Heathrow

I fell asleep in my clothes last night. 8am now and everyone is still sleeping. I don’t want to go and put my pyjamas on. My clothes are in the suitcase in the other room where Delph is sleeping. I’m lying here and plotting my chances. She wakes up easy you see. Anyhow, who wakes up in the morning and then puts their pyjamas on? Pretending I’m not a slack-ass, happy, clothes-sleeper person.

Heathrow Airport is wide awake. Plane after plane hangs low over my mum’s house gliding towards their runway. Aerial West London is one large aircraft strip. If you land at Heathrow, you’re often treated to one of the best tourist tricks only the British could invent – a landing tour over the River Thames.

Using the winding blue line as your marker, you take in London’s sights – Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, the London Eye. St Paul’s Cathedral and my mum’s house – in the not so iconic part of town.. Still, once I caught her hanging her washing out in our back garden from the plane. It was a pretty proud moment for me. A population of 8.7 million people in London and I can see you, Ma!

London is growing and growing. Its main airport is growing too. Soon Heathrow won’t be outside London as it was in 1946 when it first opened for business. Back then, Heathrow was a wheat growing and market gardening site, having been converted from heathland in the 19th century. It’s destiny was forever changed in 1926, when an RAF officer, Norman MacMillan used it for a forced landing and take off. Must have been a no-big-deal moment for Norman because he noted the suitability of its flat land. Looks like Norman called it.

My cousin, Krystian, currently based at Heathrow and flying with British Airways, tells how incredibly busy Heathrow is now. If planes delay or dawdle leaving the gate, the money literally pours out of their fuselage. Planes will happily close their doors, leave the stand and sit on the tarmac, waiting to take off while everyone on board develops a healthy, two-hour case of claustrophobia.

Heathrow has become its own city. In order to support its own infrastructure, each building butts up against the residential end of West London in a way not seen with other UK airports. The greenfield sites around Heathrow are almost completely gone. Meanwhile, BAA are in the final planning stages for another runway after having received Parliamentary approval – we have to, they say, if we want Heathrow Airport to keep up with the expectations of being a world hub for air travel.

Heathrow’s proposed third runway – still a shockingly small amount of runways for an international airport – Paris and Frankfurt have four runways each and Amsterdam has six – has been designated to replace a 12th century church in the parish of Hillingdon. And interestingly, the largest barn in England. Built in 1462, Sir John Betjeman called the Great Barn the ‘Cathedral of Middlesex’. Can you imagine such a demolition order in America or Canada? Where nothing this old (man-made) even exists – but hey, here in the UK we’ll scrap it for a runway. For jobs and expansion. For growth. And I get it – for my family; my mum’s, my aunt’s and Krystian’s livelihoods. Thanks, Norman.

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