“Not flying today, Colonel?” I asked. Now aged 67, the Colonel still spends a month of each year in the air. After 30 years distinguished service (in “the last remaining Regiment never to have been involved in either a TV series or a scandal involving one of the Royal Household staff”), he is now trotting the globe in an unspecified multi-national role for one of the Big Six oil companies.

“Not today old boy. I’m calling you from the Cowshed.” 

“’Didn’t know you had one.”

“Not mine, fool. Virgin Atlantic’s. Part of their newly revamped Clubhouse at London Gatwick. It’s the ultimate pre-fight experience…I mean, pre-flight experience.”

“I – “

“Hold on old boy, I haven’t finished. Seven hundred and ninety-five square metres of space, seating for over 130 passengers, the Clubhouse offers a choice of areas to cater for different needs.”

“Colonel, are you-“

He didn’t hear me.

“It’s exactly what premium leisure travellers have been waiting for.”

I had to stop him. “Colonel. Are you reading this?”

“Of course I am old boy, I couldn’t remember all that guff. Westers, hold on, will you?… Excuse me, would you take your shoes off and stack them over there. And do help yourself to a biscuit on the way out.”

The Colonel is used to giving orders, but was he really bossing the lovely Virgin ground crew around in their own lounge? It seemed unlikely. “Colonel, where exactly are you?”

“Ok Westers! No need to surfboard me, I confess. I’m at home in the Cotswolds. Just kicking off my Hunter Balmoral Classics and getting the girl to bring in the wood – for my lovely new Chesney’s Barrington 8 kilowatt stove, available online or from all good retailers.” 

What was all the stuff about the new Virgin Clubhouse at Gatwick then?

“Product placement. It’s the latest thing. Apparently your column about me –“ 

[Ed – and I’d always thought this column was about new airline lounges!] 

“-is a ‘turn-to’ in the mag. The PR types thought you’d probably be too bothered by the morals, so they’ve gone upstream to the source of your inspiration: me. Honestly, I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before. Probably because I was too busy playing Call of Duty: Black Ops, which in the short time since its release on Tuesday 9th November has already become the biggest games launch across all major platforms, ever.”

“Colonel, there is a line you know. It’s one thing to be taken somewhere by one of their PRs and write it up if you like it, it’s quite another to pass off scripted descriptions as though they’re your own opinion. Shouldn’t you have at least visited the place?”

 “No need. The press release came with pictures. ‘The Virgin Clubhouse has generous expanses of FSC flooring’, whatever that is, ‘and lipstick elements of Virgin’s signature red.’ Who writes this? They really should hire a gayman to do it for them, they have such a good eye for detail. I’m told.”

The morals of this set up were starting to bother me. I like my conversations with the Colonel, our chance encounters at airline terminals around the world always presage a good trip ahead. But I couldn’t just become a mouthpiece for the Colonel. 


“Relax Westers. I know, I hear you loud and clear. Which is why I’m so happy I chose the new Bang and Olufsen Beocom5, with its unique full-duplex solution for enhanced clarity. Although actually I would have preferred the Beocom2 because it would have set off the new panelling in my whisky room perfectly.”

“Stop! Colonel, please. We’re talking about the unimpeachable impartiality of the magazine here. We’re talking about…”

“Westers! Say no more. I’m sorry. Let me buy you a drink to make up.”

An outstanding idea. 

“Good. There’s a new place I know.”

“Excellent. Tell me more.”

“Of course,” replied the Colonel. “You can sit at a beautiful oak and granite clad bar, whilst enjoying the comfort of the Harry Bertoia Wire bar stools. 

“Hold on. Where exactly is it, Colonel?”

“Just down the M23. If you’re flying Upper Class, they’ll even send a car for you, as long as it’s not snowing.” CHRIS WEST