Sunday, September 27, 2009

de Botton de Stress

I've had a wearying weekend what with running errands, cleaning and helping the boys bring order to the visual fractals in their rooms.

My eldest is obviously a hoarder - he doesn't seem to have thrown away a piece of paper since we moved here. Hoarding runs in the family. My great aunt didn't throw away any of her Easter egg boxes. If it's not hoarding, it's collecting, which is a close cousin. One of my brothers collects little soldiers which he paints, Arsenal football magazines/books/stuff, and little wooden sailing boats that my mother buys him for Christmas. The other brother collects graphically interesting bags, certain Playmobil figures, and specific 45rpm record covers.

My parents each have their own collections too. Liberty mugs, calendar plates, wooden animals, little wooden houses, jolly hockey sticks girls' schoolbooks from the 40s, and, previously, railway books.

I'm the black sheep. I don't really collect or hoard anything. I spend my time resisting the inevitably encroaching mass of stuff that threatens to drown us all, and dust... from time to time.
So it was with weary legs that I sat down at the computer to read the Times online. I scrolled down past the usual headlines - Gordon Brown's continuing political death throes, combat in Afghanistan, Baroness Scotland's cleaning lady cock-up, India Knight on inter-generational awkwardness and discontent as presented in the fashion world, and finally, to Alain de Botton's article called Airport Lounger.

For the weary, it is an engaging impression of Heathrow's Terminal 5 written with a lightness of touch that brings a gentle smile and relief from the relentless onslaught of life. Almost teen boys, household chaos, dust and the pressures of responsibility just fade for a while, the time it takes to read, peacefully, the article. There is even an aftermath of repose as the verbal massage leaves the brain destressed, the smile still on my lips.

Like a war painter, de Botton is installed in Terminal 5 for a week by the multinational group that owns it to observe and note down his impressions. He hopes it'll result in more companies inviting him, or other writers, to immerse themselves in the workings of the modern world rather than turning around the same pot of private sentimental life. His book, A Week at the Airport: a Heathrow Diary is out tomorrow.

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