Thursday, March 27, 2008

Enjoying a national failure

Spreading the word- today's headline from the newspaper seller at a London station

It's one of those strange and sometimes frustrating aspects of the British character that news is spread no faster and more enthusiastically than when reporting a national failure.

Today was a perfect example. Terminal 5, the new terminal at London's Heathrow airport opened for business and the baggage handling system broke down. Heathrow is one of Britain's least loved institutions due to its delays and cramped and uncomfortable conditions. When the Queen opened the new terminal recently it appeared a new dawn for British airports had arrived.

When the failure occurred today there did seem to be an element of glee as media outlets competed to collect horror stories from irrate passengers. ( There was almost pleasure in the fact that London does not appear able to build and operate an airport up to the same standards as the rest of the advanced world.

Hidden at the bottom of a BBC report was the paragraph:

"Aviation analyst Jamie Bowden told the BBC teething problems were to be expected on the opening of a terminal, with new airports in Japan and Hong Kong also suffering difficulties in their first days. "

However to focus too much on such comparisons would dampen the enjoyment of a national failure.

So for now the media give wall to wall coverage to a bad day at the airport.

We seem to love nothing better than a good failure as if to put everyone in their place who wanted anything too grand and sophisticated in Britain. This of course can be frustating and must be very much so for those who worked on the new terminal.

This love of failures somewhat contradicts another aspect of Britain that everything sort of works in the end. This week Britain was highlighted as the 7th most prosperoous and stable nation in the world In essence we have a lot to be proud of.

However we do not believe public buildings like airports should be too stylish but rather functional and economical. Although not stylish on a global spectrum the new Terminal 5 is very stylish by the standards of all other British airports. Maybe this is why the failure is secretly greeted with enthusiasm. A great chunk of the British public hope they will be more sensible next time and stick to functional cheap portacabin like buildings like the rest of the airports.

Terminal 5 should definitely start working soon but not before we've been treated to a few more tales of failure. Of course, the media is now suitably sensitised to terminal 5 failure now so the next time something happens it will be reported even quicker.

I suspect in many other countries they would have attempted a cover up. However in Britain the opposite is true- we seem only eager to shout this failure from the roof tops !!

Love or loathe this tendency, it has been around in Britain a long time and I suspect is here to stay.

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