The shrill, brain searing alarm at 0450. The fumble for the light switch in an unfamiliar hotel room. The phone hitting the floor from the bedside table.
Possessions are gathered, tickets checked. Cabin bags repacked for the umpteenth time. Passports. PASSPORTS!! Where did those get left last night? How is there so much? Its only ten days! What happened to our ‘pack in three’ rules?
Exit the hotel room, the rumble of luggage wheels across the floor, the quiet hiss of the closing bedroom and corridor fire doors. Cold damp air hits the face as hotel foyer doors slide open. A frantic dash across a rain swept carpark; and the futile attempts to keep luggage and feet out of deepening puddles.
Wipers and raindrops distort the bright lights of airport buildings. Dimly lit signboards lead to a missed turning for Long stay and another ‘What lane am I in circuit of terminal buildings?’ ensues. ‘Will Mr Local moron on my rear tail with his angrily flashing lights back off?’ Yes, 20 in a 30 limit is irritating. Suck it up! Chill a little!
Drafty bus shelters with interminable waits that in reality are merely minutes. The hiss of released brakes. Bendy swaying buses with their numerous stops and voice announcements about security measures set you down a hundred metres short of the terminal entrance. Of course they do, after all its raining!
Bright lights, high ceilings, white marble tiled floors. Space, organisation and bright signage. A cavern dedicated to air transportation. Departures, floor 2; grab the lift with a cheery airport worker. Pleasantries exchanged and lift doors open revealing TUI check-in desks and their long lines of waiting staff behind the inevitable but necessary snaking cordon corridors. The zig-zag herding begins, a 70m to the desk which in reality is a mere 10. The clatter of luggage wheels and giggling lost tourists, who turn against the tide, duck under the ribbons. Some say that some tourists didn’t appear for several days after entering one cordoned routeway!
Cheery greetings, bags thump onto luggage conveyors; passports and tickets returned; bags disappear into the great labyrinth below.
Departures! Like the entrance to a very active beehive. Swarming people guzzle their last remaining water; the ill-prepared binning plastic bottles and putting liquids into plastic bags. Orange vested customs personnel direct this humanity into meandering but ordered rows. “Step forward, take a tray”. “Unpack your cabin bag please”. “Laptops and tablets in separate trays please”. “Come through please”. Magic wand scanners with high pitched bleeps for the selected few. The rattle of rollers, clatter of deep plastic trays. Trays are retrieved, humanity moves left to the repacking areas. Belt, shoes, keys, money, tablets and passports all find their previous homes. Order is restored.
Departures and security, a feat of meticulous, well-practised reorganisation and scrutiny.
And then it hits you. The unavoidable. The blatant, shameless, in your face walk through the consumerism alley. The big scent brands, racks of glossy lippies; watches, chocolates in a hundred variations. Alcohol of all brands and types. The sinuous, garishly lit walkway herds the unwary towards the lure of that ‘bargain’ which in reality isn’t. But pre-holiday inhibitions are weakened; temptation may prove too great. The smile of the bronzed, polished, snappily dressed, 20 something sales assistants as they step in for the kill. Resistance is futile my friend. You may try but they are practised, they know your weak spot, that little chink in your armour.
Consumerism. Encircled by big brands, you are trapped in central seating rows; the brightly lit, shiny displays tempting those with enforced time on their hands. Airport departure lounges, the miniature shopping malls, with their high street names, carefully selected to appeal to the passenger types passing through them. Upmarket fashion labels to tempt passengers like you and me.
Harrods and Hamleys, Malones and SK NNY Dip. The popular high street brands: Superdry, Sunglasses Hut; Dixons, Boots and Accessorize. Ted Baker, Jack Wills, JD Trainers, North Face. Dixons, FatFace and Cath Kidson. There is no escape. Here at Gatwick north terminal, the charter end of aviation these brands reflect peoples holiday needs. Cold weather gear for walking? Beach and evening wear to chill in? And target audience? Well not the mid 50’s that’s for sure; try the 20 – 30 young, fit bronzed with cash to splash. And of course, those weakening pre-holiday inhibitions. Did I say ‘resistance is futile’ my friend?
Handbags, watches, clothes, rucksacs, cameras, magazines, books, toys, electronics of every conceivable type and colour. For retailers, a captive clientele, with nowhere to go, with time to kill and already sliding into holiday mode thus losing their normal penny pinching savvy. Those discounts look so more attractive when you are heading out on holiday don’t they? And don’t fret! If you do fall for the 7’ teddy bear in Harrods livery, Gatwick offer a buy now-collect when you return service!
The ‘resigned seat slumpers’; the ‘I need your shoulder’ sleepers; newspaper readers and music listeners. The strutting urban chic in fashionable threads; the aimless wanderers in comfy clothes. Non-buying browsers disappoint the eternally hopeful shop assistants. High speed texters, surreptitious departure board watchers. The ‘pleased with my bargain’ laden shoppers; coffee drinkers, make up fixers, the ‘I’m late, get out of my way’ boarders. Bleeping carts, bright neon signs. Thousands of voices, a chattering hum.
Don’t you just love airport departure lounges?