Lounging Around

In a Heathrow hotel conference room the tables were scattered with a host of battery operated furry creatures; this apparently was to ‘break the ice’. British Airways was paying for our catering company to attend a course of several events on passenger service, quite amusing as British Airways needed to learn about passenger service, not us – in my opinion. It was we who had to soothe the troubled brows of passengers by the time they had made it to the business class or first class lounges.

We didn’t need the ice broken as we were already relaxed and chatting to friends and fellow staff we hadn’t met before; a good chance for a natter without being interrupted by passengers. Being paid to have a day off with coffee and lunch instead of being at work, what was there not to like?

My first job as a lounge hostess had ended when the Qantas Lounge ceased to exist and Qantas moved over to Terminal Four. The lounge was now British Airways, used for flights to the USA and unless you noticed the kangaroos on the glass screens you would never know. The first class lounge became the quiet area and first class passengers had their own little lounge downstairs – at least they didn’t have to cope with the awful lift. We now worked for a much larger catering company who were subcontracted to work for a variety of airlines. Our new uniform consisted of a comfortable blouse and elasticated skirt which adapted itself to any figure, the fabric design was a multi coloured jigsaw pattern which also hid a multitude of sins. The navy jacket made it look quite smart, but my younger son was horrified and said ‘You’re not going wear that on the bus are you!’ On the bus and anywhere on the airport, we could easily spot who else worked for the same company, though the chaps wore white shirt and grey trousers with just a tie in the zingy pattern.

A cleaning company was also contracted to work alongside us, ‘Airspeed,’ a contradiction in terms for some of their staff, such as the lugubrious Raymond who became a permanent fixture. On the front desk a variety of British Airways staff rotated, some very efficient and passenger orientated, others not quite so; they provided us with great amusement, but probably not the passengers. One was an alcoholic who had easy access to the two bars and liked ‘orange juice’. His announcements when he called the flight were most entertaining; his exhortations not to leave anything behind and have passport and ticket ready came with colourful warnings of what might happen if you did not. Another staff member was always on the phone and her easily heard telephone conversations were interesting, with the added frisson of worrying if the passengers were listening. One morning I heard her say within easy earshot of passengers ‘We’ve got a right load of trailer trash in here today.’

The passengers were lovely friendly, polite Americans who said ‘Thankyou Maam’ plus an assortment of Brits and others.

The first manager we met said he was ‘running eighty per cent Pilipino’ and without the hardworking Pilipinos I imagine the lounges wouldn’t have run at all. We didn’t see this manager often and he hardly spoke to me until he discovered it was my husband who was the licensing officer for Heathrow and he needed to be interviewed by him to get the licence for the lounge to serve alcohol.

Our immediate manager was an Indian bundle of energy who had his own unorthodox way of running things, which worked with our wonderfully mixed staff. He was never without his large diary and mobile phone; if anyone was off sick, or needed to change shifts he was on the phone and in seconds had a replacement. There were always people happy to do overtime or do him a favour because he would help them out in turn. Some of the Philipinos worked every day without a break and saved all their holidays and days off to go ‘back home’ for three months each year, often investing their savings in property in the Philippines. Some staff were supporting all sorts of family members and needed the extra money, while others obviously preferred being at work to being at home. Heathrow airside and no doubt any big airport, is a world of its own, cut off from the rest of the world.

I started off with no intention of doing overtime or being whisked off to other lounges and terminals, but gradually I found myself doing just that and discovering that each lounge and airline could be very different… but that’s for another blog.

And what of our passenger service course? We also enjoyed a dinner out at another hotel where we had to rate the service and one to one coffee, cake and chats. They were asking us for our opinions, taking down all our suggestions for improving life for us and the passengers. None of our suggestions were ever acted on , but at least we had had fun.

Airside

The first aim of passengers arriving at an airport, especially a huge one, is to get themselves and their luggage checked in; a weight off their minds and shoulders. Next is to go through the portal between normal life and the rest of the world. It’s years since I have flown and I am sure the presenting of passports, getting X-Rayed, confiscating of water bottles etc has been quadrupled in stress with the pandemic, though hopefully far fewer people are flying.

