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October 31st 2012 print

Tony Thomas

The Madman of Tullamarine

There is much to be said about the joys of children, but words are apt to fail any parent  marooned without a car key in an airport's tow-away zone. Well, not all words...


I was required to deliver one of  my daughters, Briony, to the airport the other day. She drove her car with me in the passenger seat.


On arrival at Tullamarine, the 3-minute parking bays for departures were pretty full. I pointed to a small gap and said, "Stick your bonnet in there, it doesn’t matter if the car’s backside is sticking out because I’ll be on my way home with the car in no time." I got out and gallantly went round to the boot to unload her uber-heavy cases. With an affectionate farewell, daughter disappeared into the terminal, bound for Singapore.

I paused to give the sigh of fatherhood, then went round to the driver’s seat and leaned forward to key-start the car. But the key was not there. Daughter had taken it with her to Singapore.

I had a dilemma similar to the rat, standing on a metal plate, that gets an electric shock if it does not leap on to one out of two pads. But the experimenter also juggles the circuit to the two pads so one pad is also electrified but in random sequence. Thus the rat’s choices, stay, go, go left, go right, are all possibly adverse. This is hard on the rat but helps research on nervous breakdowns. The end justifies the means.

In my case, I could stay in car and hope daughter would re-emerge from the terminal. That would mean overstaying the 3 minutes and moreover, every minute I sat there increased the chance that daughter would find her way into the immigration hall and thence Singapore.

I could abandon the car and dash into the terminal in the hope of discovering daughter and wrenching the keys violently from her. This would mean the security guards would notice an abandoned car parked at 45 degrees to the footpath and with its backside sticking out a metre or two (all the other cars had meanwhile driven away leaving daughter’s car alone and prominent). At best, car would be towed away; at worst, blown up. 

I chose to abandon car and locate daughter, and dashed into International Terminal. Milling crowds everywhere, and I had no idea which airline Briony was using. So I took up a position 5 metres inside, and shouted at the top of my lungs: "B-R-I-O-N-Y !!" This caused a sensation as people wondered who the elderly male was and why he was screaming. Briony failed to appear.

I checked the departures: a QANTAS 380 was boarding for Singapore. I dashed to the right to the special QANTAS section where hundreds of travellers were coiling around the people-barriers like a snakes and ladders game. Briony is short and if there, she would be undetectable. So I again bellowed, ‘B-R-I-O-N-Y !!" Again the crowd gave a startle-response but no Briony emerged. Staff are still talking about "the madman of Tullamarine" they saw that day.

By this time I was fearful about my daughter’s abandoned car.  I dashed outside and sat in it, not realising that I could at least release the handbrake and push the car to align it with the kerb. But Briony by now could possibly be ticketed and heading for Immigration. I  needed to go back again to seek her out among the multitude.

I dashed back into the terminal, dashed here, dashed there, and then caught sight of a group of officers outside the terminal, some armed, warily inspecting my daughter’s grey Nissan Tiida. I dashed outside again to liaise with the security squad. "This is your car?" they asked, grim-faced. 

Myself, doing a little dance of anxiety: "Yes, that’s right, no, daughter’s! She’s in there somewhere [gesticulating towards terminal]. Suitcases…she drove… Singapore… no key…a good girl, usually…sure to come out soon with key…on my mother’s grave, I’m not al Quaeda!   Can one of you please hotwire this car? Please don’t tow an old pensioner away!"

None of this impressed the bomb squad. They circled round the car like it was a wild beast, or a big pile of steaming ordure. Some wrote copiously in black-covered notebooks, others dialed up colleagues or maybe the SOGGIES [Special Operations Group] on their radio. They were joined by a parking inspector demanding to know of me why my car was so badly parked. While I was again explaining, a familiar figure holding car keys burst out of the terminal, my daughter Briony!

She explained all to the blue-clad commandos. She had been excited about her big trip to Singapore. She got her tickets. She remembered she had a letter to post and went to the airport Post Office. She pulled the letter out of her handbag and noticed the car keys. She put two and two together and thought I might need them. That’s all, officers, it’s quite a simple mistake.

The security squad conferred and wandered off, disappointed. The parking lady continued tapping busily into her fines device, ignoring my daughter’s increasingly shrill protests. Parking lady: "I’m just doing my job. Have a nice day". And to me, "On your way, please."

"Heck Dad! It’s your fault. You should pay the fines. Why didn’t you ask me for the keys!"

With another fatherly sigh, the madman of Tullamarine headed for home in Briony’s grey Nissan Tiida.

Tony Thomas is a parent of an adult daughter