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Anthony Peacock: Back to School

an empty departure lounge at the airport, anthony peacock reflected in the window


This week’s blog is from Anthony Peacock. Read on for some really beautiful and thought-provoking insights into the spectrum of human emotion found in airports and the wisdom we can all gain from the folly of youth.


Back to School

I’m writing this from an airport departure lounge in Barcelona, sometime after 5am. It’s pitch dark outside, bitterly cold, and the terminal is largely deserted.

There are a few lone travellers about. Plus a massive school group, all done up in identical orange and white fleeces. Because these days you can fly to London for less than a tenner as long as you don’t mind getting up before most people in Spain go to bed.

At least the kids are happy. They’re talking about the exciting adventures they are bound to get up to while away. Underage drinking, illicit smoking, and perhaps a bit of amateur seduction for the more risqué among the crowd.

Everyone else, me included, just looks plain miserable. After all, there’s no more depressing place than an early morning airport, is there?

We’ve all got our own reasons for feeling unhappy. For me, it’s an unscheduled journey I’d rather not be making, at a time when all sorts of other stuff is going on too. Having been to bed at 1:30am and waking up long before the alarm went off at 4am doesn’t help. Especially after a sleepless night in a grotty part of town next to the airport.

The man opposite me is engrossed in his computer, although it’s clearly not a happy relationship. He’s not liking what he sees, jabbing at the keys, scowling at the screen, which contains some sort of interminable excel file, from what I could see earlier. So much anger, so early in the morning.

I’d guess he got up in even more of a hurry than me, tie at a weird angle and collars that are sticking up. He keeps running his fingers through his hair. You can almost feel the stress running off him. Probably he needs to be prepare for a meeting that’s happening way sooner than he wants it to. And if he screws up, he’s in trouble.

Then there’s the woman sitting at the end of the row, about as far as possible from everyone else as it’s possible to get. She’s staring vacantly into space, a million miles away, clutching a tissue very tightly in her left hand.

Airports are funny places. They’re associated with happiness and sadness, excitement and desperation, reunions and partings, work and leisure. And for many people – whatever their reason for travelling – fear and anxiety.

In his book, ‘A Week at the Airport’, writer Alain de Botton describes airports as a crucible of human emotion: a microcosm of mankind placed on a conveniently-sized petri dish.

“There is a painful contrast between the enormous objective projects that we set in train, at incalculable financial and environmental cost – the construction of terminals, of runways and of wide-bodied aircraft – and the subjective psychological knots that undermine their use,” writes de Botton. “How quickly all the advantages of technological civilisation are wiped out by a domestic squabble. At the beginning of human history, as we struggled to light fires and to chisel fallen trees into rudimentary canoes, who could have predicted that long after we had managed to send men to the moon and aeroplanes to Australasia, we would still have such trouble knowing how to tolerate ourselves, forgive our loved ones and apologise for our tantrums?”

That profound truth, like every bit of genuinely insightful writing, reflects our everyday reality. It’s not only present in that airport lounge in Barcelona, but also in everyone you see around you, right now.

And it’s too easy to focus on those negative issues and think of all the modern conveniences of everyday life, such as airports, phones and computers – as just a way to make them more acute.

Even if you’re flying to the other end of the world, text messages, emails and social media will always follow you. Whatever crisis you face, modern transport and telecommunications will bring you closer to its epicentre faster than ever before. There’s even Wi-Fi on the actual plane now: previously the final frontier of digital seclusion.

Whether they like it or not, people are being forced to confront situations sooner and faster than they think. And it’s all too easy to be sucked into a web of useless anger and negativity, especially at 5am.

In fact, the only people who weren’t abjectly miserable in that airport were the kids. Because they didn’t have a care in the world, they didn’t mind the earliness of the hour, they saw each day only as an adventure and an opportunity. They wore their worries as casually as their school fleeces.

That’s the mindset we could all do with getting back into from time to time. In theory, we’re meant to be the responsible adults setting an example to kids about how to behave. In reality, it’s us who can often learn a lot from them.


For more insights from Anthony, read his last blog, ‘Sleepless in Seattle – Or Was It Toronto?

For more blogs from our community, ULU Nation, meet Tom Corbett

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