Tag Archives: alienation

Queensland Diary – Part 1 – Heathrow Airport

Heathrow Airport by seltzercan
Heathrow Airport by seltzercan

Terminal 3, Heathrow Airport, 4pm, Friday, 24th June 2011

At Heathrow airport, after passing through security, I am disgorged directly into an alcohol and perfume shop. Naturally. What else? As I continue through this shopping mall I am faced with a fork in the path. Turn left and hit expensive perfume and then on to the relatively up market Sushi bar or turn right and be confronted with chocolates and WH Smiths. Even at the airport England is a class ridden society. The areas closer to the departure gates are the Mayfair of Heathrow for the upper class. Champagne and salmon. Shirts by Pink and bags by Mulberry; there is even a fucking Harrods! Farthest from the gates are the shops selling last minute “I’ve been to London” memorabilia. But British airports are a great leveller for whatever one’s class, religion or ethnicity we are all temporary captives of the airport marketing machine.

The idiotic Bridge Bar is one of a very few places to get a real meal but is always packed and has no waiter service yet one must have a table to order a meal. If you are lucky enough find a vacant table you must go to the bar to order and inevitably join a queue. Inevitably, again, by the time you have ordered you have lost your table.

The ludicrously named Cafe Italia uses a little seating area with an almost Soviet canteen feel to it. I am tempted to say that at least this place has waiters but to call the voiceless delivery men waiters is going too far. I sit by the trolley laden with dirty dishes and eat an expensive but tasty Lasagne.

The air conditioning is not able to cope with the number of people and the environment has become muggy, humid and filled with the wreak of discarded food. The shop assistants resort to fans but the public are left to fester.

“This a security announcement. All persons are reminded that…” – Other than public announcements when else do we refer to people as persons? I think that the British lack self confidence and this manifests itself in pomposity in public announcements. Along with moronic violence at football matches of course.

The romance has been surgically extracted from the modern British airport. Gone is the aviation themed decor, there is no view of the runway, there are not even pictures of aeroplanes. In fact once inside there is no indication that we are in an airport at all. We may as well be sitting in the shopping mall of any mid size British town. Gone are the days of the large boards where people could sit in peace and wait for their gate to appear. Now we are forced to trudge around to find a little display board. This enforced perambulation is probably a ploy by British Airport Authority (BAA) to push us past the shops and encourage us to buy yet more crap. In the old days there would have been a large clock visible by everyone but no longer. I suspect that the absence of a clock is to accentuate our feeling of detachment. We are suspended in time and space. Our here and now is controlled by BAA and our raison d’etre is shopping.

No natural light enters and after an hour or so we lose track of the time. Is it early morning, mid afternoon or the middle of the night? We have no way of knowing. We have jet lag before we have left the ground. Like termites we scurry around in our mound unaware that just few feet away lies another world. The world of the support staff where people go about their normal lives. Drivers, technicians, cooks. Thousands of people working away to support this artificial environment of transitory morons.

I sit gormlessly staring at a departure board. Adverts are beamed into my subconscious. Smartphone – Italy – Must use Smartphone in Italy.

Eventually the gate opens and we are told that first class and business class may board through gate B . Frequent Flyer Gold and Platinum may board through gate A. Disabled and various other concessionaires may board at any time. And me? What about me? I must board last Good, for as ghastly as the airport is at least I have some leg room.

A departure lounge this aint
A departure lounge this aint

Raoul Moat – Neither heroic nor callous

Moat - neither heroic nor callous
Moat - neither heroic nor callous

The story of the police manhunt in Northambria ending in the suicide of Raoul Moat is still making headlines. Yesterday we heard news that Moat had made a series of recordings of his dealings with social workers where he requested help from a psychiatrist. Also we heard that a Facebook page which has been created by people glorifying Moat’s attacks and portraying him as a hero. In Prime Minister’s Question Time we heard David Cameron express incomprehension at the sympathy for Raoul Moat and say: “It is absolutely clear that Raoul Moat was a callous murderer, full stop, end of story” and “the should be no sympathy for him”. Mr. Cameron is TALKING BOLLOCKS!

It amazes me that the Western world has regular incidents where alienated men go berserk and kill many strangers and we always dismiss the killer as evil. When we do this we condemn our society to suffer a reoccurrence of the incident. Mr. Cameron’s comments are merely the absurd knee jerk reaction of all politicians: “All terrorist are cowards”, “all firemen are heros” and “all murderers are callous”….yes, yes, thank you, does anyone have anything constructive to say?

Moat had obviously built up a narrative in his mind whereby his wife had left him for a police officer, that he was being prevented from seeing his children an that the police were deliberately harassing him. At the moment it is too early to say how much of this narrative is true and how much is imagined by Moat but I believe it is this story which has moved some members of the public to sympathy.

And we should have sympathy! This man was suffering and, in the end he killed himself.

