One of the joys of living in a vast city is that, should you tire of it, its infrastructure presents you with numerous options for escaping and visiting other interesting places. These days, your average world-class city is possessed of a handful of train stations, usually at least one capable of zipping you away to another country, and an airport or two. London is well served by both, from the vast terminals of Heathrow International Airport, to the UK's busiest interchange train station at Clapham Junction. We have the Eurostar train which can whisk Londoners to continental Europe in mere hours. The ability to hop on a train and get off in another country is a glamorous luxury for a city-dweller, and the recently re-invented "St Pancras" station fully deserves its appended "International" label. Unfortunately the average train trip in the UK is fraught with hideousness, as I have bemoaned before. Even plane travel, for all the glamour presented by jet-setting celebrities can be pretty grim. By the end of a recent 6 and a half hour flight, during which two children screamed continuously from Accra to Brussels, I was ready to commit murder.
But for me the true delight of travel begins before boarding. I just love airports. Although apparently I am alone in this. My Accidental travel companion on my recent trip to Ghana declared he hated airports, before adding "Doesn't everyone?". Why then do people not love them as much as I do? The buzz of an airport is incredibly exciting. Once one has ditched one's unwieldy suitcase or backpack at check-in, you can skip merrily through the tax-free shops (bargains galore! Or not...). You can grab a coffee or something stronger, or eat an entire three course meal. Although I do admit that the champagne and oyster bars across Heathrow's terminals are an incongruous catering choice. In the middle of the terminal concourse men and women with designer hand-luggage slurp down bivalves and Bollinger as, by the feet of their high stools, small children whine and parents lose boarding passes and their tempers. Best of all, at airports, you can people-watch endlessly. People coming and going, families reuniting and tearing themselves painfully apart.
I have long wondered why I am so obsessed with airports, and it was only whilst sitting in Heathrow's Terminal 1 overlooking a dawn-lit runway that I finally realised where I had developed this odd passion.
For many years while I was young the Accidental parents would drag me and my brother up to the West of Scotland for our summer holidays. There we would spend two soggy weeks on grey beaches dodging jellyfish and midges. We would drive there and back in a Volvo loaded with waterproofs and picnic blankets. But we would often break the long journey from Staffordshire to Argyll, and our customary lunchstop usually happened somewhere around Glasgow. My parents for some reason decided that a suitable family refuelling venue was the bar and restaurant at Glasgow Airport, which excitingly (when you're under the age of ten) overlooked the runway. For me however, these visits to this airport planted a tiny seed of longing. As we walked through the airport I would jealously watch those people who were there to fly off on holiday, wheeling their suitcases, losing their passports, clutching paper tickets to exotic locations. I longed to join them in the security queues but year on year the Scottish drizzle called. After a few years my parents bowed to my demands for a change of scene...and we drove to France. Realising I was getting nowhere with my demands for a holiday reached by way of a plane I resolved to make my own holiday plans in the future. And for many happy years I have flown all over the place, from North to South America, from Europe to Africa. And I have enjoyed my hours spent in the airport as much as I imagined those Glaswegian travellers did, all those years ago.
And whilst I usually have a fabulous time visiting new countries, exploring new towns and observing new ways of life, for me the excitement peaks before I have seen any of that. There at an airport one is offered an unimaginable wealth of destinations, a vast range of possibility and potential. They are the launch-pads to exploration. Where could be more exciting a place than that?