At Stansted


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Still stumbling in semi-shock and air fug and facelessness, we spill into hanger space turned holy and modern, and follow our leaders to the black-brick road, twisting and turning through Givenchy-soaked souk. The duty-free sales drones line this sparkled path, their faces long lodged between boredom and desire. They’re like lizards tensed, but still; eyeing a prey that has no chance of escape. They know the scent of dead mammal walking and are certain of our taste – but they’re certain too, that while this will be a necessary kill, it will also still not quite do it; still not be enough.

We began on the black-brick road, too, just a few moments before, just after the line of interrogation cells, there to greet you at passport control. The cells are named after the trees you can or could have seen, out there in the distant Essex countryside – the emerald woods that once engulfed this low cost carrier enclave. Nowadays, thanks to so many improvements, you can get deported in Silver Birch, or detained without trial in Horse Chestnut.

But past all this we go, reduced to tight, ectoplasmic bundles of holiday frustration, carry-on bags and shorts, thinking of nothing but the just-finished ordinary humiliations of the airport check-in, the lines of consumer-prisoner-tourists unpacking their sex toys and rubber rings before the indifferent clerks, always ready to charge small fortunes for any extra kilo.

And then there is the very ordinariness of a smiling thug to contend with, machine gun and kevlar, there amongst the balsamic chicken and avocado sandwiches at Pret a Manger; or there’s the slicked-back brill-creamed lout by the interrogation rooms, dark suited descendent of the Cray twins, now with government papers. The echoes of glamour, of international travel as a mark of the cosmopolitan, the adventurer, the spy, have all now been trodden down to the last, pathetic grape, squished between the fat toes of an all-day breakfast gouging PR hack, as he burps up the images of long-dead voyagers into suitable, low-cost packages.

We passengers, we many now cowed to behave like the few, are the enemy of this airport, a status made painfully clear, time after time after time. A war is going on, a war of daily, quotidian terror, waged by the drones and the gunmen, the suspicious and the racist, the uniformed and the arrogant, against the huddled masses, the faceless numbers of the departure rooms, herded into pens, then out again, stripped of our money, our dignity, our humanity, and all with a hideous, estuary laugh. “There’s another one got two different socks on this morning!” roars one of them to his mates before a humiliated, mortified prisoner, waiting for his boots to be x-rayed, his humanity handed back, crumpled and bruised by the guard’s meat pie fingers.

They are the dark forces and lizard kings that run our land now, own it and have sex with it. They are Stansted. They are the ‘stony place’. Yes, that is really what it means. And yes, on reflection, of course it does.

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