The Pakistani chap and I chatted amicably as he drove the bus of which I was the sole occupant to the pickup point for my hire car. ( I’m a bit backward in the modern terminology department. The driver was not happy when I made reference to the ‘van’ we were in – ‘bus’ he corrected me. Once upon a time a bus was a big long vehicle capable of carrying upwards of 30 passengers. Nowadays it seems that anything that carries more than 8 or 9 is called a bus.)
I had booked the car online at 2 o’clock one morning a few weeks earlier in Brisbane, almost nodding off in front of my laptop while occasionally cursing loudly about the fact that I hadn’t upgraded to a speedier plan to connect to the internet. To make things easier for myself when I arrived in the UK I had decided to pick the car up at Heathrow Airport and take the M4 Motorway into London, followed by a few minutes drive on the North Circular ring road and I’d be ‘home’.
On the contract for the car the designated pickup point was ‘Heathrow Airport’ so I fondly imagined that I’d pick up the car reasonably close to where I exited the terminal.
In my 21-year absence Heathrow Airport and its associated bits and pieces have become a rather large town, sprawling in an untidy fashion over vast tracts of countryside.
As a result, it’s a 15 minute drive in the van from Terminal 4 to the car pick-up point and I begin to think that the friendly Pakistani man is a lunatic who likes to keep driving round in circles rather than take us to our destination. It will take me a week or two to become accustomed to England’s roundabouts again.
Eventually I am deposited on the forecourt of one of the big hotels that flank the airport and, as it’s about 8am, the area is awash with men of various ages in dark suits trying to look as though the sky might fall in if they don’t make it to that important meeting NOW. Laptops and mobile phones to the fore they mill about on the pavement, glancing hurriedly at watches, appearing to tear strips off the hapless souls at the other ends of the numerous phones.
The van driver has kindly chucked my luggage in the general direction of the footpath and I hurriedly try to stack it tidily where it won’t be run over by the hundreds of taxis that are coming and going in a steady stream. I don’t want to block the pedestrian access either but as soon as I get everything neatly piled high and turn to go inside to find a trolley there’s an avalanche of bags onto the pavement. After fruitlessly attempting to remedy the situation a number of times I offer an apology to all and sundry then run inside in the hope of getting some help.
I’m in luck and whisk a trolley outside just in time to witness an unfortunate be-suited chap tripping on the edge of my luggage heap and landing on all fours on my port. I race over to offer assistance only to cop an earful about how only an idiot would leave their belongings in such a place. Although I’m too tired to care much I make conciliatory burblings and apologize as I dust off his briefcase which, I note, is feather light compared to anything I’ve been carrying. No laptop there then, I think to myself in a strangely smug way. (What’s THAT about??)
After he storms off, cursing in an accent I can’t identify, I try to find a combination of pieces of luggage that will stay put, untethered, piled high on the trolley.
Muttering to myself and occasionally retrieving a straying piece of luggage I manage to weave my way inside and am relieved to find that I have left the hustle and bustle behind me. It’s serenely quiet and civilised on this side of the glass doors.