I took a taxi to the airport. Another trip to Auckland, another course to teach, another dollar to earn. I approached the prettiest looking check in machine. Lo! Here am I, I declared. You can stop worrying now. Pray, check me in and issue me with a boarding pass. The luxurious Koru Club lounge is calling to me with a siren song of decadent promise.
Hello, Alan, said the machine. Its lovely to see you again. Where are you heading to this time?
Just Auckland, I said.
Hang on a sec, said the machine, Ill have a wee rummage through my unmentionables and see what weve got you booked on.
There was a short pause and then the machine emitted a cry of triumph. Got you! it said. Here are your details. It displayed them on the screen. Is that OK?
Not really, I said. Youve got me sitting in 3A which is a window seat. I much prefer an aisle.
Oh, sorry about that. Ive been coughing a lot for the last couple of days. I think I might be coming down with a virus. Plays havoc with the concentration, you know. Heres all the free aisle seats. Which one would you like?
Ill have 3C, please, I said. Its always been my favourite.
Righto, agreed the machine and with a hiss and a roar and a shimmy it printed a label for my luggage and a boarding pass for me.
Thank you, I said, as I fastened the label onto my somewhat disreputable looking case.
Youre welcome, said the machine and as I carried my bag over to the conveyor belt I heard the machine yell, Next, please! in strident tones.
I wended my way to the Koru Club lounge. In Wellington, you get to the lounge before you go thorough security, so there is plenty of time to relax before enduring the probing, eldritch horror and humiliation of having electromagnetic radiation peer deeply into your secrets. In the lounge I suffered a sudden attack of puritanism and I decided against indulging myself in the Albarragena Jamon Iberico de Bellota, a curiously flavoured ham that is made from pigs fed only on acorns and succulent roots, which gives the flesh a distinctive taste. The ham is cured for three years, and is wrapped in an apron hand made by a Spanish tailor, and then placed carefully in a hand-carpentered wooden box. Each and every Albarragena ham comes with its own DNA certificate to confirm its authenticity. It retails at about $1500 a kilo. The lounge was full of happily munching commuters, several of whom were wearing the aprons that had once adorned the ham. One person was trying hard to get a highly polished wooden box into his hand luggage. I decided to have crackers and cheddar cheese instead.
In the fullness of time my flight was called and I wended my way downstairs and strode through the metal detector which found much to disapprove of, and which beeped furiously at me. A nice lady confronted me and asked me to hold out my arms while she waved a magic wand back and forth.
Whats on that wrist? she asked.
A watch, I said, and I showed it to her.
Whats on that wrist? she asked.
A medic-alert bracelet, I said, and I showed it to her.
Whats on your neck? she asked.
A gold chain, I said, and I showed it to her.
Whats on your willy? she asked.
Nothing, I said. Shall I show it to you?
Dont bother, she said and she waved me through.
And then, as I joined the queue at the departure gate, a horrid truth dawned on me. I had left my boarding pass behind in the lounge where doubtless at this very moment it was indulging itself in massive slices of Albarragena ham and wearing an apron. There was no way that the fierce lady was going to let me back out through security to go and pick it up. So how on earth was I going to get on the plane?
I confessed my dilemma to the lady who was checking the boarding passes. See the gate marshall, she said briskly and pointed to a man who was hunched over a keyboard and staring with fixed concentration at a screen.
I cleared my throat to attract his attention. Ive left my boarding pass in the Koru lounge, I said.
No problem, he said. Whats your name?
Robson, I said. Alan Robson.
He poked a few keys and a passenger manifest manifested itself on his screen. I cant see you here, Mr Smith, he said.
Robson, I corrected him.
He looked surprised. How do you spell that?
He hunted around his keyboard for a while and then pecked a single key on the top row of letters. I hoped it actually was the letter R. He pressed enter and blinked at the display that popped up. Here you are, he declared triumphantly. Can I see some identification, please?
I showed him my drivers license. He sniggered at the photograph and then printed a new boarding pass for me. I wandered down the corridor, boarded the aircraft and plonked myself down in seat 3C. Phew!
The flight to Auckland was uneventful. I stayed there for a week and then took a taxi to the airport so as to fly home to Wellington.
As soon as I walked through the door into the foyer of Auckland airport, all the check in machines yelled Hello, Alan. Great to have you back with us.
As always, I chose the prettiest machine and ran my fingers seductively over its touch screen. Oooh! Do that again, said the machine, and then it sneezed.
Bless you, I said. I think that your virus is getting worse.
Yes, said the machine. And Ive been leaking foul fluids all down my data channels. Never mind. Ive booked you into your favourite seat. 3A.
No, no, I said. Youve got it wrong again. I want an aisle seat. I want 3C, please.
Are you sure?
Yes Im sure.
Oh all right. 3C it is. The machine sniffed snottily then printed out my luggage tag and boarding pass. I took my luggage to the conveyor and then made my way up to security. At Auckland airport, you can only get to the Koru lounge after you have been electromagnetically probed and vetted. Somewhat to my surprise, the metal detector found absolutely nothing suspicious about my watch or my medic-alert bracelet or my gold chain, and it passed me through without a sound. A lady with a magic wand smiled sweetly at me, but otherwise paid me no attention at all. It seemed Id had a narrow escape. I headed off to the lounge.
In order to get in to the Koru lounge, you have to present your boarding pass to a bar-code scanning machine at the entrance. If it likes you, it flashes green and you are allowed in to indulge yourself in sybaritic luxuries beyond your wildest dreams. If it hates you, it flashes red and large gentlemen escort you outside and beat you severely with model aeroplanes so as to punish you for your temerity.
I presented my boarding pass. The machine ignored me completely. I tried again, and once again absolutely nothing happened. I tried a third time. No green, no red. Nothing at all.
A cloud of smoke poured from a nearby lamp and coalesced into a lady. Can I see your boarding pass? she asked. I showed it to her. Oh look, she said, the bar code is all smeary. No wonder the scanner couldnt read it.
The check in machine was feeling rather ill, I said. I suspect it might have scrambled some bits. That could account for it.
Very likely, agreed the lady. Theres a lot of it about at the moment.
She printed a new boarding pass for me. This was getting to be a habit...
I gave it to the scanning machine which flashed all its green lights at me. I entered the gates of paradise and the lady smoked herself sexily back into her lamp.
Time passed, as it has a habit of doing. Have you ever noticed that? Debauched and debilitated, I staggered to the boarding gate, got on the plane, and collapsed into seat 3C. The lady in charge of the plane picked up a microphone and made an announcement.
Kia orana, she said. Welcome to Air New Zealand flight 479. Were all going to Wellington, so I hope that you are too.
Fortunately, I was.