At 5.30 am we pulled into the airport car park. A line of headlights filled up the spaces all around and men in suits rushed towards the shuttle bus. A man in his 60s, with white hair in immaculate waves and carrying a soft brown leather suitcase, stepped up onto the bus and sat in deep contemplation as the bus pulled off. The journey to Terminal 2 took only a few minutes and most of those aboard the bus stepped off, walking at a sharp space to join the long line of people waiting to go through security. A single member of the airport staff was checking each person’s boarding card; those manning the scanners talked about the previous night’s television while countermanding each other’s instructions, one said shoes could stay on while another said to remove them.
It was 5.45 and the thought of early morning flights on a regular basis was something unpleasant to contemplate. The white haired man from the bus sat nearby, staring fixedly ahead. He seemed deep within a world of his own, perhaps mentally preparing for the business of the day ahead. The flight time was 6.40, but it was 7 o’clock before we left the ground. At around 7.30, the pilot announced that we were making good progress and would be landing at Heathrow in 20 minutes and would be on the stand at 7.55, five minutes ahead of schedule. Being Heathrow, a further announcement soon came that we were to be put into a holding pattern. It was well after 8.00 before we stepped from the plane. The distinctive shock of white hair shuffled up the plane a few people ahead of us.
My companion, Irish born and bred, wondered if Ireland had ever really gained independence. “What’s the point of being a republic if British dominions like Australia and Canada are more independent than we are?” Being a Brit, it was hard to respond to the question.
Filing into the corrugated aluminium tube that accommodates the Irish gates at Heathrow, it was noticeable that there weren’t many suits waiting to fly the other way.
London was buzzing. The late March weather was so mild that lunch was taken at a pavement café in Covent Garden; crowds of people gathered in the spring sunshine to watch the street entertainers. The business of the day seemed satisfactory and by 5.30 we were back in Heathrow printing out self-service boarding cards. The cards advised that boarding of the plane would commence at 6.50, but it was nearly that time before the inbound flight arrived. There used to be a little bar at the departure gates where it was possible to buy a cup of tea and a sandwich; it seems long gone. Imagine doing this on a regular basis.
The flight was bumpy, but most people seemed not to notice; there were many slumbering suits. There seemed few people waiting for the late flight back to London. The much vaunted Terminal 2 does not have a pick up point for the shuttle bus; you have to walk to Terminal 1. We stepped onto the bus and the white haired man was sat at the back, as impassive at evening as in the morning; his suit still looking pristine. While others around him made telephone calls, he looked ahead, an expression of immense weariness.
The man seemed to encapsulate the national mood, putting up with whatever comes along and working because there is no other option.