The Sunday Times Magazine - UK (2022-05-01)

(EriveltonMoraes) #1

P


rologue: the travelator
Don’t run, it’s not done. Just walk really fast
but in a way that looks like you aren’t. Fast
legs, slow arms, like a duck. A duck with arms.
I’m just going to pop into that toilet, says
Harriet, 14 travelators in.
No, wait till we get through passport control.
And stop running.
Stage one: misplaced relief
Look, kids. Everything’s fine. The newspapers
were exaggerating ... again. People are going
straight through. We’ll be home in time for tea.
“How old are you?” demands an agency worker
affiliated with but not a part of the Border Force, her
child-catcher finger snaking towards our youngest.
“Say 12,” I whisper.
“Nine,” says the nine-year-old, proudly. “But I’ll be
ten in November.”
“Get in the family queue.”
I look from the happy childless couples cavorting
through the empty ePassport gates on my left to the
family queue on my right. It is a 48,000-mile crocodile
of crying, sweating humanity and it’s not moving.
Please, I plead to the child-catcher, can we just go
through the eGates. We all have ePassports, look ...
“No!”
Stage two: denial
It’s OK, kids. It’s moving. They’re opening up
a whole fourth desk. We’re moving.
Stage three: blame and recrimination
We have now been in the queue for longer than we
were on the plane. We got across France quicker than
we got from just over there to just over here. All
around toddlers are losing their minds, parents are
whisper-fighting and child-catchers are patrolling.
Why didn’t you let me go to the toilet?
Why didn’t you let us go camping in Dorset?
Why didn’t we use Gatwick? They like kids there.
Stage four: anger and bargaining
The one-year-old in front of us is having an entirely
understandable full-on meltdown. Her mother is
frazzled and desperate, out of strategies and purees.
“I’m going to sort this out,” says Harriet.
“Don’t sort this out,” I say. “Look at the sign, the sign
threatening arrest for any naughtiness whatsoever.”

CHARLIE CLIFT FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES MAGAZINE, GETTY IMAGES


MATT RUDD


The seven stages of


an airport queue


Harriet is not listening. She’s doing the mother
equivalent of a Wonder Woman spin. A terrifying glow
forms around her and then she’s off, under ropes, over
bags and into the chief child-catcher’s nest. I start
googling “criminal barristers near me”.
Minutes later, she’s back and no longer glowing.
“Everything OK, darling?”
“I asked them why they didn’t have more people to
process families. They said there were too many
families.” And then I watch as the child-catchers edge
nervously around Harriet. They beckon the other
desperate mother and her family out of line and away.
Stage five: resignation
This is now where we live. For as long as any of us can
remember we have been queueing at Heathrow. Those
queueing next to us are our neighbours. We’ve shared
so much together. We’ve watched our kids grow up,
marry and have kids together. I’m now a grandparent
but my grandkids can’t go through the eGates either.
Those people who pass us every half-hour, one queue
concertina ahead or behind, are now our social life. We
can’t have dinner parties together but we do have the
water bottles and energy bars thrown at us by the
child-catchers after the fainting began.
“Oh look, darling, the McEwans are here.”
“How’ve you been?”
“As well as can be expected.”
“Fruit bar?”
“Don’t mind if I do.”
Stage six: acceptance
Kids, the average person spends 52 days of their life
queueing. Think of this as practice. Bad queuers are bad
people. Patience is a skill. Imagine you’re on a beach.
“I’m hungry.”
Imagine you’re not hungry. Relax every muscle.
“My phone’s out of battery.”
Imagine your phone is not out of battery.
I point at the non-UK-or-EU queue over in the far
corner. Skeletons and wheelies queueing since the
Middle Ages, archaeologists dusting carefully
around them. It could be worse, I say.
Stage seven: hope ... again
Over there in the distance — the front of the
queue? A mirage? No, it’s getting closer. They
must have six desks open now of, what, 25?
Amazing. We’re almost there.
“Don’t be rude to the guard,” I whisper at
Wonder Woman. She settles with a death stare
and we’re through. And we’re at the luggage
carousel. And the luggage hasn’t arrived. They
hadn’t been expecting so much of it n
@mattrudd

Please, I plead to the


child-catcher, can we just


go through the eGates?


The Sunday Times Magazine • 7

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