Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Sometimes I think the purpose of an airport is to stop people from flying.

It's just that in recent years the doubts that Customs have come up with about me have become, well, customary.

They pull me out of lines, go through all my stuff, make me wait while they query my valid visa(s) with their colleagues...

I guess I should be glad that the other constant about all this is that so far, in 100% of cases, they have always eventually realised that they’ve been wasting their time.

Being a bit of a nodder and a smiler, do I just look like an easy bureaucratic target? Perhaps not. Rather, they will often explain that their selection of me is 'random'. Fantastic - so if I were to place a bet beforehand on my random selection, then I could potentially offset my winnings against the cost of my ticket and fly for free!

Guys, why not pick on one of the many passengers who doesn’t have official documentation from the local government permitting his/her entry?

If this is profiling, then please get a better worldview. Like I’m trying to.

Whatever drives this global assumption about me, it’s obviously not the paperwork. I know this because even the sniffer dogs choose to single me out with the same success rate as their human counterparts.

In recent years my airport-technique has inevitably adapted in a forlorn effort to pre-empt the queries that staff have yet to discover that they are independently going to generate upon meeting me. No, I don't phone them in advance to advise them of the upcoming drain on their busy schedules, instead I have this quite trouble-making attitude of following the rules.

On 3rd March this year I entered Heathrow Airport to fly to New Zealand, only to be magnanimously informed at the check-in desk that I was only just going to be allowed onto the flight. The reason? My passport had exactly 6 months and 2 days left on it. Since my 24-hour flight to NZ would deliver me there 2 days later local time, this was therefore the last flight ever that she could allow me to board using this passport.

Wow, even with all my preparation, I still hadn’t seen that curveball coming. I especially hadn’t seen it coming because of the way my NZ Work Visa explicitly stated that I could enter on any date until the end of June. This date had been actually calculated by the NZIS precisely because of when my passport was due to expire. I tried to point this out to her, but with no success or, thankfully, need of it.

Still, that encounter had been a heads-up for me. Later on in NZ, almost everyone who I asked - including two branches of Flight Centre - informed me that, now that my passport had under 6 months left, I would not be allowed into Australia for the same reason. Eventually however I rang up the source – the Australian Consulate – and had to listen to their recorded information several times before I would believe it.

"Welcome to the Australian Consulate General… Your passport does not need to be valid for longer than your proposed travel."

Those were their exact words, for in keeping with the spirit of recorded messages, I recorded them.

So today I heaved my luggage onto the bus bound for Auckland Airport, planning to fly to Australia for a week’s holiday, and aware that this would be the crunch. I not only had to get into Australia, but afterwards I had to also get out again and back into New Zealand. I was armed with not only a transcript of the phone message, but also the actual recording on my phone, plus of course a pair of headphones. Oh the Aussies might not let me in, but if they didn’t, then I was darn well going to prove to them their inconsistency.

First however I had to survive said bus journey.

I was wearing the West Ham soccer t-shirt which cockney Neil had given to me years ago. As is usually the case, someone came up to me on the bus to start a conversation with me about the team’s recent relegation. I really should become a member of their fan club, if only so that I can return these people’s joy at spotting me...

Anyway, Auckland check-in desk. Passport and ticket. Bag checked in. No problems highlighted.


Next I paused to eat the apple that I’d brought with me. Experience had taught me that consuming fruit while on the flight still left behind the smell of it in my bag, and I didn’t want to attract the sniffers again.

Then I made a mistake – I pottered around the airport for a bit. Just long enough for them to announce my name over the tannoy, requesting that I return to the check-in desk.

Memo to self – In future, get through security to the final departure lounge as quickly as possible. It’s more inconvenient for them to send you away from there.

So, praying, I went back to the check-in desk, keeping my transcript and phone easily to hand. A lot was riding on this. If they declined my boarding the flight, then I stood to lose not just the money that I’d spent on the tickets, but meeting up with four valued old friends along the East Coast of Australia. If I’m honest, seeing those friends had probably factored into why I was standing on this hemisphere in the first place.

Anyway I returned to the Qantas check-in desk, only to discover that the problem wasn’t my passport after all. No, it was that whacking great big camping stove that I was secretly smuggling through in my bag.

What? A... camping stove? Really???

Memo to self 2 – Don’t try smuggling any camping stoves through in your luggage.

Well, they couldn’t really blame me. No, they actually couldn’t. For there was absolutely nothing remotely resembling such a device anywhere in my admittedly large backpack. So the explanation was simple – they must have mixed up my luggage with someone else’s.

Hasty phone calls were made. I explained that my backpack was blue. The voice on the other end of the phone corrected me that it was black. This wasn’t getting us anywhere, which was exactly the result that I was trying to avoid.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, we eventually figured out what the item was in my luggage that security had misidentified on their x-ray as a camping stove. It was a can of shaving cream made by Woolworths.

Apparently this would be okay, they said, but only because the top was on.

Memo to self 3 – Buy shaving cream locally, to avoid blowing one’s top.

That all sorted out, I hurried as quickly as possible through security and the duty free area etc. to find the departure gate. While sitting there, a distant airport official in a suit looked at me, made his way through the crowds towards me, and crushingly asked me how I was.

I can’t tell you how much this made my heart sink. What was it this time – the passport, the ‘camping stove’, or something completely new?

So he produces his mobile phone, and indicates for me to look at it. Unlocking the screen, he covertly flashes at me his wallpaper of West Ham Football Club.

Memo to self 4 – Join. That. Fanclub.

I guess I could have attempted to blag my allegiance to his favourite football team and tried to swing an upgrade. After all, from the earlier fan on the bus I knew that they’d just been relegated. If only I’d been wearing a Doctor Who t-shirt. I can talk about that for hours, and everybody loves Doctor Who. Well, since 2005 they suddenly do.

Also while waiting to board, I again had to explain the presence of the camping stove in my luggage to the desk staff. Frankly, I was starting to feel like I was maybe now due that upgrade anyway...

Eventually I boarded cattle class, we took off (yay!), the seatbelt sign was turned off, and I got up to use the facilities. At this, yet another complete stranger approached me, wanting to say something of grave importance.

“Before Bin Laden, no-one had ever heard of Islamabad... but everyone knew... West Ham are bad!!!”

Memo to self 5 – Jokes on an aircraft about Bin Laden should be avoided at all costs. Some of them are appalling.

After three to four hours, during which Qantas had rather bravely served us all ice creams, we touched down in Brisbane! No-one there queried my passport either, so no-one got to hear the recording on my phone. I was almost disappointed.

All in all, the journey had repeatedly threatened to go awry, but as I made my way through all the remaining formalities, my concerns were receding from real life and safely back into my overactive worry.

Except that now an official was asking me to walk past his sniffer dog. Well, I couldn’t. The dog was taking far too much interest in my daysack.

Memo to self 6 – Not even the departure airport had been late enough to eat that apple...

Return To Oz episode #2
Return To Oz episode #3
Return To Oz episode #4
Return To Oz episode #5
Return To Oz episode #6
Return To Oz episode #7


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