Friday 21 October 2011


We went back to the UK this summer. Despite my wife and I being together for over eight years now, we’d never actually flown together before; a result of spending much of that time on different continents, so one of us was always flying to meet the other. We’ve had many tearful goodbyes and many joyous reunions, but we’ve never actually done the full day’s trek together - from our regional city in Japan to my hometown in rural England, or vice-versa. Door-to-door it takes pretty much 24 hours.

Given that the real point of this trip was for our son to meet my side of the family, we had to bring him along as well. This complicated matters, but not all that much, to be honest. I won’t go into all the details, except to say that Vantaa airport in Helsinki is lovely; clean, decent enough food, and compact. This last is an important consideration when you’ve got a tight transfer (‘You should see a doctor about that,’ etc). Charles De Gaulle, by comparison, is awful.

Manchester airport though, Manchester airport…

Imagine a dystopia conceived by JG Ballard, Philip K Dick, and Gok Wan. Imagine a place where commerce is less important than the appearance of commerce, and both those trump the importance of the customer. Imagine an airport which actually thinks of the people who pass through it as ‘customers’, not ‘travellers’. An airport which has decided that its primary role – as a place for people to get on and off planes – is somehow beneath it, and what it really wants to be is the ground floor of fucking Selfridges.

In short, Manchester Airport is everything that is wrong with the UK today (Coming over here, taking our budget airlines, sleeping with our long-haul freight carriers).

My wife gets travel sick, and so it would seem does the baby. So, after a two hour drive and a tearful goodbye to my mother, I have to shepherd our hand luggage, my crying and nauseous wife, and my crying and nauseous child through the redundant idiocy that is 21st century airport security (while feeling none-too-hot myself, if I’m honest). The queues and counterproductive inefficiencies have been ridiculed elsewhere, so I don’t intend to expand on that here - except to say that when I was finally able to put my clothes back on, I’d come to view the prospect of a Starbucks muffin and a sit-down with the same kind of longing a prison nonce must feel for individual shower cubicles.

But Manchester Airport doesn’t want this for me. Manchester Airport insists I endure yet more ‘don’t drop the soap’ sessions for the sake of an apparently enhanced ‘consumer experience’ or whatever the fuck they’re calling it now. “The Infinite Obstacle Course of Tits and Smells,” would be accurate enough. A hyper-real hallucinatory labyrinth where the Minotaur is spawned not through the petty vengeance of the gods, but in an asphyxiating fug of cut-price booze and ‘celebrity’ endorsed perfumes. Futility by Katie Price and Gout by Jedward. Titwank by Sir Trevor McDonald. Manchester Airport looks upon Daedalus and scorns him for his humility and lack of ambition.

Manchester Airport will not be happy until we have experienced all the joys spending money on smell can bring. We must be routed by all the products. We must admire and covet them all. We must regard them all, lust after them all, form lasting and meaningful relationships with them all. ALL. ALL OF THEM. THERE WILL BE NO EXEPTIONS.

I start to suspect I have forgotten to collect a power-up on a previous level and won’t be able to go on until I’ve gone back to get it. No. I must reluctantly conclude that this is the Kobayashi Maru. There really is no way out and no way to win. It is how well you fail which matters, as we are watched and silently judged by rank upon rank of photoshopped cleavage. I feel J-Lo’s chest dispassionately evaluate my desperation and enter a mark against my name in Destiny’s ledger.

I’m no Kirk, no Theseus. I have no phaser or Aegean sword and my Ariadne comes not with a ball of thread, but wearing too much make-up and a t-shirt with an inappropriately casual instruction printed on it (I’ll decide what to ask you about, thankyouverymuch). She clocks my approach from a distance and by the time I reach her is also wearing an expression of pity, resignation, and mild disdain.

“Looking for the way out, Love?”

For a brief moment I think she’s trying to recruit me to a doomsday suicide cult. Maybe she is. Regardless, my answer is,

“Yes. God, yes.”

“Yeah,” She’s seen this all before, the army chaplain of duty-free retail, “Go straight towards Tie Rack, turn left and the gates are next to Smith’s.”

We were so near! The residual, cowed, proto-male aspect of me – the part that leaves the seat up and hates asking for directions – feels like the castaway sailor who’s just killed and eaten his best friend, only to be rescued the very next day. So close to salvation. So very close.

And as we three stumble towards the Promised Land – a 16 hour intercontinental flight, remember – dragging our possessions behind us, I realize that the worst has passed. The purifying fires of consumer martyrdom have cleansed us of our pain and sin. We have gone to a better place and nothing can hurt us now. Nothing will hurt us ever again.

It’s ok.

It’s ok.

It’s all ok.

So, yeah. Manchester Airport is a fucking nightmare.

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