13. Rome


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As I continued to write my book about John, the businessman who travels a lot, I started to think about his early life. I mean I know that he was born at Kings College Hospital and that his father wasn’t actually around for his birth. I then jumped a bit, and decided that at around 40, he gains Silver status of the British Airways ‘Executive Club’

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‘The woman by the lounge door scans John’s ticket and smiles. “Please, do come in,” she says. Inside, men and women sit quietly, reading newspapers or staring at ipads. John walks over to the bar and pours himself a large gin and tonic. The sense of stillness here feels totally at odds with the restlessness of the rest of the terminal. There, it feels like if you want something, you have to pay for it; that you have to fend for yourself. Yet in here, everything feels different. Everything is free. It’s as if the airline, or maybe even the world, is saying “what is ours is yours. Please help yourself to anything”‘.

And so John heads off to Rome.

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I remember arriving back in London from one of my writing trips away. I could hear singing coming from ahead as I passed through customs. ‘That’s odd,’ I thought and wondered if maybe a gospel choir has been recorded to make passengers feel slightly better about arriving in such a big and sprawling and city. When I reached the ‘landside’ concourse, the whole area was filled with hundreds of people, all standing round and singing ‘you’re welcome home!’ over and over again. It was amazing. A woman in jeans and t-shirt rushed towards me and threw her arms around my neck, singing ‘you’re welcome home’ into my ear. I felt kind of loved and certainly welcomed.

A couple of minutes later and she releases her grip, though she’s still singing and looking into my eyes. Eventually I ask ‘what’s all this for?’ But she doesn’t seem to hear me. So I ask again, this time a little louder. “What do you mean?” she replies, looking a little hurt. And I notice her face. Its earlier signs of enthusiasm and warmth, now showing a slight awkwardness. I notice her eyes dart briefly away.

It’s still incredibly noisy around us, what with all the singing. And it feels like ages before she starts to lean towards me.  I try to imagine what her answer to my question is going to be. ‘Maybe they’re born again Christians. Or maybe there is no reason. Really? There has to be a reason!’ I slowly move my ear towards her mouth. And a few seconds later, she whispers into it. “It’s for a T-Mobile advert”

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