It means nothing without Zone 6 — my first impression of London whenever I’ve visited isn’t of London per se. Or maybe it is but I’ll let the hair splitters decide whether Heathrow is part of London or not.

So what for those in London is the city they grew up in, around or hearing about elsewhere in Them Isles for me is always defined in large part by this experience:

* Landing the plane in Heathrow and not elsewhere. This is more important than you might think, one time I was stuck in a plane sitting in Manchester for something like three hours because the radar was down at Heathrow, allegedly. The various noises my fellow passengers made were of the frustrated and vaguely annoyed sort.

* Getting the plane to the appropriate terminal. At another point, I think this took something like half an hour.

* Opening the door. A STRONG challenge for some. The delayed Manchester flight I mentioned had this problem when we finally pulled up at the gate.

* Leaving as quickly as possible. OH GOD DO YOU EVER WANT TO GET OFF A PLANE IMMEDIATELY AFTER A LONG FLIGHT. I cannot emphasize this enough. You want to crawl over everyone in front of you.

* Ads. In the terminal one will see plenty of them for mysterious and strange products and services, and yet they are in English. Clearly I must be in London or near it.

* Passport control! This has never been a problem for me as such in that all you have to do is wait…a bit. And a bit longer.

* Baggage claim and customs. It’s about this time that I almost wish some of the stereotypes were true and that Robert Morley would come to visit me in his bowler hat and umbrella and give me some tea. Those ads over here back in the very late seventies caused quite an impression on my young mind.

* A long, long, long walk to the Heathrow Underground station nearest me. It is partially assisted by moving floors but right now all I really want to do is get to…

* The ATM. I can see it in my mind’s eye, there’s this basic generic ATM just sitting there after I turn a corner, I’ve used it every time I’ve visited. I immediately withdraw some of those English wampum bucks that aren’t as glorious as the dollars of the USA HOORAY! oh sorry I’m projecting oh god I couldn’t get any sleep on the flight why can I never do this I’m going to collapse on top of my green LL Bean luggage any second now (this ramble accurately captures my state of mind at this point, I am somewhere between sleep and the need to NOT sleep quite yet).

* The ticket purchasing counter or machine (I use one or the other depending on my coherence, and I either purchase some basic one-way thing if I don’t know what I’m doing next or some sort of further pass if I know I’ll be doing quite a bit in the next day or two — I also ponder some card for oysters).

* Ah, sweet sweet train, you are here. I sit down and somehow wrangle my luggage so I’m still in charge of it, and am usually surrounded by about fifty other people similarly inclined.

* “This train goes to Cockfosters.” The announcement that I knew would please Mr. Dan Perry when he finally heard it (and I was right).

* Lots of suburbs. What is on that stretch of track, anything? Has anyone interesting ever come from there or has anything striking happened? I just remember getting out of the tunnel and seeing lots of trees, low buildings and a general sense of…well, something. I do enjoy seeing the various business signs that must leave everyone there with a sense of dull familiarity but which makes me think “Hey, I’m here now!” If I’m not rambling even more in my head.

* Switching. Somewhere. I always have to switch somewhere and I always hope it’s at a station where there are peeling ads for bad musicians and horrible movies interspersed with random design features that allegedly tell me where I’m at. This is how I know the area around Charing Cross consists solely of people colored black and white who are vaguely medieval. The design wouldn’t lie to me.

* My final destination, whereever it is. Usually I walk a bit to the appropriate domicile, say hello to whoever is kind enough to host/put up with me this time around, then either immediately shower or immediately collapse.

Welcome to London! (No, really, I like all this. I just like it even better when I’ve finally got the jet lag out of my system.)