14 January 2011

Love-Hate Relationship (LHR)

I’ve been through Heathrow quite a bit recently, and I’m reminded of my mixed feelings towards it.

On one hand, it fills me with excitement and anticipation. If I were merely going to the UK or Europe I’d probably arrive in a different airport. LHR, for me, means transatlantic journeys like Hong Kong, Canada or Dubai. And each time I arrive I never fail to be impressed by the Indian (or are they Pakistani?) people there, especially the men in their turbans. It’s as if the very employees are teasing me with a hint of the exotic destinations on offer. As an Irish person I wonder how they feel about the British Empire. It doesn't seem that any of the former colonies are quite as disgruntled as the Irish, and some of them even managed to drift away without any bloody revolutions.

On the other hand, the airport itself is bleak and, frankly, unpleasant. The process of changing terminals inevitably involves a bus-tour of a construction site. Out the window, the grounds of the airport are like a vast wasteland, sprawling out for miles. The fences enclosing the works even have circles of barbed wire across the top of them to keep us on our route. At one point I remember thinking this was a temporary situation but now the building has been going on as long as I remember, so aside from all the dust and concrete, there’s a sense of hopelessness about the place. Nothing will be finished. Ever.

Even once you get indoors this sense of timelessness persists as the lighting is identical twenty-four hours a day. Or night. It’s like a limbo unaffected by weather or time-zones. The slate and steel surfaces are slightly worn from regular brushing and polishing but nothing ever closes, the queues just get longer or shorter. When travelling alone it can be especially eerie, walking along remote corridors, following signs that lead you up and down deserted escalators, into the depths of the building (or have I traversed some walkway into an adjoining building?) only to find a bored looking individual asking you to stand on a worn ‘x’ taped to the floor and look into a camera. At that moment the bleary-eyed, bewildered passenger is immortalized on film for the purposes of a security check at the other end of some queue or other.

If I were one of the staff I would amuse myself in the quiet hours by browsing these portraits of human misery. I would love to see a compilation of the expressions on the people who find themselves standing before the cameras, having trudged around lugging carry-on baggage and duty-free around the maze with them. I remember seeing a piece in an exhibition once where the artist had compiled some stills from pornographic films that showed women’s faces in the moment of orgasm. I imagined instead using the gormless, slightly irritated faces of my fellow passengers. As I was called to approach the camera this contrast was still in my mind. I suspect my photo has a little smile in it.

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