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Early Warning Systems

If I have a fault (which I do not) it is that I am always early for appointments.

It all began on the day that I was born. I was four weeks premature, and the psychological scars that circumstance gave me remain unhealed even today.

As a child I attended a small primary school at the other end of the village. It rejoiced in the name Withinfields County Junior Mixed, but to us it was just school. Because many of the children lived in the village, we mostly went home for lunch. Those of us who lived at the far end of the village (as I did) had a special dispensation to catch an early bus at 12 noon (the next one left at 12.15 and it was generally agreed that it was too late to get us home, fed, and back to school by 1.00pm). However it was not unknown for the teacher to get so carried away by whatever she was teaching that she lost track of time, and so we would sometimes miss the bus. I hated it when that happened.

One day, feeling hungry, and feeling anxious about missing the vital bus I raised my hand.

"Please can I go and catch the 12-o-clock bus now?"

The other children in the class began to snigger, but I ignored them. I had a bus to catch.

The teacher looked puzzled. "But it’s only 11.30," she said. "The bus doesn’t come for another half an hour."

"I can wait at the bus stop," I said.

The whole class erupted into hysterics at this remark. Even the teacher appeared to be having a hard time controlling her giggles. "No, Alan," she remarked patiently, "I don’t think that’s a good idea."

I subsided, but remained bewildered. I simply couldn’t understand why I couldn’t go and wait for the bus and I had no idea why the rest of the children were laughing so hard at me. It all made perfect sense from my point of view.

As I look back on the incident forty years later, I still fail to understand the attitude of the teacher and the other children. My request to go and wait for the bus still makes perfect sense to me (though others appear not to agree). I felt then and I feel now that you should always be early for everything in life. After all, when you are early, you can wait. When you are very early you can read a book while waiting (an advantage in itself). When you are late you are in the poo and the situation simply cannot be rescued. Surely this is self evident?

Apparently not.

I spent my honeymoon in Fiji. I lived in Wellington at the time and the honeymoon therefore involved a trip on the overnight train to Auckland, from where we would catch the plane to Fiji. As the afternoon progressed, I became steadily more nervous.

"Shall I call the taxi?"

"Not yet." My wife shook her head. "The train doesn’t go for ages."

My stomach began to knot with tension. There was only one train. If we missed it we wouldn’t get a second chance. The honeymoon would be over before it began. I made a cup of coffee. I plucked a book at random from the shelves and opened it. It was upside down, but I didn’t notice immediately.

"Can I call the taxi now?"


I tried to read my book, but the words made no sense.


"Oh all right. If you really must. But it’s cold and draughty on that station platform. We’ve got plenty of time, you know."

I rang the taxi and we waited for it to come. And waited. And waited some more. I rang the taxi company again. "He’s on his way…"

We waited.

I rang again. "He won’t be long…"

We waited.

The taxi arrived an hour and a half after I’d first rung. The driver ambled into town at least 10kph below the speed limit. I could have walked faster. My palms were clammy with nervous sweat and excess hydrochloric acid production in my stomach was eating holes in my feet. Geological aeons later we finally arrived at the station and got on the train.

Thirty seconds after we boarded, it pulled away from the platform on its long journey to Auckland.

"See? I told you we had plenty of time!"

It was our first and fiercest marital disagreement.

The habit of being early has carried over into my working life. I commute between Auckland and Wellington at regular intervals. In order to make life more pleasant I carry a card which allows me entry to lounges of unbridled luxury wherein free food and drink is poured into my unresisting body and dusky maidens indulge my every whim. Thus I have even more motive than usual for arriving early and so I do. But sometimes I turn up excessively early even by my standards.

"Hello. I’ve got an electronic ticket for the 4.30pm flight to Wellington."

"Hello sir," said the helpful lady at the check in desk. "Would you like me transfer you to the previous flight? It will be boarding in about an hour."

"No thank you. I’ll stick with the 4.30 flight please."

She checked me in with a puzzled look and a muffled giggle, and as I made my way to the lounge she made spot-the-loony faces to her colleague on the next desk.

Sometimes the effects of being early rebound upon me. Recently I concluded my business in Wellington by lunchtime and so I made my way out to the airport intent on catching the first flight home.

"Hello. I’m booked on the 6.30pm flight to Auckland. Is there any chance of rebooking me on to an earlier flight?"

"Let me see." The lady did arcane things with her computer terminal. "Yes that’s fine sir." She handed me a boarding pass for the 1.30pm flight. I had about half an hour to wait. Just enough time for an interlude of orgasmic delight. I made my way to the luxury lounge and rang home then I rang the taxi company and arranged to be met at Auckland airport at 2.30pm. I settled down to pour vile fluids into and out of my body. Then an announcement came over the speaker system.

"We regret that flight 726 to Auckland has been delayed. We expect to make a boarding call at approximately 1.45. We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause."

Oh well, it was only a quarter of an hour delay. I placed an order for another batch of dusky maidens. Then they delayed the flight again by another fifteen minutes. Cursing, I rang home and after that I rang the taxi company again to warn them about the delay. I called for caviar, champagne, fresh monkey brains still warm in the skull, and a clean spoon.

"We regret to announce that flight 726, the 1.30pm flight to Auckland is now scheduled for departure at 3.30pm. Could any passengers in the lounge who wish to transfer to the 3.00pm flight please come to the reception desk."

I got there first, and changed my ticket yet again. I rang home, rang the taxi company (who were sick of my voice by now) and drank a bottle of Chateau D’Yquem and ate quail eggs in aspic. Then I called for a cask of Amontillado, and muttering "For the love of God, Montresor," I staggered to my plane as the boarding call was made. When I passed the departures display screen, I noticed that my original 1.30pm flight had now been completely cancelled.

I sat myself in seat 17G and stared gloomily out of the window. It was almost 3.00pm. Had I caught the early plane I’d originally planned for, I’d have been home by now. Time passed.

"Sorry for the delay in taking off," came the pilot’s voice over the tannoy. "We’re just doing the final paperwork and then we’ll be taxiing to our take-off position."

Ten minutes later we pulled away from the airbridge and trundled slowly towards the runway. Then we stopped, engines idling. The pilot spoke again.

"Sorry ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, but Air Traffic Control have requested a small delay. It shouldn’t be too much longer…"

We finally took off nearly 45 minutes late and we must have had an uphill wind because we didn’t make up any time at all on the journey to Auckland. We were so late arriving that all the airport gates were already occupied by well-disciplined aircraft that were sticking rigidly to their schedules, and so we taxied to an obscure corner of the airport, disembarked via the portable stairs and then walked for miles towards the dimly visible airport buildings on the horizon. There we walked through a maze of little twisty passages, all alike, with strategically placed airport staff to indicate the correct route when the choices got too confusing. Eventually I emerged through a door I’d never noticed before to find myself immediately behind my taxi driver who was staring hopefully at the stairs down which travellers from Wellington usually appeared.

"Hello," I said.

He jumped in shock. "Oh, hello sir."

We collected my bags and set off for the taxi. "Where to sir?"

I gave him my address.

"Where’s that, sir?" I could tell that I was having one of those days and it wasn’t over yet. I gave him directions to my house, he nodded thoughtfully, and we set off into the slowest moving traffic jam I’ve ever seen.

"Sorry about this sir…" By now it was a familiar refrain.

I eventually arrived home only about two hours before I would have done had I caught my original 6.30pm flight. Sometimes the excessively early bird gets the worm with the hangover from last night’s party.

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