Previous Contents Next

Alan Flies Undone

I arrived at the airport in good time for my flight. Some might say I was excessively early. Hah! Such people are not wise to the ways of the travelling world. There are no worms left at the feast when the late birds get there.

"Lo! Here am I," I said to the nice lady at the check in desk. "You can stop worrying now. I've arrived. Pray provide me with my boarding pass for flight NZ446 to Auckland."

The lady clicked keys on her keyboard and peered short-sightedly at the screen.

"I'm sorry sir," she said gleefully," but that flight has been cancelled due to engineering problems. Would you like me to rebook you on to the next flight?"

Cancelled? Could it be that the engine had fallen off the aeroplane and they'd run out of string and duct tape, and thus were unable to fasten it back on?

"Yes, please," I said.

She clicked more keys, frowned and then clicked them all again.

"I'm sorry sir," she said with a happy smile, "the next flight is fully booked. Would you like me to try the one after that?"

I heaved a deep sigh at her, but she dodged it skilfully and it bounced harmlessly off the wall behind her and fell on to the luggage conveyor belt.

"Yes, please."

Fortunately that flight still had seats available (though not many). I would fly to Auckland a mere three hours later than I had originally planned. I was glad that I had chosen to arrive at the airport excessively early (as some might say). Who knows how many flights would have filled themselves up if I had arrived fashionably late? Who knows how much longer I might have been delayed?

I took myself off to the Koru Club Lounge so that I could indulge myself excessively in strange, grotesque and debilitating luxuries utterly unknown to the common herd milling below.

Unfortunately, when I arrived at the Lounge, eager for debauchery, I discovered that the majority of the place was blocked off and completely inaccessible to me. An enormous storm the previous week had ripped the roof away and saturated the carpet with tons of rain water. Presumably this was why my flight had been cancelled. It wasn't just an engine that had dropped off the aeroplane; the entire machine had disintegrated into tiny shards when the Koru Club Lounge roof fell upon it from the sky, driven by a mighty wind. The amount of duct tape required to stick it back together again beggared the imagination. No wonder they hadn't finished the job yet. No wonder they wouldn't let anyone fly on it.

The Lounge was undergoing massive repairs, but until they were complete, it was reduced to less than half its normal size, and the luxuries were reduced to less than half their normal level of sinfulness. Furthermore, the reduction in the lounge size meant that all the people were forced to sit much closer together than would otherwise have been the case. It is very hard to debauch yourself when everyone is crammed too close together to let the dancing girls through.

The time passed slowly.

Aeons later I arrived in Auckland and I went in to the office to set up my classroom for the course I would be teaching the next day. It was a routine operation and it was soon successfully complete. I staggered off to my hotel feeling reassured that nothing else could possibly go wrong…

I arrived at the office for the first day of the course. It was a cloudy and drizzly day. I squelched in to the classroom and waited for my students to arrive, and then I began to teach. And as I taught, I made reference to slides that I was projecting on to the screen behind me. I began to suspect that all was not well when one of the students asked:

"Where can we find these slides in our manuals?"

Before I could say anything, another student said, "They are right there in the first chapter. One on each page, just as Alan is projecting them."

"Not in my manual," said the first student.

Close examination revealed that some of my students had the same manual and slides that I was teaching from, but others had a later version of the manual and at first glance it seemed to be quite different from mine. However it soon became clear that the later version of the manual contained all the same chapters that mine did – they were just in a different order. And when we found the chapters that corresponded to mine, they contained (almost) exactly the same information and the same slides but again they were arranged in a different order. There seemed to be no very good reason for this – the order of both sets of chapters and the information within them made perfect sense whichever way you presented them, so the shuffling that the material had been subjected to between the two versions of the manual seemed more than a little arbitrary. I suppose that this is the kind of change that you implement for the very best reason of all – because you can!

I began to consider slicing both myself and the classroom up the middle so that I could present each set of students with the material that corresponded to their manual. Perhaps I could clone myself. Maybe I could address every alternate word to the opposite side of the room. I listened to myself carefully. This is what I heard myself say.

"For those of you with a manual like mine, this is chapter three. For those of you with the new manual, it's a combination of chapters five and eight and you haven't got this slide, but don't worry because it isn't a very important one and I think I'll ignore it anyway. I usually do."

Some of the students looked a little twitchy at the extra complications I was introducing into their lives, but mostly it seemed to work. I spent the day teetering on tenterhooks, madly comparing the manuals one chapter ahead whenever I got a spare minute.

I finished the day quite exhausted, but triumphant. We'd got through everything I wanted to cover that day and the students seemed to be keeping up well. Crisis solved, nothing else could possibly go wrong…

It was raining again when I walked home to the hotel after the class. As I walked, I became conscious of a certain dampness seeping through my left sock, and strange squelching noises made themselves heard.

When I got back to the hotel room, I examined my shoes closely. At some unknown moment during the day, the upper surface of my left shoe had split in two directions and there was a large flap of leather that bounced up and down as I walked, thus exposing a huge hole to the elements. Needless to say the water had eagerly poured in through this enormous gap, which explained my damp sock and my squelching sounds. My left shoe was ruined and completely unwearable – even the act of gently removing it from my foot widened the split.

I had no other shoes with me. Oh gloom!

Close scrutiny of the yellow pages revealed that there were no late night emergency shoe shops anywhere close by. It seemed that I would have to wear my unwearable shoe until at least tomorrow lunchtime, when perhaps I would be able to find a shoe shop within walking distance of the office. I was not looking forward to this. The office is in a very posh part of town. Any shoe shop available to me would doubtless impose a huge posh surcharge on top of the basic price. Oh my aching credit card!

Fortunately I was having dinner with friends that night and when I explained my predicament, Sue had the perfect solution.

"Come with me to The Warehouse," she says. "It is open late tonight, and you are certain to get a bargain. Everyone does. All the adverts say so, and adverts never lie. It is against the law."

Sue took me to The Warehouse.

"Over there are the shoes," she said. "I'll go and look at the bargain books while you choose."

I glanced around. Shoes. Shelves full of shoes. I picked up a pair. Too large.

I picked up another pair. Too small.

I picked up another pair. Just right.

"Who's been trying on my shoes?" said baby bear inside my head.

I put one of them on to a foot. Perfect.

"OK," I said to Sue. "These will do."

Sue looked a little flabbergasted. "Don't you think you should try them on?" she asked.

"I've done that," I said, puzzled. "They're fine."

"But you've been gone less than two minutes," said Sue. "You haven't had time to make an informed choice. Shopping with men is so frustrating! Don't you know that you are supposed to compare prices and styles and try on at least a dozen pairs before you finally settle on the first pair you tried?"

"No," I said. "I didn't know that. Why do you have to do that?"

"In case you find a better bargain, or nicer shoes."

"Nicer shoes? Shoes are shoes. They cover your feet and stop your toes from fraying at the edges. As long as they fit, what else matters?"

"Oooh!" said Sue. "Aaaahhh!" she explained. Then she hit me with a bargain book and took me back home and we ate dinner.

Previous Contents Next