Understanding: magnaminous and most...olympic!
by Andrew Leech (aleech@ath.forthnet.gr)

ELT News March 2006

Being much troubled at the possible demise, takeover or bankruptcy of our beloved national carrier, so lovingly presented to the nation by the Golden Greek over 35 years ago, we decided to take what may be our last trip on it. The thought of those elegant Olympic roundels on the tail being incorporated into a British Airways skewer design, like souvlaki - or bagels - on a rod, or even – perhaps - something much worse, was quite demoralising.

Tickets purchased, holding place of honour at the table, we sat down to our supper; talking over all those past wonderful holidays. How I remembered the time two tyres had burst on take-off for London, one casing efficiently eaten by the starboard engine, with hardly a cough of protest; the other elegantly draped over the port turbine - where it balanced like Rudolf Nureyev in frozen immortality till noticed by the cabin crew halfway across the Ionian Sea. Then, feeling it might make its presence felt over the Alps, we were ordered to return to Athens.

The exciting landing, the bursting of other tyres, the clapping of hands and religious crossing of chest as the pilot expertly brought the wounded bird to rest; the gentle hands of security as they whisked my camera away for photographing the lopsided plane before it went to ‘hospital’ for a prosthetic device;" the 15 gin and tonics and complimentary bottle of wine they poured into me while waiting for the afternoon's jumbo. All these brought nostalgic memories of my younger days when drama was a much greater loved event.

Olympic cut & paste

After dinner, we dealt with overdue correspondence, casually ripping up unwanted envelopes. "Have you seen the tickets, dear?" I asked. "They're on the table, love," she answered. "There's nothing on the table, except a pile of ripped-up envelopes," I pointed out carefully: "it's the tickets I want to put away." She came to the table. "They were in an orange envelope." I looked, there was no orange envelope, but some tiny orange specks caught my eye as I was about to push the mound of torn envelopes into the bin. "Were any of your letters in orange envelopes, dear?" I asked, a slight tremor and foreknowledge starting to permeate through my several glasses of excellent chilled Soave (who said I looked down on Italian wine?). "No, that contained the tickets."

I picked through the red fragments and the bunched up tightly wadded pieces of ticket within them. Memories of my youth again flooded through me of age 12 and marathon jigsaw sessions."Er, do you like puzzles, dear?" The answer was silent, but the expression was not positive. Each ticket was in exactly 7 pieces and each piece had 8 layers. First came the squeals of horror, threats of retribution, divorce, crippling alimony payments - then out came the sellotape and co-operation.

4 similar outward bound coupons, part of the number on each legible; 4 similar return coupons, each dutifully ripped into seven, 4 sets of baggage checks where the numbers spun before our eyes. A total of 24 pages in all. Cut, compare and paste was the order of the night; cut, compare and sellotape. It was dawn before we staggered to our respective duties, she to work and me ... to bed. Next day nobody spoke to me. I was the pariah of the punjab! Mournful looks like sealions with ulcers from all of them, but not a single word, not even a strangled "arf". Balefully, they reproached me until I started on the procedure of getting those sellotaped remains, like patched antiquities from some under-funded museum, reissued.

Olympic re-issue

For four hours I called the airline. Somebody dutifully picked up the phone - and put it down again. Another number whose operator gave me yet another one. At last I got through, I found a sympathetic ear. I poured all the story into it, received grave commiseration and was directed to the number I had first dialled. Finally, as the house was running low on limejuice and I was in danger of melting away, they agreed to look at them. It was 4 pm; would I make it?

Arriving just before the doors shut, I gently presented the pieces to the supervisor and - like Oliver and Mr Bumble - asked for more. "Please re-issue," I begged, instinctively genuflecting before the person who held the fate of my entire holiday in her hands. "But you can read the pieces," she countered. "There is no problem with them." "Look," I reasoned, " I know that you people at Venizelos have no problem in accepting a jumbled mass of sellotape, but JFK, New York might not have such global understanding." She looked solicitous,she fully understood now. Of course, an American ticket agent could not possibly have the genius of a Greek one. Yet, a lifetime of civil service upbringing; the instinctive reaction to find another formality to complete, fought hard.

She frowned. I pressed forward with my last shot. "Perhaps if you could give me a written statement, stamped, signed and sealed that this jigsaw puzzle is a valid ticket, JFK might accept it?" She looked at me, straight between the eyes. I had suggested the unsuggestable. That someone actually take responsibility and sign a document. In two shakes of a lamb's tail the tickets were in one side of a computerised meat grinder and fresh ones emerged from the other. "We should have closed 10 minutes ago," she pointed out. "But we still have the understanding spirit of fairness and free-enterprise that made this airline what it is." I could say no more.

(Posting date 21 June 2007)

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