Monday, 31 March 2008

Things That Baffle Me: #2, British Optimism

So Terminal 5 has opened and blah blah blah it's been chaos. Bags have gone nowhere but missing, and half the nation has had to sleep on the floor at Heathrow. Foreigners are laughing at us and everyone thinks the person in charge should resign.

No surprises there. So why does everyone sound so shocked? Sunday's newsreaders were gasping that 'airport chaos has spilled over into a 4th day and shows no sign of abating'. Don't we know by now that what Britain does best is screw things up? Millenium Dome, Millenium Bridge, railway lines, all those stadiums...

The opening of Heathrow's Terminal 5 had all the ingredients for a disaster from the start:
1. It's in Britain
2. Half the country didn't want it anyway and couldn't wait for it to go wrong
3. It's an airport, so if/when it went wrong, everyone was going to notice
4. They said it was going to be brilliant
5. It involves BAA and British Airways, neither of whom could organise a piss up in a brewery.

I mention this because it highlights the rather endearing British trait that, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, we (they? - I think I'll excommunicate myself) still expect that it's going to work out this time. This is the trait that causes our clothes shops to be full of bikinis from mid-March to the end of August. It encourages our cafes to put chairs out on the pavement, and allows people to sit on them and believe they will be warm when the sun comes out, just as soon as this gale blows over. It makes each of the home nations believe that their little country will win the World Cup next time round. It is the trait that allows us to be excited about the Olympic games in London in 4 years' time, and which lets us futilely believe that it won't be the mother of all hash ups.

And it makes us announce that we're building a new terminal at our biggest airport, and to trumpet it for years in advance, instead of just building it quietly, opening it when no one's looking, and only letting the media in once it's been operational for a year and a half and the people in charge have got some kind of handle on how things are going to work.

It's a baffling trait, of course, and one has to wonder how it ever developed - a glance at the nation's soaps suggests that it certainly wasn't by over-exposure to any kind of optimism. Nor has it ever really reached Northern Ireland, where we suspect so strongly that there'll be a hack-up that we're almost disappointed when things work out as planned (which they usually don't - but since this is an excuse for drowing everyone's sorrows, no one really cares).

So I remain in a state of bafflement, and await the London Olympics with anticipation.

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