Jason and the aeronauts: All Michael Bywater wanted was an airline ticket. But he was flying in the face of the Almighty travel agent

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The Independent Online
I HAVE met God. His name is Jason and he works in a travel agency. At least, I assume he is God. He certainly isn't a travel agent. His behaviour is God-like: capricious, self-contradictory, misleading, unfathomable. And he moves in mysterious ways.

It began simply enough, a little like what happened to Saul of Tarsus, except at least Saul got halfway to Damascus before blacking out on account of God being after him. We just stayed put. Didn't go anywhere for 10 days. Couldn't go anywhere for 10 days. I didn't want to. I am - was - happy here in Peter Mayle country, despite it being Peter Mayle country. But my friend Amanda, here for a holiday, decided she wanted to go on to Kuala Lumpur . . . and that is how we met God.

He works in a bucket shop behind Victoria Station. We rang up and explained that she wanted a ticket to KL, because 'KL' is what you say to travel agents. If you say Kuala Lumpur they think you are a dork. Jason thought we were dorks anyway. He booked Amanda on to a flight and said he would ring back to confirm it in 10 minutes.

The following day, we called him. He said it was all fine, and he would call back to confirm it in 10 minutes. The following day we called him. The flight allocation, he said, had been withdrawn 10 minutes after we had spoken. 'Which 10 minutes was that?' we said, but Jason just made God-like squeaking noises and said he had lost the file. He promised to ring back in 10 minutes to explain. The following day we called him. 'Ah,' he said. 'You wanted to go to Tokyo.'

This time, we spelt out Kuala Lumpur in the international phonetic alphabet, but he still thought we were dorks. He said he'd look into it and call us back. The following day we called him. He recommended a Pakistan International Airlines flight, with an Aeroflot flight as a standby. The PIA flight involved a 24-hour stopover in Karachi, which did not appeal, but on the other hand the Aeroflot flight was . . . Aeroflot, and since the dissolution of the Soviet Union they haven't yet decided who owns the aeroplanes, or, indeed, which way is up.

Jason apologised, but said we had left it a bit late, and promised to call back in 10 minutes. That afternoon we called him. He said PIA had confirmed but Aeroflot was full.

Next time we called him he said PIA had disappeared from the computer but Aeroflot was empty. We said: book a seat on Aeroflot, but let us know if PIA comes back. 'Fine', said Jason, God-like, 'I'll call you back in 10 minutes.' The following day we called him. He was out. The next day we called him. By now we could hear the receptionist hissing 'It's them,' and the crash as Jason dived beneath his desk.

To hell with this, we said, book Aeroflot and cancel PIA altogether. The following day he cancelled Aeroflot and booked PIA. The following day (they were beginning to blur a touch) we called Aeroflot to shout directly. 'No seats]' said the man at Aeroflot's agency. We rang back, pretending to be different people who had never heard of Jason, let alone tried to book through him. 'Plenty of seats]' said the woman from Aeroflot's agency, quoting a price pounds 40 below Jason's.

There you go then; and there she went. The train from Avignon arrives at Victoria. Handy. On her way to Heathrow, Amanda stopped by to punch Jason in the throat. He was out. His boss, Jonathan, said he would be back in 10 minutes.

God-like behaviour, you will agree, exactly the stuff He has been doling out since records began. Floods, plagues, burning bushes, cut-price airline travel: the record is majestically consistent. And the wonders? Well . . . we are all agreed that tourism is the most repulsive, ugly, twisted, pointless scourge ever to hit the planet, and never mind about the rain forests.

It's only appropriate that God should be right in the thick of things, thrashing away at his busted computer, hiding under his desk, not calling back. Plus ca change. And if you want his number you'll find it in Time Out.

Wallace Arnold is on holiday

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