Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Terminal Terminal

I don't want to trivialise the horrors of inner cities blighted by lack of investment and the intentional abandonment of a newly created underclass.

I don't want to make light of the despair endured by those who live in communities blighted by misguided sixties modernist ideals of town planning.

And I certainly don't want to let Pontins in Prestatyn of the good burghers of fucking Rhyll off any kind of hook. But in its own way, Terminal Five at Heathrow is the ghastliest, most hateful part of the UK in which I’ve ever had the misfortune to endure a couple of hours.

This is my second visit. So I can confirm that the harsh rudeness of the security staff was no one-off. They bark and shout a constant stream of commands at you, seemingly for their own amusement. The official at the front of my queue roared every ten seconds that we had to take off our belts and shoes. The people in the next queue were allowed to keep their belts and shoes on unless said items were a bit silly. So clearly this is not a hard and fast regulation, but something to be imposed at random, possibly for the sake of humiliating passengers. I kept expecting our man to scream, "Now dance magic monkey. I said DANCE!"

Once you're through security, you can laugh at the signs lining the conveyor from the x-ray machine which read "Trays will stop automatically" while straining with all your might to hold your tray as the conveyor attempts to shoot it out into the central concourse.

The first thing it would hit if you let go is one of the luxury cars, slowly rotating. You could win one of these. You don't have time to get your bearings before being assaulted by commodity fetishism, aspiration, longing.

When this place opened a lot was made of the designer shops here. As with St Pancras International, what was once a diversion if you had a few minutes to spare before embarking on your journey is now an obligation - you WILL shop. That is why you are here.

There's no pub here: we're too posh for pubs. The first thing you see looks like a pub, but it's not; it's a dreaded 'bar and kitchen' where you have to wait to be seated. Here and at the tapas cafe on the first floor (£5 upwards for the smallest tapas dishes) Inbev have a depressing monopoly on the beers on offer: Stella, Staropramen, Becks Vier, Murphys instead of Guinness, and a smoothflow abomination of Bass ale. At the tapas bar they don't even list the beers on the menu - even each brand of soft drinks and mineral water gets its own listing alongside the wine, but there's one line advising you that 'a range of beers, lagers and ciders are also available at the bar' (if you're that pikey).

Even the Wetherspoons – when I eventually find it – calls itself a bar and restaurant, not a pub, as evidenced by the fact that the beer is almost a quid a pint dearer in this branch than in my high street.

WHSmith, Dixons, Wagamama compete with Tiffany Prada and Paul Smith.

Gordon Ramsay’s ‘Plane Food’ sells a bacon and egg roll for £7.

A Christmas tree seemingly designed by cybermen, a horrid, silver skeleton of a tree, dominates the main atrium.

And if you don’t want to buy things, there are fewer places to just sit than I’ve seen in any other terminal.

In the first terminal built after we all started carrying laptops and mobile phones that need charging, there are fewer plug sockets visible than I’ve seen in any other terminal.

This is a nightmare vision of what the more upmarket British high street will look like when large chains and greedy landlords have succeeded in squeezing out every last drop of individuality, charm and character, when everything has been reduced to basic prerogative of consumption for its own sake and when we no longer even blink at paying five quid for a cardboard panini, three quid for a coffee, and four fifty for a shit beer dispensed like slop. When local influences are suffocated and stamped on in the drive to global homogeneity of aspiration.

I’ve seen the future. And it fucking sucks.

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