The accusation when one says this sort of thing is: What about sympathy for PC David Rathband whom Moat shot and has probably blinded. Of course we have sympathy for PC Rathband but this is a given. That is acknowledged by the whole of society and should not and is not being challenged by politicians or the media.

Further, the media tell us the news in the form of stories. A popular catchphrase amongst journalists is “simplify and emphasise” and this is what they have done with Moat. They built up his character by revealing his body building and use of steroids. They told us of his camping out in a tent, catching rabbits and eluding the police for days. The main character of this soap opera was Moat and sadly, PC Rathbone only entered the story briefly.

The shooting of Moat’s wife, the boy friend and PC Rathband are awful and were Moat to have lived he obviously should have been brought to justice and punished.

But merely to dismiss Moat as “callous” is wide of the mark. Sir Fred Goodwin who destroyed RBS and then made off with a fat pension was callous. Berny Madoff who built up the largest ponzi scheme in history was callous. Peter Mandelson publishing his diaries within weeks of Labour losing power is callous.

Moat interminable recorded rants give us some indication as to his state of mind. One can only imagine his anguish as he sat on the ground with night drawing in, surrounded by police marksman and knowing full well that his heinous crimes would, if he surrendered, push him even further from those he loved. The anguish of fighting with himself over whether to end it all or give himself up to a life that he would hate could not have been helped by having the police shoot at him with a tazer.

The obvious suffering of Moat and the resonance with many divorced fathers mean that this story was bound to draw public sympathy and Mr. Cameron’s claim that we should have no sympathy for this man is incorrect and unhelpful.

Are Americans all Potty?

Are Americans All Potty?
Are Americans All Potty?

Very often after returning from the U.S. I contrast the chirpy cheerfulness of sales staff in the U.S. with the monosyllabic and apparent indifference of their counterparts in the UK. Arriving at Heathrow on Wednesday afternoon I bought a ticket for the bus and then a bottle of juice and was confronted by aforementioned monosyllabic staff.

For some reason, this time, I was more philosophical. Yes, the guy could have done with some training in how to relate to customers but on the other hand he was being himself. After dealing with car hire and mobile phone companies in the U.S. I had started to speculate that the U.S. forces people to modify their behaviour to suite the system. This arrangement is good in that it increases efficiency and allows greater material prosperity but I wonder whether the cost is increased alienation of people from society.

The Virgin Atlantic flight from L.A. to London had been on an airbus A300-600. The seats on this aircraft allowed virtually no room for one to move ones legs. I recall that, in the past, long haul flights made a big issue of telling you to perform leg exercises and I believe that this was to counter a tendency of long haul passengers to suffer blood clots in the legs following a flight. This is known as known as Deep Vein Thrombosis.

The emphasis on efficiency has led Virgin to pack the seats closer and closer together so that now it is not possible for even a person of my modest stature to raise ones legs once seated. Consequently the airline no longer deems it necessary to encourage passengers to exercise and I wonder whether the instances of known as Deep Vein Thrombosis, which can be fatal, have increased. I also wonder whether these chairs conform to any safety standards and whether Deep Vein Thrombosis is considered within these standards.

England was warm and sunny and I boarded a National Express bus to Brighton. Arriving home around 7:30pm I implemented my strategy for negating the effects of jet lag. There are two important factors to countering jet lag. The first is to attempt to stay awake during the daylight hours of the destination both on the aircraft and as soon as one arrives. For this one needs some kind of activity to perform on arrival. The second factor is to consume alcohol just prior to the desired sleep period.

As I had arrived home in early evening my course was clear. I occupied a couple of hours preparing and consuming a curry and then opened a bottle of beer.

I switched on Radio 4 and considered my three weeks in the United States. While driving around in California I had listened to talk radio. While American PBS fights a bravely to encourage intelligent debate it is a battle it seems destined to lose. I listened with interest to shock jocks and dismissed the right wing as bigoted. I listened to the liberals and began to think that there might be reasoned debate but soon realised that the left too is obsessed with over simplification and adherence to dogma.

A friend of mine once met an American woman who claimed to be allergic to glass and insisted on drinking beverages through a straw. He deduced from this that all Americans are potty and this is a widely held view in the United Kington. Personally I temper this with acceptance of difference and the knowledge that the United States is a vast country with numerous disparate people.

However, I sometimes find myself wondering, if Americans appear potty to the British, why do we not hold similar opinions of other nationalities? It is possible that pottyness is merely the most prominent defining character for Americans and that other nationalities too have their defining characters but I think that what is more likely is that the language we share with Americans enables us to gain an insight into their world view and that we are denied this insight with other nationalities. This reasoning is strengthened as I believe that Brits also consider Australians to be potty. Perhaps if we were fluent in Spanish or Chinese we would consider them potty too?

I guess that if an understanding of the language of a foreign country means that on is capable of appreciating their pottyness then, as English is the most common second language, it is the British who must appear the most potty and that is a stereotype that I am very happy to live with.