Covid has taken away that other entertainment or ordeal; ‘seeing people off’. In normal times getting to the airport early was quite likely, having left home very early ‘just in case’ and because passengers were told to be at the airport two hours before their flight. This left limbo time to have coffee with friends or family, sad or happy depending on who was going where and for how long, perhaps for ever. One of my Asian colleagues at Heathrow did a wonderful impression of the difference between an English farewell and his relatives and fellow countrymen; he said he preferred the English style… English small group no more than five… ‘right then, goodbye, have a good trip.’ Relative walks towards the portal, turn of head and slight nod, relatives give small wave and he strides forward, never looking back as he is swallowed up into the portal. My friend’s family; at least twenty, plus young children clinging shyly or sliding across the floor and running around; there is wailing and gnashing of teeth as the departing ones walk reluctantly to the portal, stopping and turning twenty times and walking backwards through the barriers.

What happens on the other side? Unless you are a seasoned traveller you will feel lost among swathes of people nervously looking at the departures board every two seconds, then seeing their flight is delayed by two hours; they could have spent more time landside with the relatives. Others surge forward to pass under the sign saying Gates 65 to 97, blissfully unaware that Gate 97 is miles further on. I once saw a poor lady buttonhole a young man in a uniform that had nothing to do with airlines or customer care; she was saying  ‘I just can’t take any more’ while he was looking round for means of escape.

But if you are travelling business or first class you can escape this hell hole by going to your airline’s Club Lounge. They vary, some are an oasis of calm, others very different. I ended up as a lounge assistant after Cyberspouse’s attempts, while patrolling Heathrow, to find me a job that earned more than working in the local playgroup and didn’t involve computers. He came home and announced he had found a job where all I had to do was make coffee.

My interview, if you could call it that, was with a very nice manager and with hours 11am to 2.30pm in the Qantas Lounge catering for one morning flight, it sounded a dream; what I didn’t know was that the woman I had to work with was a right… and a real…

Qantas Lounge Terminal Three at that time (end of the twentieth century ) was down a quiet corridor, up some stairs, down an even quieter corridor. The Qantas staff on the desk were very pleasant and our job easy. Making coffee was simple, filter coffee dripping into a jug. We put out biscuits and served up ready made sandwiches at eleven o’clock. The passengers were friendly and of course spoke the same language. It was a homely place to be, a medium size business lounge with a quiet first class round the corner; lots of passengers bumped into friends.

Passenger/customer service is easy, all you have to do is treat them how you would like to be treated. The pettiness of my ‘colleague/boss’ was soon brought home when I made a tray of tea; teapot, milk jug, sugar. I added a pot of hot water so they could adjust the strength or top the pot up, which irked her greatly. Why? Passengers had paid plenty for their fare and a drop of hot water was no trouble for anyone. Fortunately she spent most of her time draped over the front desk chatting to the ‘the girls’ or on the phone in the kitchen chatting inanely to one or other of her twin daughters. I was happy to get on with all the table clearing etc. by myself.

There was one task I found myself doing which was certainly outside my comfort zone. One of the Qantas staff asked if I would mind ‘popping down to fetch the papers’; I innocently agreed. The incoming morning flight brought ‘The Australian’ newspaper, but to collect it involved going down in the pair of old lifts that I always avoided. Not only do I hate lifts, but I had seen them being mended enough times to not trust them. Even worse, like something out of Doctor Who, I was given the secret key that allowed the lift to go to depths passengers must not go. When the doors opened there was the bundle of newspapers waiting, but this was not the basement. There was a strong smell of kerosene; this was the outside, the real outside airside where planes park. I was terrified of being stranded down here, trying to reach the bundle of papers while keeping one foot in the lift doors so they wouldn’t close. When I finally made it back to the sanctuary of the lounge my colleague was ready with acid remarks that I was not supposed to have gone as it was not one of our jobs.

