Do you remember the municipal car park attendant of old? He used to wear a dust coat and strut about importantly, pointing out exactly where you may park and where you certainly may not.
“Oi! You can’t park there!” He’d point so you, Joe Public, empty-headed and obviously stupid, couldn’t possibly misunderstand. “I said here. Tch, tch, tch. In a hurry are we? Well, if we’d parked properly in the first place we wouldn’t ‘ave to be doin’ it again, would we?” Duly chastened, you’d lock the car and creep away, wishing you had the right of appeal or at least the right of reply. You daren’t do or say anything because, despite his diminutive stature, the man wielded the power of an AK47 and he had the considerable weight of the local council to back him up.
It isn’t often we encounter such officious little people, but a few months ago it was my misfortune to fall foul of not one, but two of these types. The location was different, but the situation similarly frustrating. With the ability to reduce mature, sensible people to quivering lumps of jelly and others to the brink of apoplexy, the so-called ‘security’ personnel at Sydney Airport’s International Departures, should they feel inclined, have the power to easily bring the entire airport to a complete standstill.
I should mention here that nowhere in the International Terminal is the air conditioning even half-way effective but, in the heaving, sweltering cattle race that the security screening area has become, it is non existent. On this occasion I was heading for the UK while the south-eastern corner of Australia was in the grip of a record breaking heatwave.
My connecting flight from Brisbane had been horribly delayed, so the nice Virgin Atlantic lass in Sydney equipped me with a bright blue “Express Pass” to wave at Immigration and Security to help me gain a swift passage through the system, thereby giving me a fighting chance of catching my flight to London.
Waving the pass and looking bright and hopeful, my gaze was met by the car park attendant of my worst nightmares. She singled me out for her most officious treatment and made me stand back while fifteen others whizzed through before me. By this time the dulcet tones of the PA were calling for me by name.
“That’s me,” I said desperately, trying not to screech. “I am going to miss my flight.” The bulge beneath her ill-fitting shirt might have been a broken down AK47 or it could have been an Uzi. She glared at me.
“You should have allowed more time,” was the surprising reply. Surprising because she didn’t look as though she had been long enough out of her mountain village to understand English.
“But my flight from Brisbane was very late…” I protested. There followed one of my light bulb moments and I approached another official. “I need to see someone in charge, a supervisor, perhaps.”
He nodded towards Madam Taliban. “She’s the boss.”
Ten minutes later, dishevelled and trailing trolley bag and winter coat, I huffed and puffed my way to the departure gate – always the furthest from the hub – to be met by a sympathetic Virgin Atlantic flight attendant.
“Sorry if I’ve kept you waiting,” I said, trying to recover my breath. “I’ve been stuck in the Black Hole of Calcutta.”
The aircraft door closed on my heels and push-back from the gate began immediately. The 25-minute delay may have caused some headaches to Air Traffic, not to mention the flight crew, a delay for which – for the very first time in my life – I was solely responsible. Well, that’s not strictly true, I had a lot of help from Virgin Australia and the Australian branch of the Association of International Taliban Car Park Attendants, but it explains why I remain totally loyal to Virgin Atlantic.