Runway View at Terminal 5

Runway View at Terminal 5

A trio in the lobby near me captured my attention. An older guy with a Bob Hoskins accent who could have been Tom Jones’ second cousin was talking to a gaunt hollow cheeked lad who looked like the smart one on the rubbish truck who didn’t get a chance to go to uni because of life circumstances but who was still determined to get more out of life. There was a woman with her back to me who had not yet spoken. Her hair was enormous and she was moving her head back and forth quite a bit, like a silent maraca. The older guy (bad dark hair dye…why do men continue to do this? Will someone have a word? Will they listen?) was holding court, talking about how he was doing well with his waste removal business but he wanted more. Any mention of the waste removal industry sends my imagination soaring skyward so I began to scoot somewhat closer so I could earwig more efficiently. The Young One said ‘you mean, something more creative?’ and Hair Dye nodded emphatically, checking his phone. The three were clearly all flung together for some kind of work-related thing but it wasn’t clear what it was. I have always lived in terror of having to participate in forced conversations like this (also conga lines) and wanted to understand the mechanics of how it happens and why people submit. A late-era husky voiced Joni Mitchell was singing Both Sides Now through the lobby speaker system, which made me feel wistful and think of Emma Thompson fixing the bed in Love Actually after the penny dropped. This distracted me momentarily. Hair Dye made a reference to the fact that he drove a Bentley, an unnecessary statement like ‘I am sitting on a chair.’ The Young One seemed to take this at face value and Maraca Head continued to shake her mane. I waited for context. Hair Dye went on about he talked to everyone he met even though they may only want to be friendly with him because of the Bentley. Everyone was a potential contact. It was like a creepy cockney Glengarry Glen Ross with no Jack Lemmon for relief. Or even Alec Baldwin with a set of steak knives. Or David Mamet with an axe. Then as I was continuing to try to figure out what was going on a girl came walking through the lobby wearing a black t-shirt with giant white letters referencing a property investment company on the front. ‘How Can I Help You?’ was in equally large white letters on the back. She was ringing a small silver dinner bell that evidently signalled the end to the conversation. I realised at that moment that there were other similar small groups conversing around the lobby. At the sound of the bell they all got up together and walked out of the lobby like Eloi and I was suddenly completely alone, wondering what kind of predatory nonsense I had been witnessing. Maraca Head had never spoken.

Prior to ensconcing in the hotel lobby I had been waffling and wavering in a sterile Thistle room at Heathrow Terminal 5, unsure of whether to venture forth to town on the Piccadilly line to escape the rain-spattered car-park-view grimness before me or whether to stay and glory in the horror of being at a hotel airport from the comfort of the lobby until the glamourous Runway View Restaurant and Lounge was opened for dinner and cocktails. The strange small voice that impels me out into the world in general was difficult to dismiss. What would I do when I got off the Piccadilly line at Leicester Square? I would go to Foyles and brave the danger of books I might purchase and then how would I fit them in my suitcase as I was about to fly to Houston with a bag that was already at the breaking point. After Foyles I’d go to Chinatown and eat soup dumplings and get sleepy and then have to come all the way back out to Heathrow and feel bad about myself. The internal waffle finally convinced me to stay put and get some work done, particularly as I would be back in London after Houston on Monday, so I could theoretically eat dumplings then if it was absolutely necessary. Plus I read that there were both dumplings and books in Houston, but it was really all about the dumplings.

I had a wander around the hotel, which was vast and arranged across two floors with endless Shining hallways spoking off into diminishing perspective beige and brown tunnels of despair. It had perverse ornate mouldings that almost tricked you into thinking that it had been there awhile and then your eye moved from the egg and dart moulding to the low dropped ceiling peppered with Legionnaire’s Disease air conditioning vents and you were suddenly reminded of where you were. In a hangar-like conference room called The Aviation Suite I stumbled across an enormous jumble sale of duty-free stuff that was only available to employees of Heathrow Airport. Hordes (I’m talking hundreds and hundreds) of ID-lanyard-wearing employees milled around endless displays of face serums, rolling suitcases, neck pillows, perfume, chocolate and all of the other guff I look at but do not buy in duty free. I was busting to go in just to look at everything…but the security guard informed me that it was not possible because I was not an employee of Heathrow. For a moment I contemplated hanging my Falmouth Mussel Card from a lanyard just to attempt to go in. Part of me also wanted to make up a story about how I was just hired and didn’t have my ID yet or chat up some hapless lanyarded soul in a hi-vis vest and prostitute myself into the sale just to score some Lancome under-eye circle serum, but reconsidered. So I began my lobby residency with a glass of Malbec and a packet of Strong Cheese and Onion crisps in a rather comfy sofa conversation pit at the far corner of the lobby feeling sorry for everyone who worked here or was attending the Property Speed Dating event and having my mind boggled by the strange decorative touches like the clear lucite icicle walls hanging in front of the windows and the glass urns holding cream coloured LED candles (not turned on) nestled in beds of red glass chips dotted around the room…were they supposed to make people feel better and more at ease or to create a vague terror at what horrors might later be reflected in their glass? As I contemplated my growing unease, each of the speed dating property people returned and sat alone dotted through the lobby on their laptops doing property research and cold calling agents whilst reading from a script that was branded by the dinner bell property company. 

All of these people seemed hopeful to make a change in their lives and there I was getting angrier and angrier at whoever this character was running the pyramid scheme. The idea that pyramid schemes still thrived and preyed on people in the 21stcentury boggled my mind, but I guess everything is a pyramid scheme when you think about it, all preying on our human need to try to make a better life and hopefully put one over on the man and usually getting screwed in the process. There was a cruelty to everything I was witnessing here and the benign blandness of these surroundings made it worse. I don’t know of any period in my lifetime where things felt so fundamentally bleak and slippery, where there was no reassuring sense that someone, somewhere, was going to put a stop to all of it. Even as a child, with Nixon in the White House and Vietnam and Watergate and Anita Bryant, I had a sense that there were people out there who would eventually make it all okay and that some moral order existed where idiots would be vanquished. National Lampoon. MAD. The Ramones. I fear our collective attention spans and the sheer noise of constant information is drowning out the voices of reason out there and that somewhere we’ve kind of stopped really caring and are just mocking everything and assuming nothing can or will change. The delectable panic cloud of the coronavirus hanging over everything keeps serving as a vague beacon of hope, my little internal Tony voice saying ‘now everyone will see how hideous the idiots we’ve elected are, Mrs. Torrance, because they’re going to screw everything up and now they will be forced to go.’ Then Tony hides in my stomach again next to the anxious butterflies and I’m left without an answer.   

I am grateful to live in Cornwall, with all of its petty inconveniences and lack of sushi and Vietnamese food. Living in Cornwall is essentially like living in the 1970s with high speed internet. I am connected to a fantasy future world just over the Tamar, like I’m Rod Taylor sitting in his time travelling machine (my phone) and marvelling at the modern world and wishing we had Uber while at the same time not wanting to venture there much at all and when I do have to go knowing that it’s just for a little while. Limited options, nature close at hand, the ability to wear absolutely hideous and comfortable clothing all the time because who the hell actually cares has become an addictive lifestyle and I am now having terrors that something will happen that will force me to learn to do property deals from con men and make chit chat with charity shop Tom Joneses in hotel lobbies because we’ve all collectively chosen to become Eloi and allow the Morlocks to take over.