The Virgin Upper Class lounge at Heathrow has been turned into a discotheque.
At least, that’s what it seemed like as I waited to board my Los Angeles flight on Thursday afternoon.
As always, I arrived several hours ahead of schedule to get full benefit of the free goodies on offer (well, “free” once you have paid several thousand pounds to enjoy the benefits), and enjoy a period of calm before the long haul across the Atlantic.
But having told the staff at the reception desk how much I looked forward to this part of the journey, I was in for a great disappointment, when my ears were instantly bombarded with loud, banging music of the kind I had hoped never to hear again after the age of 14.
Three hours of the stuff. Incessant. Noisy. Gross. It even managed to penetrate the one allegedly “quiet” zone.
What have you done, Sir Richard?
There was worse to come. I used to enjoy a 15 minute massage before boarding. Now, you can pay and have a longer massage, which in theory sounds good, until you discover that along with the “upgraded service” comes a new kind of massage.
“What’s that noise?” I asked my masseur, as what seemed to be a herd of plastic bags descended on my ears.
“It’s a wheat bag,” she explained.
I turned around to see just that in her hand – a round lump of linen, packed with wheat grains, that she had been using to pummel me.
“Could I have the usual deep massage with fingers?” I asked politely, only to be sniffily told that this was the new massage, so no, I couldn’t.
Apparently, this new massage has been dictated by the powers that be at Gatwick, and it is truly dreadful.
My masseur then started to thwack said wheat bag up and down my back.
“It’s like being hit with a sack of Tesco shopping!” I squealed.
If it ain’t broke, why try to fix it? Being beaten up with a pile of shopping in the middle of a roaring disco is not my idea of relaxation before a long haul flight, and whoever these powers that be are at Gatwick, they need to get real, get off their wheat bags, and consult customers as to what works for them.
The flight itself was the usual joy that it always is on Virgin, and I heard a very interesting story about a well known English footballer who had pressed unwelcome kisses on a 16 year old girl on a flight a couple of years ago.
The American woman who told me the story had no idea who he was, but the girl’s parents wanted police to be standing by when the plane landed. The American woman made the footballer apologise, and the authorities were not called; but the name would come as no shock to any British person.
If the behaviour of some of our so-called national heroes comes as no shock, the behaviour of some of the people who idolise them should be no surprise either.
But on Saturday, I was genuinely horrified by England fans gathered in the King’s Head in Santa Monica to watch the England vs USA match.
I’m very fond of the King’s Head, but to say that there was standing room only is a gross understatement; there was barely any breathing room. Making it from one side of the bar to the toilet on the other required camping equipment, the journey was so long and arduous. Not even an ice-pick would have penetrated the wall of bodies next to the TV screens.
I have never felt so many men pressed against my groin, backside, thighs – in fact, I didn’t know that there were so many positions of which a man’s body is capable.
It was all very good-hearted, though – until the teams came out. At their first glimpse of the USA team, the English supporters started chanting: “You’re gay, you’re gay, you’re gay!” I couldn’t quite believe what I was hearing. And there was more. “You’ve got Aids, you’ve got Aids, you’ve got Aids!”
When the ex-Welsh rugby captain Gareth Thomas recently announced his homosexuality to the world, those of us who had known for years were surprised that it had taken him so long to go public. Although rugby supporters are a different breed from soccer supporters, I suddenly realised why, in the sporting world, players are reluctant to be open about their sexuality.
When I confessed my disgust to a couple of supporters, they told me that I was being “too serious” and that it was “just banter”.
The small number of Americans in the bar were as stunned as I was by the chanting, as, indeed, any civilised human being should be.
Alas, this so-called “banter” is just the tip of the very big iceberg that is the racism, homophobia and thuggery that is still central to the world of British soccer.
While there are, of course, many decent, good people who enjoy the sport, the collective hatred that can be generated and harnessed by the minority is fundamentally disturbing. You only have to look at Hitler’s Germany to know why.
It’s the main reason I am not supporting England. Yes, I’m Welsh, too, and as ours is the only flag not represented on the flag of the United Kingdom, I have no qualms about not sharing in the “united” part of the hysteria surrounding this lacklustre English team.
But it’s a secondary reason when placed alongside the main one: that there are a lot of thick, violent, nasty people among the English supporters who get their kicks from bullying and inciting hatred and intolerance.
And while other fans continue to condone it in the name of “banter”, British soccer will remain the national disgrace that it has always been.