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8:14pm on Friday, 17th August, 2007:

The Case of the Stuck Rod


I'm at Heathrow, I'm far too early for my flight, therefore I must blog.

Terminal 4 is one of the better reasons for flying British Airways. It's spacy enough that someone can sneeze and 50 other people don't immediately catch a cold (it's more like 20). British Airways' fast check-in process is good, too, except when you bought your ticket using a credit card that was about to expire so it wouldn't accept the replacement as a "final identity check" — I had to talk to one of the people guarding the check-in machines, who was able to phone my new credit card details through to a colleague for an identity check. I expect as I write this, I'm paying for a bunch of shirts from Harrods to be delivered to a temporary address in Hounslow...

The security line wasn't too bad, especially for me. I was pulled out of the line to undergo a new, special X-ray machine they're testing. I had to stand at an angle, then stand with my back to a wall, then stand at the opposite angle to the first time. Then I got through. This is the kind of thing that will make queues 8 times longer if they implemented it for everybody, but as it was only for me I don't care.

Inside the shopping area, there was the usual array of shops. It's pretty good by the standards of most airports, although the one I'm flying to, Changi, has it beaten for variety. I chanced a cottage pie at Garfunkels, but shan't do so again. If I wanted microwaved food, I'd have had something before I left. Still, there were some bits of gristle in it, so that at least demonstrates there may have been some meat. The knife and fork were metal but utterly blunt. They could have given me a much sharper one, given that the guy sitting next to me had a plate full of broken chicken bones so pointy they were capable of being used to hold up a train.

Wireless is available at Terminal 4. It claims to be free, but I can't tell because even though I'mm sitting right next to the BT chairs with free electricity points where it advertises BT Openzone Wireless Broadband, I can't get a connection. I guess that means it must be free, then.

Ah yes, my bag.

I have one of those hand-luggage sized suitcases, so I don't have to mess about at the other end waiting for it to appear on the conveyor belt (or not). I pull it along using a long, metal rod that comes out of the back. Foolishly, a couple of years ago I let my younger daughter pull the bag, and she promptly dropped it; this did something to the rod, so that in order to get it back into the slot it comes out of, you have to wiggle it around a bit.

Well, today I pulled it out to drag it from the train to the underground at Liverpool Street, and I couldn't get it back in. I wiggled and waggled and beat it with my fists, but it wouldn't go back. It's two stage, and the top half worked fine, but the bottom half was stuck. I slowly gained the impression, over the hour-long journey to Heathrow on the tube, that the more I tried to get it to go down, the more it was digging itself into some retaining wall and making itself even more entrenched in its position.

When it came to security, I knew the game was up. I wouldn't be able to get it through the security screen without taking the handle down, and even if by some miracle I did then I'd never fit it in an overhead bin on the flight. Only one solution remained for me: brute force (also known as "how would my mother try to fix this?"). I turned the suitcase upside down and slammed it like a piledriver down onto the rod. I half-expected the handle to shatter or my laptop to lose its hard drive, but no! Miraculously, it broke whatever was blocking it inside, and slide in as well as it did the day I bought it. What's more, it continues to work just fine, now. So violence does sometimes work over subtlety.

Hmm, maybe I should look for the BT wireless transmitter and give it a few whacks?

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Copyright © 2007 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).