As usual at Heathrow things were changing and after a couple of years Qantas was moved over to Terminal 4, their passengers to share the British Airway Lounge. I didn’t lose my job, we were about to be absorbed into a different company and I was about to work longer hours and meet a lot more people.

A footnote. Qantas now has a new dedicated lounge in Terminal Three and from the pictures it looks a lot different from the old one.

What are you departure experiences at airports?

Demolition and Development

In 1955 Queen Elizabeth officially opened new buildings in the centre of what was then London Airport; the Europa Terminal ( which later became Terminal 2 ) and The Queen’s Building with its offices and roof gardens. In 2009 they were demolished to make way for a new Terminal 2. The Queen has outlived her own historic buildings. In the meantime, in the nearby historic Harmondsworth Village mentioned in the Doomsday Book, The Great Barn built in 1426 still stands.

The Queen opens London Airport terminal, 1955 – BBC Archivehttps://www.bbc.co.uk/archive/queen-opens-london-airport-terminal/zdvd92p

‘Built by Winchester College as part of its manor farm at Harmondsworth, the oak-framed barn is an outstanding example of medieval carpentry and contains one of the most intact interiors of its era. At nearly 60 metres long, 12 metres wide and 11 metres tall, with 13 massive oak trusses holding up the roof, both its size and aisles evoke the space and shape of a cathedral.‘ It is now under the care of English Heritage; when we lived nearby it was on private land and only open to the public occasionally, but one visit was enough to stand inside and be awestruck. It was heart breaking to hear that Harmondsworth Village could be demolished to make way for a third runway. There was ridiculous talk of moving the barn and in 2015 our future Prime Minister famously said, as MP for the Uxbridge constituency near the airport, that he would “lie down with you in front of those bulldozers and stop the building, stop the construction of that third runway”.

Harmondsworth Barn | English Heritage (english-heritage.org.uk)https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/harmondsworth-barn/

The barn is still there and there is no third runway yet, but Heathrow Village must be the most changed and continually changing patch of grade A agricultural land in Britain; perhaps not in the whole world, Dubai and China might compete for that honour. There will still be people who remember a few tents being put up by the Bath Road in the 1940s; many years ago an old lady told me they looked across the road from their house and thought those few tents would not make much difference to them…

When our family emigrated to Australia in 1964 we left on a chartered migrant flight from London Airport on a Saturday afternoon. We walked across the tarmac to the steps of the plane and waved to our relatives standing on a balcony; just as well we could wave as we had arrived late at the airport ( that’s another story ) and had no time to chat to them. So there was no time for pictures, or perhaps Dad had no camera till he bought one in duty free during the trip.

Pictures from my father’s album.

In the late 70s, early 80s you could still go up on the Queen’s Building roof gardens; there was a playground for the children and it was a playground for plane enthusiasts who sat with their sandwiches and radios listening in to the control tower and incoming aircraft. But Heathrow has always been a continual building site, constantly adding bits on or demolishing. I occasionally worked in the old Terminal 2 and as you went through and down into the staff airside area, the ceilings seemed to get lower and lower, a security chap told me they felt like pit ponies… so perhaps this building was ready for demolition.

While I was working at Terminal Three it was being modernised, yet again. In Singapore business lounge our passengers went out on the last flight of the night and when we locked up and walked through the main departure lounge it was totally deserted, very different from what the passengers experienced. As we went out through the staff exit the builders would be coming in, nearly decapitating us as they wielded planks and all sorts of equipment.

One day going into work I got off the bus as usual, down to the subway and moving walkways, up into Terminal 3 Arrivals, turned left to step on to the up escalator that was there the day before and nearly fell over, it had disappeared. Another night our late flight was delayed and I was the only one heading for a particular staff exit… but when I got there it wasn’t there, it wasn’t just closed, there was no sign that it had ever been there in the first place. A story idea for sure, I was suddenly trapped in the no man’s land of Airside, would I ever see my home again? Luckily I saw a security bloke and said ‘I know you won’t believe this, but I can’t seem to find the staff exit.’ Luckily I wasn’t going mad, he directed me to the new exit.

