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"During his six years working for St Helens Council Education Department, Paul was, among other things, our in-house "languages expert", doing the translating, interpreting and liaison with our twin towns in Chalon-Sur-Saône, France, Stuttgart, Germany and El Prat de Llobregat, Spain. His participation has enabled us to maintain strong links with all three towns, particularly in the field of education, where he set up and managed a very successful work experience programme for sixth formers"
Brian Mainwaring, Director of Education, St Helens Council, August 1995

Fiasco at the airport PDF
Sunday, 27 June 2010 00:00

by Carolyn Emmett, Montejaque's correspondent in South Africa

Fiasco at the airport, June 24th 2010. Let’s hope the memory of well-organised events will be more lasting than the memory of the unbelievably appalling, inefficient, incompetent bungling at O.R. Tambo Airport in Johannesburg on Friday night, June 25th, when the boys were leaving to return to Canada.

We arrived in good time – at 10:50 p.m. – to check in for their 12:40 a.m. flight to Toronto via Nairobi (2-hour layover) and Amsterdam (also 2-hour layover). The queue for Kenyan Airways (the first leg) was practically ‘out the door’; there were only two check-in desks open. It took an hour to get to the front of the line ... to find that the reason for the delay was that each passenger’s bag was being plastic-wrapped by a couple of rather slow (and probably exhausted) employees.

Plastic wrapping is a good idea in this country, as the baggage handlers are very adept at opening zipped cases (even with locks on) and removing valuable items. (I know this for a fact, having lost a gold necklace and earrings, two antique rings and a bottle of perfume when we returned from Spain in May). It usually costs about five Euros for the wrapping, but Kenyan Airways was doing it for free. “Good idea,” we said, “but it’s taking far too long.”

Each passenger was given a label for his/her bag, which he/she then handed to the operator for it to be incorporated into the plastic wrapping. Clever plan ... except that every label declared the luggage weighed 50 kg. and that its final destination was Nairobi! So we had a bit of a ‘hissy fit’ about that, and Kevin changed the destination to read ‘Toronto’, and some flunky went flapping off to find out the airport code for Toronto (YYZ). (We wonder how many Amsterdam-bound passengers discovered that their bags were still in Nairobi once they arrived at Schiphol?)

Having sorted that out, the boys went up to the check-in desk to get their boarding cards and to put their condom suitcases onto the conveyor belt. Um, no, they couldn’t do the latter. They were told to leave their cases near the check-in desk, where a harried employee was recording the computerised luggage tag for every suitcase (about 20 by this time) into a notebook.

“Leave the cases here and go on through to security,” the boys were told.

“Not bloody likely,” said Kevin. “Some thieving bastard will take the bags if they’re just left sitting here on the floor.” A rather officious female told him he was wrong about that, and asked if he had some sort of a complaint about how the situation was being handled. (I will not write down Kevin’s reply, as I don’t think Spell-Check could deal with it).

There were other passengers who were equally reluctant to leave their baggage, so we all stood around looking cross and threatening until the said harried employee had recorded the bags in his book (some of them at least twice, we think, as he wasn’t putting them aside after he’d carefully noted the details for each bag) and put them onto a conveyor belt to go down to baggage handling for the ‘plane.

By this time it was 12:10 a.m., only 30 mins. before the flight was scheduled to leave ... and there were still some 50 passengers or so waiting to be shrink-wrapped and checked-in. (So much for the boys getting duty-free ciggies and booze on the other side – or for Saurabh to get his much-wanted World Cup mascot – which is quite ugly anyway, as it looks like a lion with green acne). And so much for a long, long, long, long goodbye to my lovely son and his charming friend. A quick hug and a kiss, and they were on their way ... into the long queue for the security check. What a balls-up!

(This was at midnight, remember, when only one other flight, to Spain, was leaving. Who knows what’s going to happen when the next wave of players and fans goes home, particularly if it’s in the daytime, when there will be at least 10 times as many passengers?).


So, it’s England vs. Germany on Sunday afternoon, and Mexico vs. Argentina on Sunday night ... the former will be nail-biting for we England supporters, and the latter should be bloody good football. Because, unless England pulls its socks up, I’m convinced it will be only a nail-biting game, and not bloody good football!

© Carolyn Emmett


Paul Whitelock

Paul is a Joint Honours graduate in Spanish and German, a qualified teacher (PGCE) and has a Member of the Institute of Linguists (MIL) qualification.

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