Flight to London.
So, here I am, in a little airport cafe in Heathrow. One that happens to be run by two East block angels, just like everything else here, it seems. I don’t know whether to feel bad or not - maybe it’s all a misunderstanding, maybe the phrase “would you like to clean the floors at some crummy English airport for the rest of your life with long hours and little pay” sounds like “modeling” in Slovak? And before they know it they get here and it’s too late! (Or, as it turns out, too latte)
Anyway, I’m here. I survived, but barely. I know that my flight was technically only 12 hours long, but I feel like one of those people who have returned to civilization after being stranded at sea for fourteen years. So, you can imagine, the orange juice I had when I landed was like an elixir of life. One sip and I swear I could already feel the scurvy in my lips beginning to heal.
London, on the other hand, wasn’t so lucky. I’m telling you, you haven’t experienced gloom and loneliness until you’ve flown over the outskirts of London at 5am - the utter desolation, the single car here and there trudging reluctantly through the empty streets, a goat standing alone in the corner of some empty field, rows upon rows of council house curtains drawn, everyone deep in slumber before yet another disappointing day of work before the eventual and stifling relief of retirement. And mind you, I noticed this during landing. I think it’s pretty safe to say that if all you can think of while plummeting to Earth in a 700 ton metal box filled with screaming infants at 500mph is “look how boring it is outside”, then you know it’s bad.
Nevertheless we landed safely - suburbia isn’t known for their rockets, despite containing an alarming amount of Ukrainian bombshells - and I headed straight for the nearest bathroom (I’d been sitting next to two immovable, middle aged Croatians) and as I walked in, I was greeted with my very first impression of London - a bloke playing chorales at full volume while on the loo. What a welcome! Once I’d finished brushing my teeth with a toothbrush so small I very nearly swallowed it, I left this lavatory-turned-cathedral and headed down the escalator, where I was greeted by my second distinct impression - graffiti. But this was no ordinary graffiti, it wasn’t someone’s name, or a swear word, or even a political statement, but a physics formula. A coy, neatly written physics formula scribbled in permanent marker near the bottom of an otherwise empty pillar. How utterly sweet. I bet he’d just run out of paper.
The ingrained intellectuality of the British culture was fast becoming clear, but so would that other quintessential characteristic - the famous English reserve. I boarded this Heathrow shuttle that was entirely empty apart from one dreary-looking middle-aged couple. I sat across from them as the rest was all standing space, and now there were three people in this enormous carriage. Yet, no one looked at each other. I was two feet away from them, and they didn’t even so much as make eye contact. I know they say three is a crowd, but I can assure you it’s not - if there’d been a table, it would have been an awkwardly intimate and badly attended family dinner, that’s how close I was. Then again, they didn’t look at each other either, and they’re husband and wife! But a strange thing happened about two minutes of silence in. Out of the blue, the wife suddenly felt the need to make conversation with her husband. Maybe she’d suddenly realized her own mortality, or maybe she’d just noticed that the shuttle had no driver, I don’t know, but she just said, “it’s all computerized now… I don’t like that…” And that was it. Silence. That was the entire extent of the conversation, her comment just hanging in the silence like a startled hamster who’d just been thrown off a cliff by its owners mum. The rest of the shuttle ride seemed, unmistakably, like an eternity.
However, luckily this was one of the shorter eternities experienced in human history, lasting all of one minute, and all was well again when, upon disembarkment, we were greeted by a plethora of power outlets and an enormous poster of Cara Delevigne. I was seriously considering just staying here for the five days, and it almost happened, but due to my blackberry’s confused charging habits rather than laziness. This second eternity would have been agony, but his was Heathrow! The world’s port, the playground of personalities, the gateway through which all the rich and famous Brits must so often pass. I was practically planning what I was going to say to Stephen Fry when I saw him! It was going to be brilliant! However, I was greeted, not by any idolized actor or actress, but by an endless stream of businessmen, people who seemed to think the pinnacle of relaxation was undoing your top button, and I was distinctly reminded of something Jez said to Mark in Peep Show once - “you keep your shirt done up to ten because if you don’t all that boring, grey, office sludge will come spilling out and drown you.” This thought made me realize that, in a way, I was glad they hadn’t gone full anarchist and undone two.
So, I just watched them hurry past, and I would have fallen asleep were it not for the most peculiar sight, a man walking past me, followed by what was unmistakably the sound of popping bubbles. I was perplexed, until I realized that it was this bloke’s phone going off. He’d regained his connection, and this was his messages all flooding in in an avalanche of pops, as if he was strutting on an endless ream of bubble wrap of which he was blissfully unaware.
So, here I was, in the land of knowledge, of awkward silences, of the Sex Pistols, Oscar Wilde, of useless wooden stirrers, gorgeous immigrant workers, and, apparently, Bubble Boy himself. Hello London, it’s nice to finally meet you.