One of my colleagues told me that he had a job in the ‘Irish Pub’ in the departures lounge. He went on holiday back to the Philippines for three months, returned, put on his uniform for work, went in and couldn’t find ‘the pub’ – restaurants and bars had five year leases and were always disappearing to be replaced by something completely different.

We moved away in 2004 and only a few years later we went to meet someone at Heathrow and parked in the Terminal 3 multi-storey car park. I had this feeling I could not get my bearings. Absolutely nothing looked how I remembered. It turned out the original car park had been demolished and a new one built further back, creating a pleasant plaza effect. If you ever want to know how to find your way round Heathrow, don’t ask me!

Have you had a Heathrow experience, good or bad?

My short story ‘Fog’ in my Dark and Milk collection was inspired by the third runway controversy and a few thoughts on what might have been…

My novel Quarter Acre Block is inspired by our family’s experience of being Ten Pound Pommies.

Beautiful Bird

Concorde was like a beautiful bird when she took off… and noisy, but that was part of the thrill. If there had been frequent flights taking off I’m sure the novelty would have worn off and there would have been plenty of complaints about the noise. Teachers in local schools automatically stopped talking at 11am when the morning flight left for New York. Once, I was taking the children to the police Christmas party being held at the BAA club on the airport side of the Bath Road. As we got off the bus Concorde landed on the northern runway and my youngest burst into tears. That close the noise made your breast bone vibrate.

Our last home at Heathrow was the nearest to Heathrow and on the edge of Harlington Village with fields and skylarks on the other side of the hedge. Our daughter had the end bedroom and her wardrobe vibrated when Concorde took off. On winter evenings at 7pm I would abandon the cooking and dash outside to see her afterburners, bright in the night sky.

Concorde was the future.

A Puffin children’s book!

Air France Flight 4590 was an international charter flight, from Charles de Gaulle Airport, Paris to John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York, flown by an Aérospatiale-BAC Concorde. On the afternoon of Tuesday, 25 July 2000 at 16:44:31 local time, the aircraft ran over debris on the runway during take off, blowing a tyre, and sending debris flying into the underside of the left wing, and into the landing gear bay.  A terrible omen perhaps that the 21st century was not going to be what we hoped for.

Following the accident, all Concordes were grounded for almost a year with the introduction of new safety improvements such as Kevlar-lined fuel tanks and better electrical controls. But spiralling maintenance costs for the 30-year-old aircraft, led to British Airways and Air France’s joint announcement on 10 April 2003 that the planes would be retired that year.

The last French plane touched down in Toulouse on 27 June, while BA’s fleet left service on 24 October, with three aircraft landing in sequence at London Heathrow.

Concorde was about to become history and we remembered the proud and happy times.  My younger son says there was a lot of pride in having your windows rattling and everything falling off the shelves when Concorde took off.

Cyberspouse spent his entire thirty years with the Metropolitan Police at Heathrow Airport. One time when he was on the Airside Traffic Unit they visited Concorde in her hangar and he asked the pilot if he could take  pictures of the cockpit. He was invited to take a seat.

In 1996 Heathrow Airport celebrated its fiftieth anniversary with a flypast that included Concorde. The planes had to take off from Stansted Airport and children from local schools were invited to have a ride on Concorde to Stansted, but home by coach, they were not allowed to stay on board for the flypast. One child from each year at each school was chosen and our older son got the lucky ticket. Parents were told they were not going supersonic, but they did. These are his impressions of the flight.

I remember it being a lot smaller on the inside than you would think. The windows were tiny. And when it takes off, it goes really steep and then they cut the afterburners and it feels like your belly drops about 100 ft. Apart from that it was very smooth and pleasant. Going supersonic was not like anything really, it was just a number going up. The only jumpy bit was the take-off.

One time Cyberspouse and I decided to cycle to Windsor and we were just cycling through Colnbrook Village when Concorde took off right over our heads – that was the closest I ever got.

