I was in a really bad place last weekend. Not mentally – I was in a Starbucks airport slumped against a wall. It wasn’t until we sat in the departure hall for many hours, our two small children seeing at midnight that the rooms were slowly filling up with hundreds of humans and their thousands of iPads before I realized, with thrill I was inside a new one.
It’s a very special kind of bittersweet excitement, isn’t it, when you look up from your own personal catastrophe and realize you’re part of something bigger? The most boring and irritating moments of your life are suddenly polished and beautifully lit. Stories that, from your mouth, would have had friends politely stifling yawns after 30 seconds became entire diaries, with expert quotes and panoramic images, and someone seriously explaining how they peed in a cup .
I’m not talking about major tragedies here, I’m talking about your common domestic bullshit that disturbs Britain’s laborious peace to the point of making headlines. I’m talking about the times, for example, when you turn on the car radio and find out that you’re sitting in a traffic jam “all the way through Wales”, or that your small town is having the hottest day for 100 years, or that you find yourself at the very end of an NHS waiting list for your ear, or you can’t afford pasta anymore because of something to do with wheat. So it was that my family and I, returning from our first holiday in three years, found ourselves among thousands of Britons stranded in an airport due to ‘travel chaos’ due to labor shortages.
We had had a great vacation, although at that time we had to remember it constantly. Although I swam in the sea that morning, at 1am, I didn’t know if I had been anywhere else, ever, beyond that bank of plastic seats. I was born here several hours ago, and this is where I grew up, on the tiled floor near gate 5a, and this is where we ate our meals of granola bars and Chupa Chups , and it is here that we cured minor illnesses and deaths. Despite the new thrill of being among a maskless crowd, everyone did surprisingly well. Even when it was announced that all flights from Manchester were canceled and our seat neighbors (who had been waiting for seven hours) began to gather their bags, rather than get angry or panicked, there was a resigned serenity, all very “oh well”. I was impressed.
You still think (I still think) that the holidays will be about clearing your mind of worries and nonsense, an idea amplified by confinements to a house with a mentally bruised little Bolshie family after too much television. Not only would my mind be reset, refreshed, but my whole family dynamic would be too – no more petty squabbles over teeth, or complaining about who took which tip of felt – we would see the sea, and feel the heat, then a great calm would fall upon us. I forgot, of course, that wherever we go, we are there. At the airport trying to shut the baby up, I read a quote from Quentin Crisp. “You have to know who you are, who you think you are, who your neighbors think you are,” he said, in all his fabulous wisdom. “What are you really? One should not pass in a dream, but accept one’s limits and then express them in one’s life, in one’s behavior, one’s identity. You must tell the truth about yourself. Otherwise, life is just a waste of time, right? Well yes. And who I am, it turned out, was a person who finds calm not on the stones of a Greek beach in June, or in the sea, but slumped against a wall in an airport Starbucks.
I was not the only one. People everywhere smiled their sinister little smiles, and moved to make room, and kept their voices low as toddlers slept starfish-shaped on jumpers on the floor. There was a polite crowd around the phone charging hub, but it looked like a group of fans were waiting for Kylie rather than the expected melee. When we finally arrived in the UK at 4am, passing our bodies through passport control, we found a quiet queue of hundreds of holidaymakers on the other side waiting to check in, lined up along the airport in an area intended for Ukrainians. refugees. “Welcome!” said the sign awkwardly, at a bachelorette party in a pink cowboy hat.
We arrivals were weaving our way through those leaving with tax-free apologies, a bit of jealousy. Part of it was exhaustion, yes, but there was also a sweet humanity to the peace of the airport – a teenager going to WH Smith to get a drink for an elderly woman who saved her space, is -I wanted to sit with the baby they would make room, everyone tiptoeing around a loudly snoring man near an ATM. As we entered the freezing dawn, I felt that chill again – we had gone on vacation, but back to the news. I saw a photographer standing next to Marks & Spencer documenting the sweet chaos and, shifting the sleeping baby over my shoulder, waving at her as if she were the queen.
Email Eva at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @EvaWiseman