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Tales of a Travelling Man

This all started with what I thought at the time was an incredible piece of good luck. I really should have known better.

I was booked to fly on the 6.30pm flight from Wellington to Auckland. However I finished my business in Wellington remarkably early and so I headed straight out to the airport. I arrived there about 12.45pm and approached the man at the check in desk.

"Is there any chance of an earlier flight?"

He clattered on his keyboard for a while and stared gloomily at the result on the screen. "Well the 1.30pm flight is full," he said. "But I can get you on the 3.00pm one. Will that be OK?"

"Perfect," I said. "Let’s do it." And so it was done.

He printed out my boarding pass and attached baggage tags to my luggage. "Is it OK to check the bags in now?" I asked. "The 1.30 flight hasn’t gone yet."

"Oh yes," he reassured me. "There’s a separate trolley for each flight and yours will go on the 3.00pm trolley. We won’t send it on the 1.30 flight because it is a security risk to send unaccompanied baggage on the flight and it’s against regulations. After all – it could be a bomb!"

I saw the wisdom of this. "OK, thanks for that."

He attached priority stickers to the bags and I watched them vanish down the conveyor belt. I went up to the lounge and indulged in all manner of hedonistic luxuries until, jaded and exhausted, I was called to board my 3.00pm flight to Auckland.

The flight was uneventful, and after it landed I trotted off to the baggage claim area. I watched the bags circle round on the conveyor. Mine were noticeably absent. I consoled myself with the thought that perhaps the priority sticker had come off and since they were first on, they were bound to be last off. I waited a while longer and watched the bags circulate. It was almost hypnotic. After about 40 minutes there was only one bag remaining and it wasn’t mine. There is always one lonely bag remaining after everyone collects their luggage. It never belongs to anyone. I think the baggage handlers use it to seed the conveyor belt.

The baggage enquiry office is just to the left of the conveyor. The door was locked. I banged frantically on it for a while but nobody came. I went over to the check in desk and managed to catch the eye of one of the staff. I explained my predicament.

She was deeply sympathetic. "I‘m not allowed to leave the desk," she said. "But I’ll phone my manager." She phoned. Nobody answered. She chewed her lip. "I’ll try somebody else." She dialled another number. Nobody answered. "I’ll call the airport manager." She dialled again. Still nobody answered. She cast her eyes around wildly, searching for inspiration. "Oh," she said. "There’s my manager." She pointed to a distinguished looking gentleman who had just appeared from behind a screen. She waved and whistled and he gave her a horrified look and vanished behind his screen again.

I went back and kicked the door of the baggage enquiry office. It was still locked, but a man with a badge noticed me banging on it and materialised by my side.

"Can I help you sir?" he enquired snootily. I explained again what had happened. "Let’s take a look in the baggage collection section, shall we?" he said.

We went through into the area where the luggage is unloaded on to the conveyor. My bags were lying forgotten in a corner. "There they are!" I cried and hurried to collect them.

"Oh THOSE bags," said the man. "I remember those. They came on the 1.30 flight and nobody claimed them, so we left them here."

I pointed to the flight number on the baggage label. "That’s not the flight number of the 1.30 plane is it?" I asked.

"Er, no. No it isn’t."

"So my bags were loaded on the wrong plane, they travelled all the way here unaccompanied, thereby breaking every security regulation in the book?"

"Er, yes. If you want to put it like that."

"How do you know there wasn’t a bomb in the bags?" I demanded. "How do you know that the passenger who checked them in wasn’t a terrorist intent on mayhem? Do you realise that if you continue to ignore your own security regulations, sooner or later you will end up with a lot of dead people? Why do you make it so easy for the bad guys? Are you deliberately asking to have your planes bombed?"

"Oh, that kind of thing never happens in New Zealand." He looked smug, and terribly complacent.

I took my bags and left him to it. You can’t talk to people who have nothing but empty space in their skull. Anyway, after that incident, nothing else could possibly go wrong…

A day and a half later I was back at the airport to catch a plane to Rotorua. I was booked on the 4.30pm flight. I generally arrive early for my flights so that I can indulge in enormous libertine excesses in the luxury lounge. I got to the airport at about 3.00pm. I looked at the departures board.

Yes, there it was. Rotorua; 4.30pm. As I watched, the board twitched, shuddered and refreshed itself. Now it said: Rotorua; 4.30pm. Cancelled.

Cancelled? I went to the check in desk.

"Engineering requirements, sir. The flight has been cancelled and you have been rebooked on the 6.30pm flight. Sorry for the inconvenience."

