Thursday 6th October

October 6, 2011 § Leave a comment

I have just come back from a few days abroad, visiting a friend who lives in Livorno, Tuscany. Consequently I am still in the post-trip haze that makes daily life seem both alien, and all too real. My pants are drying on the line, the speedos back in their draw… and so to this blog.

Like train journeys, and other transitional environments, airports fascinate me immensely. From the car park to the departure lounge (via the Duty Free), they are stages for mini-dramas about and of the stuff of life; what makes us the same and what makes us different. To quote Alain de Botton, airports are “gifts to the curious, allowing one to glimpse deep into the lives of other people”. It is where we feel part of a bigger picture, and somehow crushed by the reality of that realisation. More than at railway stations, the airport is host to profound extremes of emotion, something de Botton links to the mortal threat inherent to trusting strangers with our lives, as we do when we step on an aeroplane. Perhaps this is true. The environment of your average airport -with its white, cold aesthetic, bright lights and indeterminate waiting- does feel like a kind of purgatory. In this in-between place, “departures” can’t help but feel grave, especially when paired with the word “terminal”.

Again to quote Alain de Botton, speaking at the end of a writer’s residency at Heathrow in 2009, airports bring together the big ideas of our time, but above all else, “remind us of the insignificance of the individual in the vast bureaucracies of modern society”.

An airport is the natural habitat of spurious rule-makers, a veritable day spa of officialdom. Through its overt seriousness, though, it has an implied lawlessness, like a modern wild west of chancers, drifters and shady types, where there is apparently need to ask each of us if we have a gun in our bags, or a Shuriken even. (In asking whether I have anything that could be used as a weapon, I decide against suggesting my legs and arms, lest they chop them off. Also, my industrial-sized Toblerone has quite a weight to it)

They are places where there is no budge in the rules; where personal discretion (and individual thinking) in staff is apparently akin to outright immorality. There are signs about rules, rules about rule signs, and signs about the rules about rule signs. My favourite from this week’s visit to Stansted was Ryanair’s declaration that, as a policy, they do not overbook their flights. Now for me, this seems to be a pretty essential piece of organisation, and something I hoped would not need stating in a special sign of its own. It’s a little like a medicine for something trivial listing possible side-affects on the packet that are worse than the original ailment. If you’re confident that the plane will have the right number of seats (and oxygen masks hopefully), then please don’t go out of your way to tell us. It’s not showing off- our lives are in your hands. From there it’s not much of a leap to: As a policy, Ryanair only employs qualified pilots to fly their planes. However, should they eat the fish option during your flight…


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