no-frills (our own fault).
Do other forms of transport hold such terror and misery? Yes and no. They have their own characteristics. Trains - passengers in ‘quiet’ carriages yelling and breathing loudly, continuously visiting the toilets, lurching up and down the carriage. Boats/ferries - people lurching AND vomiting (often before the boat has left the port). I once took a ferry where I actually saw the Captain being sick - the sea was calm, so no idea why he took poorly, perhaps the refectory prawns were dodgy? Coaches - true misery. Confined human beings, unable to lurch very far (if at all), reduced to vomiting at close-quarters. If not actually being sick, then eating so much junk food en route, that they surely have vomiting an objective before journey's end? That being said, one of the most entertaining public transport journeys was to be had, up the UK’s notorious M1 on a coach. The driver swore expletives and invectives, from the moment we left London Victoria coach station, to the moment I stepped from the coach in Derby. A small child, sitting in the front seats with his father certainly extended his vocabulary that day - and not in a good way. I wonder if flight pilot ‘Captain Anderson’ - that liquid-chocolate voice, purring at us over the PA assuring us that all is well in-flight, turns into an air-rage monster, beating and berating First Officer Hamilton in the privacy of the cockpit? Shame, either gender of pilot looks so commanding and assured, with their salt and pepper hair and clip-boards. Horrible to think that, when the tannoy is switched off, they de-evolve to base, sub-humans, snarling and foaming at the mouth, whilst checking attitude and altitude with Biggles and Algenon at the controls, sobbing.
Bring back the tent. I say.