according to Richard Curtis's sugary hit film Love Actually is
to be found everywhere - but the best place is an airport. Specifically,
the arrivals hall at Heathrow Terminal 4.
As Hugh Grant's Prime Minister in the film says: "Whenever
I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals
gate at Heathrow airport. General opinion is starting to make
out that we live in a world of hate and greed but I don't see
that. It seems to me that love is everywhere."
The practicalities of carrying out a long-term relationship based
on a meeting in Sock Shop are slender, but only an airport offers
the love-hungry traveller the same unique romantic possibilities.
"Plus, people are pretty bored in airports, so the standards
of what they expect in a conversation are a little lower,"
Tim, an American hedge fund specialist, says.
If in the past the railway station has formed an evocative backdrop
to romance, leaves on the line have transformed stations from
places of heartache to places of headache.
Now, we have the grey walled, low-ceilinged, smoke and bawling
children-filled airport, where this week 8,000 people pitched
up in the early hours of the morning to greet England's rugby
But the departures hall is the stuff not just of love, but of
high drama, actually. Two customer service agents claimed they
have "seen it all" since they began working at Heathrow.
Hysterical children nipping through Customs trying to retrieve
a relative, couples so welded to each other they miss their planes
and grown men, "actually, like, crying".
"I'm a very soft person," said Mona, one of the women
on duty. "And it can be quite depressing.
"There are situations where the other half shouldn't even
bother to come to the airport. I'm serious. There are people who
cannot emotionally cope with goodbyes."
Ben Ezra, who works at the Body Shop opposite the departures
gate, admits to bursting into tears at the sight of a romantic
clinch. Other times she rolls her eyes.
"Sometimes it's very sweet to see two people who love each
other so much," she says, "Other times it's like somebody
has died." But what really gets to Ben Ezra is the behaviour
of men. "When we were growing up they taught us that men
are strong and don't cry," she says. "Well, five minutes
after you start working here you realise that's all wrong. They
walk around with this funny face and chin tucked under trying
to look business-like.
"They stay upset much longer than the women. Women cry for
five minutes, then do their make-up and it's all over. Men wander
around for hours with their faces collapsed."