I have never heard a man sound less sorry. The luxury lounge with its free food, drink, sex, drugs and even rock and roll couldn’t quite make up for this. Fortunately I had lots of good books to read. I arrived very late in Rotorua, a raddled, dissipated shadow of my former self, decadent fluids dripping from every pore. The thermal areas steamed, the geysers geysed, the mud pools went glup in unison as they played complicated baroque music. Nothing worse could happen to me now…

I took a taxi to my hotel. We drove past the Rotorua golf course. Most golf courses have sandy bunkers. Not the Rotorua golf course. It has fenced off areas that bubble and steam. Golf balls that land in them simply melt. It adds a whole new meaning to the word hazard.

I was staying in a very luxurious hotel. Every room had a private spa. Such opulence! I could soak my weary body in hot perfumed foam. I could sip champagne and dream erotic dreams of well endowed dusky maidens shaking their charms to the rhythms of haunting music played in a minor key. Wow!

I turned on the tap. Freezing cold water gushed into the spa. It was so cold I could almost see ice cubes forming as it flowed. I waited but it didn’t get any warmer. I went down to the reception desk.

"I think there’s something wrong with the water supply to my room. There isn’t any hot water in the spa."

"Ah yes," said the nice lady behind the desk. "That’s right. It’s the whole hotel actually. We haven’t any hot water at all."

"The whole hotel?"

"Yes, that’s right. There was a new geyser erupted in the park last week and it’s taken all the heat from our bore. We’ve got someone working on it, but at the moment, the whole hotel is cold."

Glumly I retired to bed. The next morning I began the day with a cold shower and made my shivering way to work where I discovered that of the five people attending my course, three had just been made redundant and one was expecting to be made redundant at any moment. An atmosphere of deep gloom prevailed and they didn’t laugh at any of my jokes.

Fortunately when I got back to the hotel I found that the hot water was back on. I filled the spa and settled back to soak. Scarcely had I relaxed, however, when what seemed to be every mosquito in Rotorua flew through the open window and committed dramatic kamikaze suicide by diving into the spa pool with me. I peeled the thick crust of insects from the top of the water, spat out a few lumpy bits, and closed the window. But the mood was spoiled. Never mind. Nothing else could possibly go wrong…

On Friday afternoon, I got to Rotorua airport in plenty of time to catch the 5.25pm flight home to Auckland. I went up to the check in desk and made myself known.

I’m sorry sir," said the lady. "We’ve had terrible weather conditions all day and the flight is delayed by three hours."

I must have looked as if I was going to cry because she leaned close and whispered "I’ll tell you what. Leave it with me and I’ll have words with the other airline and see if I can transfer you to their flight."

My heart leaped. Maybe it wasn’t so bad after all. She duly had her word, and the lady at the rival airline check in counter consulted her computer. "There’s one free seat," she announced.

The plane was tiny. A dozen passengers in all. The entire crew consisted of simply a pilot and copilot, both of whom looked barely old enough to be weaned. The in-flight catering was a ham sandwich in a red paper bag that was lying on the seat. A voice from the seat behind me said: "I recognise the toothmarks in this sandwich – it’s the one I didn’t eat on the flight up this morning."

I had a wonderful view of one of the engines through the cabin window. There was a rivet missing from the engine cowling and when the propeller wound its way up to full speed the section with the missing rivet raised up slightly as if it was about to tear off.

We took off into thick cloud and driving rain. The wind threw the little plane violently all over the sky and the engine cowling flapped back and forth. The entire journey to Auckland was flown with zero visibility; we never left the cloud cover. Every so often the captain made an announcement over the PA system but I have no idea what he said because the volume was turned down so low that all I could hear was a faint "scritch, scritch" as he spoke.

Eventually we bounced down onto the tarmac at Auckland. I was home; it was over. Nothing else could go wrong now…

A day and a half later I arrived at Auckland airport to catch the 3.30pm flight to Wellington. I went straight to the counter to check in.

"I’m sorry sir, but the 3.30pm flight has been cancelled."


"Yes, sir. Bad weather at Norfolk Island."

"Norfolk Island?" I was bewildered. "What’s Norfolk Island got to do with it?"

"The plane flies from Norfolk Island to Wellington and then from Wellington to Auckland where it becomes the 3.30 flight back to Wellington. But it can’t take off from Norfolk Island so the flight is cancelled. I’m sorry for the inconvenience. Would you like me to re-book you on the 4.30 flight?"

"Yes please."

After that, nothing else could possibly go wr

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