Invective in London part 2 – “Emotion recollected in tranquillity”

Reaching airports is an activity that can take very different forms. It might simply occur that on a bright and sunny day you have your bags ready, you go out, catch a bus, go to the station, buy a ticket to the airport, with the guy at the window smiling at you and saying “I hope you’ve had a pleasant trip” and you smile back, glad to be rid of 9 £ just for the sake of his exquisite kindness; then you board the train (leaving in 15 minutes, so you have time for a last cigarette) and calmly reach the airport, listening to some pleasant Sunday-morning music with your iPod and thoroughly enjoying your book; you know exactly what terminal you’re supposed to check in at and you remember your flight number by heart. Everything’s simply perfect, you have all your liquids in the damn plastic bags since the day before, the metal detector doesn’t sound and you don’t have to take off your boots; the flight departs on perfect time.

Things could gain another hue, though. You may, let’s say, be suffering from a serious hangover, it may be that the world is not perfectly clear to you right then, and that you’re fatally pondering on the different concepts of reality in the Western world and in the Far East (just an illusion? too hard to cope with? losing contours? oooh, that’s definitely orange!). Every movement is exceptionally careful and requires an enormous effort. It may happen, for example, that you forget the nasty little sheet where your flight number is written, and anyway you’re glad that at least you remember the airport you’re leaving from and the approximate time of your flight. You just providently put it on the sofa so that it will be the last thing you place in your bag, but then something extremely distracting, like, say, “coffee’s ready”, makes you forget it completely. It *can* happen, can it not?
You go out at an almost decent hour, wait for the bus for 20 minutes, reach St. Pancras in an elegant trot only to discover that “scheduled engineering, work in progress, closed, no trains leaving, you have to reach London Bridge”. You mentally swear and abuse the poor guy, then you regain what by now has become a merry jog while looking desperately in your bag for your Oyster card (starting to hate the thing) and your Underground map and starting the complex combinatorial analysis calculation – reaching London Bridge from St. Pancras (luckily, it’s just the Northern Line –half a mile rush up and down escalators, imagining that by now you must be at least under Victoria Station). It may also happen that once you reach London Bridge station, the self-service ticket machine doesn’t accept notes (damn!) and doesn’t accept your Italian credit card, so you have to queue up again. You have time enough in the queue to count that there are 32 people before you, waiting. You can also observe that half of them are foreigners. Speaking slowly. Veeery unsure and hesitant. Finally, waving your ticket in your hand like a banner, you reach your platform and board the train (leaving in 8 minutes – that’s absolute luck!). You then try to regain your breath for the next 35 minutes.

Once you reach Gatwick (your flight departing in something like 25 minutes), you discover that the train station is in the South terminal – and the only thing you remember is the tricky “N” beside your travel reservation. On the run again to reach the shuttle to the North terminal, you push aside just anyone happening in your way, swear a lot and never say “sorry” to the scared faces that appear every now and then in your trajectory. Once in the North terminal, you try to check-in at the damn machines but they say your flight is closed, you almost start crying when you try to explain everything to the icicles they’ve put at the desks, with your feeling looks you manage to inspire pure pity in a couple of them (sympathetic second-generation immigrants), thank yourself mentally for not having luggage to leave and start the complicated business of opening your bag and trying to make all liquids fit into the small plastic bag a woman in yellow has given you – only that while running you’ve lost the key for the padlock, so you have to search for your nail file and try and act like MacGuyver under the eyes of the stunned policemen observing you. Run run run to your gate and then – ah, I’ve made it! And the fucking plane departed on time for the first time in my life!
Thanks Tom!!!! Saved my life!

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