In Concorde’s last years I was working in a British Airways Business lounge with a perfect picture window view of the southern runway and the highlight of the morning was of course the 11am take off. Raymond the cleaner, our resident grumpy old chap, loved Concorde, said she was his baby and the only time he came to life was at 11am. As soon as he heard her he would race across the lounge to the window, sending passengers flying… But we never tired of seeing her take off.

Heathrow Airport 50th Anniversary Flypast 1996 (Full programme) – Pt 4 of 5 – YouTube

Enjoy Your Stay

This week, at long last many of us might think, some arrivals at English airports are now required to go straight to a hotel to quarantine for ten days. I heard a manager for the Renaissance Hotel, Heathrow say on the radio they were aiming to make the experience as enjoyable as possible – by providing real cutlery and high street toiletries, what more could you ask for? High street toiletries… what sort did they provide before and by high street do they mean from the pound shop? Another perk they might offer is a great view of the northern runway from the back of this hotel. The Renaissance hotel spent the last four years of the twentieth century holding the longest ever public enquiry into the building of a fifth terminal at Heathrow. The hotel’s swimming pool was closed and never opened again, but Terminal 5 opened in 2008.

The Bath Road was once the main highway from London to Bath; a stagecoach service to Bath was advertised in a London newspaper in 1657 and the last London to Bath stagecoach ran in 1843, as the Great Western Railway came to prominence. Fifteen miles into your journey you would have passed by the agricultural fields of Heathrow Village and stayed overnight at a coaching inn.  Now this section of the Bath Road is lined with airport hotels. During our long years living near and very near Heathrow we probably visited all of them, without ever staying a single night. They were popular places ( the only places ) for Christmas dinner and dances and other ‘Dos’. For a brief period I did silver service waitressing at The Excelsior, a whole group of hard up mothers at the junior school did £10 a night casual waitressing if there was an event on. We could pick evenings when our husbands were early shift – everyone’s husband did shift work at the airport. It was a mixture of great laughs and horrendous experiences; the several banqueting suites had moveable walls, so not only did you have to remember which were the In and Out doors to the kitchen, you had to figure out where you were and how you got there.

The local hotels were also good for a meal out; there wasn’t anywhere else to go apart from MacDonalds, though a nice little restaurant did open at one stage, in a little parade of shops near the Bath Road. It was called Café Concorde and it was always an experience going there. The young staff were very friendly, but you never knew what was going to happen. The smoke alarm in the kitchen would go off frequently and you never knew if you would get what you ordered or when you would get it. Then sadly Concorde crashed; but the owners were not deterred by this omen and the café reopened as Le Basilica, though its Italian connections were tenuous.

The only photo I ever managed to take of Concorde

Our favourite place to eat was The Excelsior Carvery. By this time I had a job at the airport in the business class lounges; the company I worked for was continually being absorbed into larger companies, one of which was Granada. Our friend who repaired televisions also worked for them and we each had a 25 percent discount at the carvery, making us very popular with friends. It was a great carvery, never to be matched again. A delicious choice of starters with as many visits as you liked. One of our friends used to have at least three plates of seafood each time and still have room to pile the vegies on with his generous helping of meat, he may even have sneaked up for another helping of meat, it was a big place, nobody would notice. We took all our visitors there.

Warning: brief mention of Covid – happy days, oh to go to carveries and buffet bars again and enjoy breathing all over the food and touching everything.

We also frequented the health clubs at various hotels, usually moving on when management ignored our letters about the poor state of the changing rooms. Our last hotel experience before we moved away was the brand new Marriot. It was down the road from us and there was a bus stop outside if I was coming after work.  It also boasted a cash machine, so we no longer had to go over the other side of the M4 motorway into town or into one of the airport terminals when we needed money. The shiny new hotel had an elegant atrium with coffee shops and sofas everywhere, so we could relax with coffee and cake after a swim in the health club. While others were sitting with lap tops and brief cases having important looking meetings, we would be sitting there with our wet swimming stuff and wet hair.

In the steam room you would often meet chatty guests and other locals. One day a chap was telling us ‘You know that Heathrow documentary, my brother was in that.’

