I’m leaving London. I’m heading home. I’m happy, excited…. but first, there’s Heathrow.
I stumble from the taxi at Heathrow with the giant suitcase, the lap-top, a back-pack, a handbag and my plastic zip lock bag. I zig-zag up and down the concourse, searching for a clue to my check-in counter. It scrolls swiftly out of sight on a screen above. I stand squinting below till it rolls round again, then weave through crowds to the end of the terminal to find it. The queue’s already twenty metres out beyond a maze of channeling ropes and it’s not moving. Surely all these people can’t be on my plane! Claustrophobia sets in. “Aisle seat at the front! Aisle seat at the front!” I repeat like a Rosary. The minutes mount into quarter hours and then to halves. Claustrophobia gives way to alarm. One hour’s gone and the queue hasn’t moved.
“This queue’s nothing to the one at Departures” bellows a know-all two turns of the ropes ahead.
Alarm gives way to panic. But at last I reach the counter. “Yes! Yes! Yes!” I shriek to every question. I’m so frazzled I forget that aisle seat near the front.
I race to the Departures queue. Messages ripple the length of it, losing their meanings, like Chinese Whispers, along the way. “One drag!” spits the woman in front “Yeah, bloody big one at that!” I toss back. She shoots me an odd look but it’s lost in a missive hissed from behind “No knickers!” “No way!” I gasp in disbelief. I crane desperately forward for the next dispatch.
“One Bag!” shouts a uniformed despot near the door “Hand in all liquids” shrills another “Ahhh” I sigh in enlightened relief as I bin my water and stuff everything into the pack. It bulges and strains against the zips. My arms won’t fit through the straps. I cuddle it to my chest like a little fat teddy bear. Above, a screen flashes “Now boarding’ next to my flight. The queue inches forward. I’m ready to scream. But finally, I’m through. No, wait – there’s Passport Control. I rip open fat teddy and scrabble for my passport and boarding pass. A muttering pile-up forms behind. Ahead, an official drums impatiently on his desk. I slap down the passport. With a fleetingly glance from the red bob in the photo to my scraped-back faded blonde twist, he clunks his stamp down wordlessly and I’m out.
Then it’s lap-top, shoes, belt, coat and jewellery into trays at Security. I step through the metal detector, a nervous eye on the belt inching my bulging trays out of sight. A red light flashes, an alarm sounds. Wand-waving guards surround me while my trays collide and spill. Above, a screen flashes a final call for my flight. A distant, disembodied voice calls my name. I tear away from the wand-wavers, half scramble into the coat, cram the jewellery into the pockets, clench my passport and boarding pass between my teeth, wedge the lap-top into the now exploding fat teddy and, shoes in hand, sprint madly to my gate.
A composed, immaculately groomed girl checks my passport and boarding pass with cool indifference and wild-eyed, I charge up the gangway to the plane.
“Welcome aboard, Madame” says a smirking flight attendant “63F, turn right and straight through to the rear of the aircraft, centre seat, centre row”
Screaming inwardly I battle off down the aisle.