A definitive guide to the land of lavatories
In general, most cities have 1 airport, possibly 2 (hub and regional) – London has 5. Remarkably this landing strip fetish is not just some legacy of public sector mis management or post war binge construction but carries on all the way to the modern day. When discourse was raised on how best to utilise one or two of the already existing smorgasbord of airports to meet growing demand the answer by the London Mayor was simple: build another one.
What this highlights is that business travel and aviation freight aside, holidays in the UK are a concept that predominately exist outsides the shores of blightey, indeed it would appear that the ubiquitous two weeks abroad have transcended a luxury or even an expectation and have become a right.
Semantics are key here, because when something moves from a luxury to a right, all behavioural patterns shift. What was once humbling, novel and intrepid becomes mundane, disappointing, habitual. What was once a wide eyed toddler like stumble through catacombs of overwhelming quantities of sumptuous tobacco becomes a furious rant at the level of ‘duty’ removed’. What was once an overpriced croissant eaten with a mind that has already jetted into a flight of fancy, becomes your third pint of white wine spritzer. At 9am. Even though one generally find’s the culture of binge drinking rather displeasurable.
Airports are thus the most admirable and derisible parts of British culture and the establishments themselves seem to have an amazing knack to become platforms to exacerbate these extremities.
Gatwick airport is the middle child. Whilst Heathrow is out there on Branson’s lap, connecting Amsterdam to Buenos Aires and hand delivering cut flowers from Kenyan fields to the sultan of Brunei’s youngest, Gatwick just seems happy to have three flights a week that take you to Orlando. Whilst Stanstead has eloped to behind the bike shed, sniffed a pen and painted itself as the young ‘bad boy’ of aviation, showing no shame in shepherding 18 million to Brits to Tenerife every hour and charging them £15 quid to have a piss ‘because it can’, Gatwick remains aspirational in the integrity of its short/long haul mix. What this equates to at the macro level is a simple but ‘nice’ approach; two terminals, food approved by Jamie Oliver and down playing the fact that you are in a giant Wetherspoons.
At the granular level Gatwick however falls foul of the usual British airport oddities. Firstly: mini Harrods. Now the Porcelain Gentleman is an unashamed Royalist but the mini Harrods and its ‘merch’ takes the appearance of one last attempt by the queen to give you a shake down, force you at cultural gun point to buy some British sweets no-one has eaten in 30 years and then boot you back to whence you came with the assurance all colonial memorabilia is covered, before she releases the corgi’s on you. Then there is the appearance of shops such as ‘fatface’. Not sold on these shores for 15 years, yet merits a place as a retail unit that may well be the last one you remember before heading home to Italy. Swathes of people in Rome must walk round in fat face gilets utterly bemused that a rain drenched island in northern Europe shows preference in wearing surfing clothes.
Airports though, are not about the shops but about the people. In the British rom com ‘love actually’ the Hugh Grant character famously opined that the arrivals hall at an airport is the best example of the human spirit and power of love. Maybe. But the departures lounge, where the frays in relationships start to unravel as the delays, unnecessary quaffing of holiday commencement gin and overall fear that you are going to have to spend two whole uninterrupted weeks with these people you proclaim to love most days as you swam off to the office – is a far more insightful place into who we all really are.
In light of all of the above the toilets were very spacious, considered, relaxed – very knowing that for many this was the point of no return.
Airport toilets are fascinating given the variance of destination for all those huddled over the urinals. One chap may be about to embark on some sort of all inclusive personal nightmare, another on a stag doo and thus someone else’s nightmare is to be thrust upon them. The atmosphere is thus much more about the individual, as though all are about to hurtle through the clouds in a large metal can, sadly there is no collective empathy between a man heading to goa for a yoga retreat and one heading to Chicago to finalise a divorce.
This atomisation is best illustrated by the wash basin. No normal taps here, allowing one to indulge washing hands, potentially glance to the chap beside them and say ‘the food here is great, try the crab’, instead it is sensory taps, that start when your hands enter its arena of acknowledgment and then shut off after a short period of time even if you are not quite done.
Amazing really, technology, allows things as trivial as taps to tell you ‘you’re done, get out, please don’t be late for the flight, it causes our staff a massive inconvenience’
Feeling like you are listening to Kenny G when there is no music even on may not seem possible or even make much sense, but it is a commendable achievement, especially when the air outside the restroom facilities is thick with anticipation and frantic consumption.
Cutting edge ergonomic design has not been applied, nevertheless a calming aura has been created, all they need do now is replace that nasal voice from the sky reminding everyone to hurry to the gate with the soothing enunciations of Joanna Lumley. Ah Lumley. 6/10