‘Which one was he?’ we asked, thinking of pilots or the control tower or those long suffering airline staff always trying to get their flights off on time.

‘He was the one in a coma.’

Most of those in the steam room were guests staying overnight before flying off somewhere exciting. One chap asked everyone where they were going and I said ‘Home, I live down the road.’

He was astonished and said ‘You mean people actually live around here?’

The last house we owned was nearest to the airport and friends and relatives did not need to book into a hotel as they could stay with us, we didn’t even charge them for parking their car on the driveway. A walk across the fields took us to the Bath Road and the free buses into the airport.

Have you ever stayed at Heathrow hotels, or perhaps you are staying at one right now, in quarantine…

All Change Here For The Future

Life has changed for the whole world with The Virus. For some more than others at present, but what lies ahead? If you are retired and used to pottering around at home, the biggest change so far may be NOT going to the garden centre for coffee with your friends. For those who have lost their jobs the future is uncertain, for those who have lost loved ones their lives are changed forever.
But life goes on despite personal or national tragedy, it always has. We know that because we are still here despite giant meteors, earthquakes, plagues and two world wars. But how will life go on this time? Some changes will be good if we can all agree on what is a good change.

P1110312
The lockdown has done for the environment in a short time what endless green protests couldn’t. The skies are clear, wildlife wanders empty cities, but can we keep that change?
At the Port of Southampton, huge top heavy ocean liners sit motionless at their berths, fog horns silenced. Since the Covid 19 scare started cruise ships have been called floating petri dishes or prisons and blamed in some countries for bringing the virus. There are ships still anchored at sea in limbo, their crews among the most forgotten people in the world wide pandemic.
If cruising is for the rich the elderly and the idle, NOT cruising provides an instant solution for the homeless and young workers trying to leave home. Most of the large passenger ships look like floating blocks of flats, so what’s not to like about the idea? Venice will be happy these behemoths no longer swamp their precious city. Beautiful islands will not miss the tourists who go back on board for their lunch and never spend any money.

Queen Mary copy
If cruising and dining at the captain’s table present a problem for social distancing, that is nothing compared to the aviation industry. British Airways planes are lined up at Bournemouth Airport, no parking space left at Heathrow; who needs a third runaway at Heathrow now? Is this the golden opportunity to save the environment, will jumbos suffer the same fate as airships and sea planes? Will passenger flights only be possible if you wear a space suit or fly like this?

2010 08 20_3997
Redundant aircraft would make fantastic homes, plenty of room, windows a bit small, but flower tubs and vegetable trugs on the wings would be perfect for outdoor living. Ropes and ladders could transform the fuselage into an outdoor gym for the children.
Many thousands of jobs are at risk if we lose the world wide aviation industry, but no problem, people can just go on staycation at airports, without the stress and dangers of flying. Plenty of hotels and terminals full of shops mean job opportunities aplenty. Outside, holiday makers could cycle and roller skate down the runways and the lovely wide grass verges could be used for golf.

6
Will you miss flying or sailing? Which would you chose for a home, plane or ship?

What better ideas have you got for the Post Covid World?

Silly Saturday – Paddington Pangolin

Police are searching for a pangolin believed to have entered the UK illegally. They have appealed for information as to the whereabouts of Penny Peters, head of Pangolin Preservation Project. She is alleged to have smuggled the pangolin in her hand luggage on the last flight back to Britain. Her parents, Polly and Peter Peters, speaking from their home in Surrey, denied their daughter was involved in any sort of crime.
‘Penny loved her job teaching English as a second language and she loves pangolins, but when this virus business started we urged her to get the next flight out. She insisted she couldn’t abandon her pupils or pangolins.’

