I have spent most of my life charging around the world in the front of aeroplanesI have been in and out of war zones, been chased by Russian Migs and had to deal with hurricanes; tornados and waterspouts. I have had engines blow up in flight, and have had to fix a broken aeroplane with rebel troops about to take over the airfield.
I have spent most of my life charging around the world in the front of aeroplanes.
I have been in and out of war zones, been chased by Russian Migs and had to deal with hurricanes; tornados and waterspouts. I have had engines blow up in flight, and have had to fix a broken aeroplane with rebel troops about to take over the airfield. I have had to deal with ridiculous security procedures, inept Air Traffic Controllers who can't speak English and been detained by African Army Officers high on hashish.
However, one hazard to aviation that I have managed to avoid, until recently, has been Terminal Five at Heathrow.
I have been able to regard it with the sort of detached fascination that a Wildebeest can look a lion kill in the Masai Mara, or a motorist can look at a pileup on the M4. In other words, a tragedy that I hope will not affect me.
That all changed last month.
I was booked on a flight from Paris to Brisbane, via London, Terminal Five.
In preparation, I took hand luggage only, for this six-week sojourn, because I have had a number of things stolen from my baggage, over the years, at Thiefrow, and did not want to repeat the experience.
The flight from Paris was only slightly late, but we still had two and a half hours to make the connection to Singapore. Even to my biased mind that seemed to be adequate for a transfer from Terminal Five to Terminal Four.
The parking bay for our small Airbus from Paris was occupied by another aircraft, so we had to wait. Then there was no operator to position the mobile walkway. Finally, we were allowed off the aircraft and were directed down a passage. There was no motorised walkway to speed things along so we walked and redoubled down passages until we came to an escalator. This was the first of about seventeen. These contraptions elevate and then descend you to a series of confusing levels with U-turns and passages until you lose all sense of direction.
At last we arrived at a railway platform which was served by what seemed to be a driverless shuttle, that promised us transport to other terminals.
It merely took us to another part of what seemed to be Terminal Five.
More escalators, which then delivered us to place where signs declared photography is prohibited. Now we had to stand in line in order to have our cases disembowelled, our shoes examined and our heredity investigated.
What attracted my attention here was a sign that declared that, "ANY MEMBERS OF THE PUBLIC WHO SHOW FRUSTRATION OR USE BAD LANGUAGE WILL BE SUBJECTED TO DELAY AND PROSECUTION".
We had already been considerably delayed, and I wondered what "Bad Language" meant, having recently seen British television programmes aired before the "watershed" 8pm in which there seems to be no limit to the language used.
I wondered how many High Street Stores would stay in business if they treated their customers like this.
After clearing security and immigration (for an internal European Union flight), we had to descend another escalator to a locked door, behind which the bus we were supposed to catch had just departed. Twenty minutes later another bus arrived and we embarked. This bus charged off into the dark like a Majority Government on a mission, until, after five minutes, completing a U-turn and charging back in the opposite direction. Twenty five minutes later, after carrying out a series of manoeuvres around temporary traffic obstacles, it delivered us to Terminal Four.
We were just in time to catch our flight to Singapore where that Terminal Building is, by contrast, decorated with orchids, has high-speed walkways and free foot massage machines.
Our 'walkabout' in Australia was as good as a 'dreamtime', marred only by the thought of having to return home via Terminal Five.
As it happened, the return only involved two escalators, albeit with the same dire threats in the security hall, and they didn't lose a single suitcase.
So why talk about it at all?
British people are as stoic about queues, delays, being messed about by public servants as they are about the weather, politics, rail services and inflation. Perhaps I have been living in France too long.
Then the real potential purpose of Terminal Five occurred to me.
It could be where the 2012 Olympics will be held.
The building is completed and is relatively waterproof, although it has been constructed like a giant mecano set. It is useless for its design objective and can be easily dismantled, like the Dome, after 2012.
The only thing that needs to be done is to change the Olympic events.
'Formation Swimming', 'Javelin' and 'Cycling' will have to be scrapped for events such as 'Queuing', 'Standing in Hope', 'Containing Frustration' and 'Not Swearing Under Any Provocation'.
England will lead the medals table from the start.
The Television coverage will be easy as the CCTVs are all in place.
Drug Dogs are on stand-by and read to 'sniff' at the athletes.
Personnel trained to carry out body cavity searches are already on site.
No rare newts, endangered frogs or migrating wildfowl will be at risk from new construction work and all foreign competitors will be forced to pay the recently introduced Airport Tax before competing.
And I, in spite of the drop in value of the pound, will be able to view these "Newlympics" from France while sipping wine at a quarter of the price of the UK supermarkets while watching marathon runners galloping up down-going escalators.
So my gentle advice for visitors to France is not to travel to France via Terminal Five.
The ferries offer the possibilities of a relaxed meal in transit, after which you are delivered into the highly efficient French Motorway system.
The Channel Tunnel will carry you to France from London in less time that it takes to go from Terminal Five to any other terminal at Heathrow, and with a great deal more dignity.
The Charter Airlines from Luton, Stansted and Gatwick are the cheapest option, if you don't need your own car at your destination.
And the best part is that, during your holiday in France, you don't have to be concerned about your return home and the delays and indignities that lie in wait for unsuspecting passengers who try to travel via Terminal Five!