In the words of the television announcers of our youth, “There will now be a short intermission”….we are very, very busy for these next two weeks finishing the course of peace building training with no time for a proper update so here is a tale from David’s journal:
The power of the penknife: a traveller’s tale
This report has been edited to conceal the identity of those involved, and one, in particular.
Once upon a recent time, David Cooke had to make a journey.
Such things upset his equilibrium, and he is not good at packing. He has a tendency to take far too much, so as to cover as many exigencies as possible, ranging from not unlikely scenarios, such as rapid weather change, to the rather more unlikely and outré possibilities of nuclear or biological warfare.
Over the years his longsuffering and attentive wife has usually undertaken this onerous task for him, so as to preclude personal disasters such as missing toothbrushes, power appliances without plugs, and insufficient changes of underwear.
On the day in question, however, David was left to his own devices, upon the basis he was only due to be away for one night and two days, and he really ought to be able to manage this task on his own, shouldn’t he?
David decided to pack a small rucksack, which contained, among other artefacts that he adjudged necessary, a Swiss Army penknife generously given him by Simon Pabst.
This gift had turned out to be a godsend, used by David on many occasions since leaving the UK, and therefore of both practical and sentimental value, for David had greatly enjoyed Simon’s visit to David’s homeland, and had been deeply touched by the unexpected gift.
But in the moment, enter the unexpected.
David’s wife, unable to restrain her desire to supervise his incompetence, fell away from her earlier decision to leave him to his own devices and pointed out the impracticalities of his packing the rucksack in the suitcase. She suggested that David should really have it to hand, with all its papers and travelling necessities, so that David’s original idea of travelling with only one piece of luggage was, in an instant, revised.
But, dear reader, in that moment a dire consequence of this fateful intervention was overlooked by one and all, namely that David now had a penknife – a fearsome weapon of mass destruction- openly available to him while taking flight upon an aeroplane, in clear contravention of current security regulations.
In soon-to-be shattered blissful ignorance, David set off to an Airport that must not be named, where he was waved through by security, notwithstanding their x-ray machines, and he boarded his first flight.
At the second Airport, which also cannot be named, he similarly passed through another security check, still in untroubled ignorance of his misdemeanour.
He then sauntered through to a famous airlines check-in counter, where he indulged in some innocent and joyous banter with a counter clerk, and as there was no queue behind him, stayed to chat with her about nothing in particular for a few minutes.
In due course his suitcase duly vanished down the maw of the conveyor belt. The counter clerk, an amiable soul, laughed at his silly jokes, smiled at his pleasantries, made a few cracks of her own that David thought hilariously amusing, and issued him with his Boarding Pass. So on he passed, heading towards the departure lounge, feeling good and in fine fettle.
But, there, going through the final security check, disaster struck for David, and he suddenly found himself cast in the same mould as Mr Bean.
An eagle-eyed security officer noticed a tell-tale indicator and challenged David, who in a horrible crash of reality realised what he had inadvertently done and immediately understood that his beloved penknife was now exposed and would be confiscated, to be left abandoned beside the plastic water bottles removed from other heedless preceding passengers.
Crushed, he pleaded to know if there might not be an option other than an application of the strict letter of the law? Without exaggeration, he exclaimed in piteous tones that the penknife was precious, a gift, and was of far greater sentimental value than its mere monetary cost.
The security officer was unmoved. However, a colleague, no doubt noticing David’s trembling lower lip, took pity upon the hapless and incompetent traveller, and suggested David should return to the Check-in counter.
Emboldened, and with penknife in one hand and the rucksack in the other, David returned to plead his case with the friendly counter clerk. He was hoping that perhaps arrangements could be made for his precious penknife to be placed in storage to await his return- he could imagine no other positive outcome, and was prepared to pay generously to achieve this.
But the kindly Counter Clerk, her face turned serious, would have none of it. She took the penknife from David’s unresisting hand.
“Come with me”, she said, and led him back to the departure lounge, ignoring the protests of the sharp-eyed security officer, and to David’s astonishment led him straight through and out and on to the Airport apron.
There, perspiring men were loading baggage trolleys for various flights.
The determined Counter Clerk marched up to one such trolley, where, both because she was considerable easier on the eye than David, and because she represented a break from boring routine and heavy labour, she immediately became the centre of attention of a number of male baggage handlers’ eyes.
She demanded to know if the trolley they were loading contained the luggage to David’s destination, which as this report has already made clear, must not be named for security reasons.
They replied in the affirmative, but David was aware that with a full flight, the chances of his being able to identify and find his suitcase among the pile of other luggage pieces was so slim as to be non-existent.
Nevertheless, amazed and deeply appreciative at the genial Counter Clerk’s intervention, and astonished to be standing only 100 metres from his plane, next to a lady brandishing his penknife, he cast his eyes again at the said trolley to see that the baggage handlers had in fact only just started loading it, and there was only one suitcase placed thereon.
And yes, dear reader, it was indeed his suitcase.
Under her gracious gaze, he rapidly opened it, slid the penknife in, vowed he would not make the same mistake upon his return trip, tucked the Counter Clerk’s arm under his and skipped and danced back to the departure lounge. There, like a croquet ball that has missed its hoop, and must first return to the other side, so as to go through from the correct direction, he again put his rucksack through the x-ray machine, was cleared and duly boarded his next flight, having profusely thanked his saviour.
Please consider the following factors in this true story.
1. The statistical improbability of David locating his suitcase in such circumstances.
2. The impossibility of anyone going to such lengths to help such a foolish and hapless foreigner anywhere else in the world, save at this particular anonymous Airport.
3. And above all the overwhelming kindness of the Counter Clerk.
There are some lessons about kindness and grace in this true account; something about humanity.