October 1969: ‘Heathrow is a bowl of lies’

Elisabeth Jank, Hendon Common, 1960

It is a Friday evening — and that’s all the workaday detail you have here. We are sitting in the London tram at Brixton, but it’s been hours since we got to the station. We have made it to Heathrow, but only made it as far as the arrivals hall. There is no taxi standing outside. It is a Friday evening. Late for everyone but us.

Cabbies seem extraordinarily desperate to find any passengers. We’ve made it as far as Terminals 4 and 5, where there is one lane of the taxi rank (precariously labelled: A; B; C; D; E). Despite the signs, dozens of cabbies are staring down to meet us. We are forced to settle for a parting offer of £4.80 to take us to our awaiting airlifter. No cabbie is more than 15 or 20 feet away from us. Only if we are quite moving do they stop to wave to us.

That’s a subject we have covered already, in more detail and with the help of others in these pages. Now let’s go on. We get into a taxi. Again no opening berth for us; we have to exchange taxis and get into the outbound line. Our cab took us to the airport; we are still there for the outbound line.

Sharing a cab is as instant, gratifying and enjoyable as flying. The cable car up from Terminals 4 is terrifically easy to get into, and a big signal.

‘Tubes,’ I tell the driver, half expecting his sour reaction, ‘this is not the tube I think you mean.’

‘It’s called the “creative road”,’ says the cabbie kindly.

At one point on the way, I poke my head inside the clock, to see the number of hours I have been at Heathrow so far. There are five hours and 32 minutes on the clock. So, I say, when are we going home?

‘Arrived at Heathrow,’ says the cab driver, ‘at 1340.’

‘And a bunch of us are still here, over-long time?’

The taxi driver is a real Pompidou.

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