Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Taking Stockholm

They're having a laugh are those airport retail outlet bosses. At Stansted - no that should be Scamsted - the WH Smith was chaos. The queue snaked through the shop to such an extent that it was difficult to discern whether someone was looking through Good Housekeeping or waiting to hand over the cash.

Direct action was the only way. "Are you queuing?" I ventured to a shaven-haired man in a suit. 'I certainly hope so," was his jovial reply.

For who could fail to be animated. The early flushes of an August day were upon us and we were all a communion of souls, a happy band of gallant travellers.

For my own part, I caught the 5.10am Liverpool Street to Stansted Express. I'd actually planned to take the 5.25am. But thanks to working out the machine for pre paid train tickets in less than 27 years, I was at the airport 15 minutes earlier than scheduled.

I had therefore even more time to kill. The minutes drag and hours jerk when I'm on my own at an airport without the attendant troubles of the children to take my mind of the impending horror at 30 million feet.

It was strange waiting for a paper on a Tuesday morning. Usually I sweep into the Eurostar lounge and choose from the plethora of titles before taking up my seat on the train.

Oh well vive la différence.

As I stand and survey the wondrous cross section of people in WH Smith, I see we're all essentially victims of terror even on the ground.

True there were about six people on the tills but they had to keep calling out when they were available. It was all so robotically demeaning. It appeared no thought had gone into the layout. But as I drew closer it was obvious there was a mind at work.

It was probably a mind tinged with a quirky madness for next to the Anadins, were contraceptives and adjacent to those were boxes of Calpol.

The word Calpol entered my vocabulary in 1999 soon after the eldest was born. By the time I was administering nocturnal doses to her to arrest sniffles, I'd long been aware of both Anadin and Durex. Since Calpol's integration into the modus operandi, I seem to have needed more Anadin. As for the products on the other rack, well that alleviates the likelihood of entering such a vicious circle.

From this reverie into the concourse and another queue: this time for Starbucks. More direct intervention. This time a man responded that he wasn't queuing. It's just that his family was blocking the queue.

I joined and waited for what seemed an awful long time for a tiny bit of coffee. To increase productivity, they should link quantity to the time you wait in line. That would spur the executives to rethink.

In the States that would probably not work but airports are failed states and should be included in the axis of evil.

It was my first flight with Ryanair. Booking the ticket was clear and I went through the checking in procedure without any hitches.

The seat was comfortable though I did baulk at paying £1.90 for a cup of coffee. It was such a smooth passage that I even looked out of the window - rare for me on airplanes.

As I was going to Sweden I whipped out the laptop and listened to Abba.

No original thinking there then. But I figured it's a holiday, get into the groove and listen to one of the country's biggest exports. One thousand years after the Norsemen went round ripping up the world, Abba and Bjorn Borg put them back on the map.

There was a piece in the Times on the 14th in which Professor Eugene Sadler-Smith explained that from his research he's found that the unpremeditated spark of creativity does not come in an unprepared mind. The Surrey University don said in the article that it is the result of extensive learning and experience which are both essential for accurate intuition.

Well back in the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest when Abba had finished performing Waterloo, probably a billion people across Europe intuitively knew that the Swedes would run off with top prize and into multi-million dollar pop success.

One of my colleagues at the Guardian, on hearing that I was heading to Stockholm, told me that an Abba museum is to be opened in the city. Sadly it's not yet up and running and is slated for the end of the year.

Shame. But given the daughters' love of Voulez Vous, we might just all come back to look, listen and learn.