Chris West bumps into “The Colonel” on way to reviewing the Etihad Lounge at Heathrow.
I bumped into the Colonel at Heathrow T4 the other day. “Westers! Over here old boy. In the Costa Club Lounge.”
Funny chap, the Colonel. I’d expected to see him somewhere, we were due out to Abu Dhabi on the same flight (him on work, me for a bit of R and R with the family), but what was he doing in a Costa coffee bar? Why wasn’t he reclining courtesy of some business-class hospitality? As the Colonel likes to say, “The last time I flew in the back of an aircraft was in ’45, on the way back from Dresden.”
It’s a lie of course, he never was on loan to the RAF, he would have been only 12 in 1945 and even at that age he would have insisted on flying the thing. So why wasn’t he in the Etihad lounge?
“Too much nonsense!” Now, “Too much nonsense” is the Colonel’s description for something that’s really not up to par. I was intrigued. Hadn’t Etihad just spent a lot of money on their new Heathrow Lounge? I had to find out what had gone wrong. But the Colonel is a difficult man to prise open. You couldn’t get information out of him by a full frontal attack. You had to use skill and cunning.
“Didn’t fancy the 15 minute massage, then Colonel?” Apparently not: if the Colonel wanted to be touched by someone he hasn’t been introduced to, he’d travel by Tube.
“No last minute emails you’d like to send on your laptop from the timber-panelled business centre, Colonel?” “Crackberry!” was his one-word answer, waving a (clearly new) device in my face, as if I were some kind of luddite to not know that he is always in touch, timber-panelled business-centre or no timber-panelled business centre.
“Nibbles?” I suggested.
“Where? Whose?” He said, his head spinning through 360 degrees. I wanted to explain I was referring to the snacks freshly prepared in the kitchen of the Etihad Business Lounge. But he looked over his shoulder and bellowed. “Leon!” He caught the eye of the young chap serving behind the Costa counter, and swirled his finger over our coffee cups. “And better make them doubles! It’s going to be a long flight!” The Colonel turned back to me: “Decent place this,” the Colonel said as he checked the nap on the maroon velvet rope separating us from the hurrying masses of the concourse. “Best bit is, I didn’t even realise I was a member. Must be a reciprocal, In and Out, probably.”
Our flight was called. I wanted to tell the Colonel that the Costa “Club Lounge” was in fact open to all, but he seemed so delighted with it, I couldn’t spoil it for him. As Leon delivered our coffees, wiped the table clean and took away the empties, the Colonel discretely folded a twenty into his pocket.
At the gate, the Colonel did stop at the Etihad Lounge however. He’d used it as a dead-bag drop. As the Colonel took his case from the “chirpy” Northern Irish girl working the door there, he turned on the full wattage of his most pleasant smile – the one he reserves for people who have Royally pissed him off. As he walked away, he let me know why he’d not wanted to go in there. “Some chap earlier, flying Business Class with his mother-in-law. They wouldn’t let him take his wife and two perfectly-behaved children in with him.”
I raised an eyebrow, as if to say, you know that kind of thing’s a judgement call. The Colonel was as always, the master of reading body language. “It wasn’t the refusal, it was the absolutely charmless way they did it. They lost themselves two good business fare paying customers there. I always say it: No point spending money on the hardware if they software’s going to let you down.”
I understood. We said our goodbyes as I prepared my family (for what would turn out to be an excellent Economy service that beats a few airlines’ Business Class hospitality). The Colonel called out over his shoulder: “Stick with the Costa Club Lounge, Westers. Much friendlier – and everyone that works there is a barrister.”
I was about to let the Colonel know he’d misheard Leon’s job title, but he was already walking off down the jetway, chuckling. The Colonel knew. Funny chap, the Colonel.