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Alan At The Charge

The other week I had occasion to visit Auckland. I got to the airport with plenty of time to spare. I indulged myself with a glass of wine and a snack, and then an announcement rang through the lounge:

"Air New Zealand flight 475 to Auckland is now boarding through gate lounge 16."

We all went to the boarding gate. A nice lady confirmed the flight number on our boarding passes and we walked down the air bridge to the plane. The air bridge walls were painted black with large white words written on them exhorting the All Blacks Rugby Team to victory. The black walls made the air bridge feel very gloomy and claustrophobic.

Rather surprisingly, the plane at the end of the air bridge was painted bright yellow and it had the words "Freedom Air" written on the side of it. Where was the Air New Zealand flight to Auckland? A smiling lady welcomed us on board.

"This is the plane to Auckland, isn’t it?" asked the person in front of me, thereby removing from me the embarrassing necessity of asking the same question.

"Indeed it is," said the nice lady. "Don’t worry – we aren’t flying to Brisbane."

I was pleased to hear it. I’d left my passport at home.

When we were all comfortably seated, and as the plane taxied to the runway, the nice lady made an announcement.

"Welcome aboard Air New Zealand Flight 475 to Auckland. Yes – we are going to Auckland, but we are going in disguise! Won't that be fun?"

So we had a stealth flight in camouflage colours. It must have worked, because we landed precisely on time and my luggage appeared within a few seconds of my arrival at the conveyor belt. Both these events are absolutely unprecedented on real Air New Zealand flights. I wholeheartedly recommend disguised flights.

However because the flight had been so trouble free, I just knew that I was building up trouble for myself in the future. There’s always some sort of catastrophe lurking malevolently whenever I travel away from home. I began to dread the week ahead of me.

The problems began when I plugged my mobile phone into its charger. Nothing happened. Not a volt, not even an amp made its way from the charger to the phone. Bugger! I plugged the charger into another socket. It didn’t work; all the electrons were on strike. I examined the charger closely. The end that plugged in to the phone only had one terminal on it. The other one had fallen off, never to be seen again.

Fortunately there is a mobile phone shop just up the road from our office. I went there the next day and explained my predicament to the lady behind the counter.

"Here’s my phone," I said. She took it and plugged it in to a charger that was lurking beneath a table. Electrons raced eagerly down the wire.

"Well, the phone’s OK," she said. "Have you got the charger itself?"

I showed her the charger and she scrutinized it with an intense scroot.

"There’s the problem," she said triumphantly. "One of the terminals has broken away."

"Have you got a new charger I could buy?" I asked.

"No – we don't have any in stock. But I'll ring round and see if anybody else does."

She spent the next twenty minutes or so on the phone to various branches throughout Auckland.

"Have you got an Ericsson charger?" she asked.

"No," they said, one and all.

"Nobody has one," she said. She dived into a desk drawer and produced a copy of the yellow pages. "I'll try our competitors now."

She rang her shop's largest business opponent.

"Have you got an Ericsson charger?"

"Yes we have."

Rather glumly, she asked them to reserve it for me.

"You'll have to go and pick it up yourself," she said. "Because they are the competition, I can't really get the charger delivered here for you."

She gave me the address. All I had to do was get to the Downtown Shopping Centre before 6.00pm which was when the shop closed…

One of Auckland's more interesting features is the link bus. This bus travels on a circular route around the city. It has a fixed fare ($1.30) and passengers can get on or off at any of the stops along the way. At peak times, the link buses are scheduled to run every 10 minutes.

It is not always completely clear which point on its route any given bus has actually reached, or which direction it is travelling in, and it is not unheard of for people to spend more than an hour getting to a destination that is only five minutes from the stop at which they boarded the bus because they got on a bus going the wrong way. However once you have a degree of familiarity with the route, this problem generally disappears.

Recently, a high technology gismo has appeared at the link bus stops. It is an electronic display which tells the eager hordes of prospective passengers how many minutes they will have to wait before the bus actually arrives. The display is updated at one minute intervals and absolute accuracy is assured, because each bus is fitted with a GPS device so that its position is always known and its speed of travel may easily be calculated.

I went to the nearest link bus stop and examined the gismo. The next link bus was 4 minutes away. I leaned against the bus stop to wait. Soon the display updated itself and I was horrified to learn that my bus was now 12 minutes away. Since a bus was supposed to appear every 10 minutes, I found this less than reassuring. Glumly I watched the display count itself down at one minute intervals. Soon I had only 5 minutes to wait and I began to tingle with anticipation. But then the display shot up again to 15 minutes. My anticipation subsided. Obviously the driver kept getting his gears in a knot and the bus was travelling backwards. Either that, or it was trapped in Auckland's hideous rush hour traffic. I could be in for a long wait. I wondered if I would make it to the Downtown Shopping Centre before the shop closed.

Slowly the display counted down again. Eventually, after 15 agonising minutes, the display claimed that the bus was now due. No sooner had the magic word Due appeared on the board than the bus swung round the corner and screeched to a halt in front of me. I got on and paid my $1.30 and then I endured an excruciatingly slow journey into the city. Every traffic light was red, necessitating a long wait. Sometimes the queue at the lights was so immense that we actually had to wait through two or three cycles as we slowly inched our way forwards. I imagined link bus displays all through the city displaying ever-increasing wait times, to the despair of chilly commuters queuing impatiently in the cold winter evening.

I looked anxiously at my watch. Would I make it in time? It was getting ominously close to 6.00pm.

At long, long last, after what felt like geological ages, the bus stopped by the Downtown Shopping Centre and I alighted. It was 5.55pm. The shop would close in five minutes. I hastened towards the automatic doors of the shopping centre, but they refused to open for me and I banged right into them and bruised my nose. I stepped back and waved at the sensor. It glowed a sullen red and refused to take any notice of me. Then I noticed the opening and closing times for the shopping centre displayed on a helpful sign attached to the door. The shopping centre closed at 5.30pm.

But the people at the mobile phone shop had assured me that they were open until 6.00pm. What was going on? I got my phone out and turned it on with a small prayer to the Gods of Communication to allow me enough of a charge on the battery to make one phone call. The charge meter barely registered anything. Nervously I dialled the number of the shop.


"Hi. You have an Ericsson charger reserved for me. I'm outside the shopping centre, but I can't get in because the doors are locked."

"No problem," said the cheerful voice. "I'll open them for you."

With a star-trek like whoosh the doors opened and I walked in. As I crossed the threshold, my cell phone turned itself off with smug finality. The battery was now utterly flat.

The charger cost me $40. But it came complete with both its terminals and when I got back to the hotel and plugged it in, it worked perfectly.

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