Format Aside

An interesting segment in Private Eye recently about a Tory councillor whose list of apparent ‘gaffes’ included a remark favourable of Hitler. Heaven forbid! We’re all for freedom of speech, but be sure to stay away from espousing any opinions on the blacklist. I can’t help imagining he’d have any easier run of things as a devil worshipper, than as someone who once had the gall to cast a positive light on anything of the Führer’s beyond his death.

Airport Syndrome

Gathered in the departure lounge, with the noise of the bustling airport drowning out the sound of their jitters, the passengers wait. Each of them attempts to show their strength of character, but underneath that calm veneer, the majority of them are unmistakably nervous. Unable to find anywhere comfortable to keep them, a woman at the front leafs through the documents in her hands. Passports, check. Boarding cards, check. Departure gate and boarding time, all as they should be. She fidgets in her seat, making sure her children are still fully dressed and haven’t in the meantime wandered off to see if there’s another plane they can board. Over by the windows, a man looks at his watch for the third time in as many minutes; he’s confused by the fact that the plane seems to be ready to board, but there’s no sign of activity around the gate.

The clocks tick down.

The most apprehensive members gathered are also the most perseverant. Some have been waiting (im)patiently at the gate for several days, planning their travel itineraries to ensure that even a two-week rail strike won’t prevent them arriving at the airport in time for their bargain-basement flight. Now here they sit, studying flight and gate numbers, checking the departure time just one more time, waiting like sprinters on the line for the starter bullet to signal the moment to board.

The clocks tick down.

Suddenly there’s some movement. Are they here? Is it time? From somewhere near the back, a business traveller saunters nonchalantly to the desks, dragging his small case behind him. The light crunching sound of the case’s wheels over the dusty concourse floor sends ripples through the seated masses. In the wake of this blasé stroll to the front, the man has drawn a mighty queue of nervous waiters, and within seconds there are two dozen people standing in line to board the plane.

The clocks tick down.

This flurry of motion causes great disquiet among the remaining sitters. Solo travellers check their itineraries again, comparing watches, screens and mobiles. Protective males stand up and take a few steps from their partners and offspring, trying to see the source of the commotion. Are they boarding? Have they opened the gate? Satisfied the line isn’t moving, content that it isn’t yet too long, they give their loved ones a reassuring pat on the knee and retake their seats. But deep down they are as nervously unsure of themselves as the other passengers, who are now swivelling around in their seats, craning their necks at awkward angles to catch a glimpse of what’s happening at the front.

The clocks tick down.

Gradually the queue is starting to build, latecomers automatically adding themselves to it, more skittish sitters abandoning their places to go and join the masses of the standing. Even the more experienced fliers – recognisable from their fancy travelling cases and swish solutions to the passport/boarding pass problem – are starting to become a little twitchy. Is it… are they?

Some of the people waiting in this hall are the same ones who casually hop aboard their commuter trains in the mornings only thirty seconds before they depart. Now here they are trying to outwit their fellow man and strategically place themselves in the queue to board a plane before the horde, on a flight where every last one of them has a reserved seat.

The clocks tick down.

Then someone in uniform appears. Like the red rag to the colour-blind bull, there’s a stampede as the remaining passengers rush to claim their place at the rear of the ever lengthening queue.1In flights to and from the UK, this queue will have taken on the form of a serpent, twisting and winding around the available space in the waiting area, incorporating furniture and stationary objects, splitting to allow others to pass, occasionally overlapping itself like some kind of time-lapse choreographic display. In other countries, the same queue resembles more of a ball. Then that tentative voice over the tannoy. All passengers on flight FL29486… The incongruous series of letters and numbers that form the flight number everyone’s being trying so desperately to memorise. Is that my flight? Flying to London Stansted… Thank goodness, that’s the one! …has been delayed by approximately 40 minutes.

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1. In flights to and from the UK, this queue will have taken on the form of a serpent, twisting and winding around the available space in the waiting area, incorporating furniture and stationary objects, splitting to allow others to pass, occasionally overlapping itself like some kind of time-lapse choreographic display. In other countries, the same queue resembles more of a ball.

‘ave it ‘ovis

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