When I say “airport” what do you think of?
For me, an immediate image pops in my head – that of the opening scene of Love Actually, shot in the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. It is a beautiful moment, filled with love and smiles and warm embraces.
I have worked at Gatwick airport for over 2 years, on and off. It was never my plan and I never intended to stay that long but some things you chose, others you don’t. When I started, working in the World Duty Free seemed unsuited to me. I had a degree in Interior Architecture, a fervent passion for writing and the desire to leave my own mark in this world. Surely, this wasn’t going to happen while I sold Dior perfumes, gave away leaflets, stood behind the tills or did L’Oréal makeovers. No, I was meant for something else. But what was it exactly?
The answer to this question is still waiting to be found but over the years, I have learned that beyond the crazy shift patterns and long commute, beyond this feeling of complete uselessness that often submerges me late at night, Gatwick remains a unique place.
Yesterday, I worked a 12 hours shift. The passenger count was announced to be 37,000 people. I’m terrible at maths but I’ll work this one out. The first passengers start walking through the Duty Free around 4am, the last ones leave around 10pm. This means 18 hours of a constant ebb and flow of traffic. This also means my eyes saw an average of 24,000 people in 12 hours. Isn’t that unbelievable?
That is 24,000 people with their own character and job title. 24,000 people with their own sources of happiness and torment. For the writer in me, that is 24,000 hypothetical characters. It is the very definition of ‘inspirational’. Because when I think of it, in 2 years, I have met the most extraordinary people. A hypnotist who convinced my colleague that his hand was glued to the top of his head. A medium who said she could see the dead and feel the energy in people. A footballer who bought two watches and walked out without the warranty under the pretext that when they broke, he’d “just buy a new one”.
I have met the most ordinary people too. A young couple going to get married in Tenerife. A woman flying to sell her parent’s house after her mother’s funeral. A 14 year old girl getting on a plane for the first time.
And I have met people working in all kinds of sectors. The director of Universal Edition. A German illustrator and editor for children’s books. A Bulgarian architecture graduate from Oxford University (what are the odds?). A Latvian woman earning a living in a clothes store in Guernsey.
Yes. I complain and I rant, I get bored and I feel worthless, I sell £500 worth of La Prairie skincare and I hate to see money spent like this. I hate it when people walk past you like they walk past a lamp post, when they wave their hand at your face and when they don’t say thank you. I hate it when they are spoilt, when they have forgotten their last pair of Miu Miu sunglasses and buy another one “for the holiday”. I hate the arrogance in some people’s stares, the pity in their eyes as they take my perfumed blotters. I hate the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach – that little voice that says that my CV will never get picked up and the most use I will ever be to someone is neither build their house nor write the words that will move them but rather fix their pale skin with bronzing powder.
I hate it all. But yesterday, I finally saw the other side of the coin. I saw the richness and the diversity. I saw the friendliness and the warmth. I learned that a bit of gloss brings a smile to a 7 year old. And that if you set out with a smile on your face, even the most tedious of days will turn out just fine.