I had the pleasure of experiencing London’s Gatwick airport today/yesterday/whatever.
I was meeting a friend whose plane was due in just after midnight, so I got the 22.34 train to the airport to be sure I arrived nice and early. Before I left I used Dashboard’s flight tracker widget to see how her flight was doing – 1 minute late it said, so I guessed all would be well and we’d make the 01.45 train back home.
I’m not particularly au fait with airports, having only folown once (or twice if you count the return trip) and I always expected them to be extremely ordered affairs with lots of instructions everywhere. Instead they seem to be big cavernous spaces with lots of people milling around. When I went to Heathrow for a flight to Ireland a while back I bumped into David Trimble, First Minister of the Northern Ireland Assembly, looking distinctly harrassed. I remember thinking at the time how odd it can be to bump into ‘famous’ or ‘important’ people. (Actually I remember thinking ‘who’s he? It’s on the tip of my toungue…’
So anyway there I was at Gatwick wandering through the entrance and looking around for a little bit of a hint about where I should be going. Nothing. It is an appalingly designed place (as is Heathrow’s terminal 1) and I can’t imagine what effect it has on visitors to the country. But at 23.13 it was a soul-less place.
Eventually I found a sign that said ‘Arrivals’ so I thought I’d best follow it. After passing by empty and depressing check-in desks I found the ‘UK arrivals’ lounge. I say ‘lounge’ – it was a door with a broken hinge and some green chairs that looked far too uncomfortable to sit on, never mind sleep as many people appeared to be doing.
This didn’t exactly strike me as particularly international so it came as no surprise when I realised that ‘UK arrivals’ didn’t refer to people arriving in the UK but people arriving on internal flights – when I thought about it the logic was obvious: everyone is arriving in the UK.
I couldn’t believe how stupid I was, and I was grateful I arrived early as if I’d spent all my time in the wrong lounge with my friend stranded where I was supposed to be, I’d have felt a right proper charley.
So I carried on walking until I came to ‘International Arrivals’ only to find that the plane I was waiting for was delayed by over an hour.
So I went up to the bookshop and bought a copy of Graham Greene’s ‘Brighton Rock’, a book I’ve been meaning to read for ages. Then I went to get a coffee but was stuck next to a group of people whose entire vocabulary consisted of the f- and c-words on one side, and three rather attractive young women with equally attractive Irish accents on the other.
It was, to cut a long story short, one hell of an evening. The plane eventually arrived at 01.15, exactly half an hour before the last train home and, coincidentally, exactly half an hour before the passengers actually made it to the lounge. Hence after the required (and heartfelt) emotional greeting my friend and I spent several hours drinking coffee and catching up before catching the 04.44 train home.
We eventually arrived back here at half five in the morning. She’s gone to bed despite having gone through ‘tired’ and I can hear her deep breathing as I type in the next room (oh – now it’s snoring). I, on the other hand, reasoned that if I went to bed I’d get at most two hours sleep before having to get up – so decided to stay up and go to work early, hopefully coming home early before my all-nighter catches up with me. Funny, all I did was go to the airport but I’m going to be the one that ends up with jet-lag!
This may be a mistake – it’s now twenty past six in the morning and I can feel the side effects already. Maybe if I close my eyes for just a minute…