Remember that time you took the Gatwick Express into town, only there weren’t any seats left, so you had to sit on the roof? Or the time you were delayed for two hours because a farmer was herding his cows across the line at East Croydon, and all the local traders popped up to sell you trinkets?
No, of course you don’t, because these things don’t happen on the Gatwick Express. (We’re not entirely sure they happen anywhere, in fact: we’ve shamelessly nicked them from various Michael Palin travelogues dating from the early 1990s.)
That, though, hasn’t stopped Sir Roy McNulty from slating the Victoria-Gatwick rail link as “veering towards Third World Conditions”. “In the short to medium term, our main priority is improvement in the road and rail infrastructure that serves the airport,” he tells today’s Evening Standard, “and above all improvement in the Gatwick Express… It certainly does not present to the visitor the image that we would wish they see.”
Now it’s not that we can’t see his point — when does any aspect of London’s transport infrastructure ever feel up to the job required of it? But his choice of metaphor nonetheless strikes us as just a tad on the hyperbolic side. It’s a slightly rubbish train service: that’s not the same as ‘third world’ anything, and hearing a rich white man describing “forcing business travellers to stand up for half an hour” in the same kind of language you’d use to talk about a famine borders on the offensive.
More to the point, though, there are a lot of things wrong with Sir Roy’s airport that have bugger all to do with its links to London proper. It’s dirty, it’s crowded, the amenities are either dingy or non-existent, and the whole place looks like it hasn’t seen a lick of paint since some time around 1975.
These things also present a poor image of London to the international traveller. What’s more, unlike the Gatwick Express, they’re Sir Roy’s personal responsibility. Funny he doesn’t seem quite so exercised about them, isn’t it?