OIP[2]

Latest Update

Our reporter tracked Penny Peters down to a secret location and she agreed to an exclusive interview.
‘Yes I do know where Paddington Pangolin is, but he will never be safe until he is proved innocent.’
‘What is he accused of?’
At this point Ms Peters broke down in tears.
‘Sorry, sorry, it’s all been so stressful… let me start at the beginning. I rescued him from a wet market, I can’t reveal where for fear of reprisals. I smuggled him out on the last flight out to Heathrow. Then we jumped on the Heathrow Express; I was surprised how easy it all was. But when we arrived at Paddington Railway Station we were surrounded by an angry mob accusing this poor innocent pangolin of starting Corvid19. He fled in panic and I was terrified for his safety. I spent days searching the streets of London for him, wondering if he would find enough ants. Finally I found him in St. James’ Park, he had wanted to see The Queen, but she had already left Buckingham Palace to isolate at Windsor Castle.’
‘That is an amazing story, but surely the general public will only believe you if they actually see Paddington Pangolin?’

Latest Latest Update

Penny Peters agreed to be filmed with Paddington Pangolin on condition their whereabouts is never revealed and that we show the film on national news to expose the plight of pangolins. Tune into the ten o’clock news…

Au Revoir or Adieu?

Whether you jet set on business or love going on cruises, you can’t have failed to notice there are more hazards to travel lately. Your cruise ship may weigh anchor and keep all the passengers hostage – in quarantine because of Coronavirus, which we now have to call Covid19, though that doesn’t slip as easily off the tongue. If you’re lucky you may get to have your own videoblog as self appointed spokesman to your national television channel and the folk back home. If you’re unlucky you will have a cabin without a balcony, a government that will not evacuate you and test positive for the virus.

Queen Mary copy
Is flying any better? You may not be allowed on the plane if you have a temperature, you may not be allowed off the plane until you can be hermetically sealed and sent off to a quarantine centre; though that could be the start of a pleasant fortnight’s holiday if a nice hotel has been commandeered. World wide plague is not the only hazard for fliers. Storms hurling themselves across the Atlantic to Europe have caused mass cancellation of flights, but that is better than the Ryanair passengers on a flight from Prague, that in hindsight should have been cancelled. Thrice, pilots attempted to land at Bournemouth Airport as passengers screamed and hyperventilated. They abandoned the attempt and with petrol running low were diverted to Brussels from whence they returned to Prague…

6
Although I hardly ever go anywhere outside this kingdom I can give advice on ocean liners and airliners. Cyberson 2, builder and pyrotechnics expert, has often worked at Southampton, sending up fireworks to farewell passengers on their trip of a lifetime, or often their twentieth or perhaps their last… The first time he worked there, one of the regular workers on the docks described the arrival of an ocean liner ‘The first thing that happens, they bring all the bodies off.’ Whether this is due to the age of the passengers, the vast amount of food provided or terminal boredom, I cannot say, but it sounds like a good way to go. Perhaps if you pay extra you can have a burial at sea. My longest voyage was on ‘The Pride of Bilbao’ from Portsmouth to Bilbao and back again on an off season excursion, where the only hazard was the live entertainment.

5
Storm Dennis was not the only problem at Heathrow Airport on Sunday as ‘technical issues’ created chaos. Whiteboards, marker pens and extra staff were drafted in to ensure chaos continued. When I worked at Heathrow I won’t pretend I was not occasionally envious of passengers jetting off somewhere exotic, but mostly I was glad I could go home and would always advise DON’T even THINK of flying at Easter or Christmas. One Christmas Eve, working in Singapore Lounge, the evening flight was delayed, putting Christmas on hold in Singapore and Australia for those who celebrated it. I cringed as a young colleague said in a loud voice in front of the passengers ‘That’s ALL I need.’ We would be late finishing, but she only had to get home to Osterley Park and none of us were going to miss Christmas.

DSCN4007
Singapore Airlines treated their customers with oriental respect and had letters printed out and delivered to them explaining delays. When we worked in British Airways lounges catering staff were left to soothe disgruntled passengers. The huge lounge in Terminal 1 catered for the many short haul flights, very different from the serene atmosphere of quieter business lounges. There was an endless  surge of passengers, the buffet bars constantly replenished, platters of sandwiches devoured instantly. I only worked there a couple of times, but one weekend a story came from our colleagues. There was a strike on; passengers kept coming in, but none went out. Then the British Airways staff abandoned the desk leaving the catering staff to deal with the ever increasing braying mob; in the end they called the police.

DSC_7972

What were your worst travel experiences? You can tell us about your good journeys, but that might not be so amusing…

The Ghosts of Christmas Past – Episode Two

There is only one event certain to happen during the Christmas season, the winter solstice; Winter solstice 2018 in the Northern Hemisphere will be at 22:23 Greenwich Meantime on Friday 21st December, it is a moment, not a day. But for those of us who are not scientists it just means the shortest day; 7 hours 49 minutes and 41 seconds in Britain. While the shops are crowded with shoppers, others will flock to Stonehenge; the prehistoric monument is carefully aligned on a sight-line that points to the winter solstice sunset.
People were celebrating at this time of year long before some spin doctor had the brilliant idea of tacking Christmas on to Yueltide. Apart from the weather, Christmas is what we make it and after all the media and commercial hype, when Christmas Day finally arrives it is centred on the home, each family creates its own traditions.

41489466_2277742345588876_4579338519482204160_o

Events in our lives can be marked by where we spent Christmas. When I was twenty I arrived at Heathrow Airport at six o’clock on Christmas morning, for a six month working holiday that stretched into infinity. The airport was huge and deserted, but by some miracle I found my way to the waiting relatives; back at their home I saw colour television for the first time. The weather was mild and damp, pretty normal for the south of England, but I had forgotten how early it gets dark at that time of year. On Boxing Day I was glad to get out with the relatives for a walk and fresh air; day two, out on a misty Surrey heath, it felt right to be back, but on day one in the airport I could never have guessed I would end up living nearby, working there.

6

Friday Flash Fiction Five Hundred

                                                     Terminal State

 

‘No one will ever know,’ said my friend that day in 1959 ‘and it was an accident.’

I expect that is what lots of murderers plead, but we were only ten years old. To this day I have no idea who he was, but I’ll never forget the look of surprise on his face, then the look of terror.

‘Be careful girls’ said my mother as we set off that sunny day.

We liked to watch the aeroplanes, then we would go exploring; Stanwell Moor, Colnbrook village, farms, fields and streams. We were free to wander the western edges of London Airport as long as we didn’t go near Perry Oaks.

My aunt and uncle had lived in Heathrow Village, till they were evicted during the war, but my parents lived out their years on the farm under the flight path, wedged between the runways. Up until the last it was like living in the country except for the ranks of landing lights.

p1050002.jpg

‘Stay together, don’t talk to any strangers and be back at teatime.’

He must have been a stranger, because no one noticed he had gone. For weeks we expected the police to turn up, looking for someone’s husband or father… or an escaped convict, after all he did act strangely.

‘You two girls out on your own? Have you ever seen a water vole?’

I nudged my friend, we turned to walk away, but he followed and what he showed us wasn’t a water vole. We wanted to run, but we were trapped on the edge of a bank that descended steeply. He was blocking the footpath that led back the way we had come.

‘Count to three then rush past him’ she said.

What happened next happened so quickly; it could have been any one of the three of us that went in; did we push him or did he slip? We had strayed into the forbidden territory, Perry Oaks sludge works and as he slipped under we knew why our parents feared it.

DSCN5256

Looking back as a teenager, an adult, I realised he was a flasher, a harmless loner perhaps. But had he followed us? Would he have murdered us? Two missing girls and every stretch of water would have been dragged, but his body was never found. We never told a soul, we didn’t want to get into trouble for being out of bounds; or that’s what we told ourselves.

My friend’s family took her off to Australia, we lost touch. I wondered if she ever told anyone, for years I half expected a policeman to knock on the door.

Then came the planning enquiry, five long years. We prayed the development would be turned down, no one wanted the upheaval and destruction, the removal of the last farm. But that is not what I dreaded.

Digging, draining, what would they find; a body preserved like peat bog man? When Terminal Five Heathrow opened, I knew at last that no one would ever know.

P1040971

‘Terminal State’ is one of the Flash Fiction Tales featured in

Someone Somewhere.