Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.
– Groucho Marx
The journey from Heathrow to Rome goes without incident. It was always going to be the change at Rome that was likely to cause me problems, though, and, true to form, it does. The plane lands about 15 minutes late, which, when I only had an hour and half to change planes anyway, makes it quite tight for time at Fiumicino, which sprawls untidily all over the place. Annoyingly, our plane lands only a few gates away from the one at which I’ll be departing in an hour or so’s time, but we are then bused about 50 miles across the airport to the arrivals gate. When we get off the bus, there is a member of Alitalia cabin crew herding up all the people who are connecting to the Milan flight (why on earth anyone would fly from Heathrow to Rome to then go back to Milan is beyond me, but there’s no accounting for Italians), which is boarding now and due to take off in about 15 minutes’ time. They are all hustled to the front of the security queue, while the rest of us mutter and grumble disgruntledly. This is, of course, eating into my changeover time, and I’m beginning to get a bit antsy. Finally, as I look at the clock and realise that my flight has opened for boarding, I decide to do as the Italians do and just push to the front of the queue with a winning smile. Amazingly, I get away with it. I should do this more often.
It’s now a marathon dash across the airport to make my plane. I make it with about 5 minutes to spare, and board the plane puffing like a grampus. As I sit down, I consider the possibility of my luggage having made the same change. My bet at this point is about 95% unlikely, but never say never, right?
2 hours later, watching the empty conveyor belt at Brindisi, I finally concede defeat. The shocking thing is how many other people have also not been reunited with their bags; there are a good 10 of us in the queue waiting to report missing luggage. I text my mother to let her know that I’ve arrived safely but that my bag hasn’t. She appears to have developed a sense of the surreal, however, as I receive the following reply: ‘Brilliant it all went smoothly now you can be warm’. Er – right.
As the days go on and I hear nothing, I start to lose hope. My sense of the macabre sends me to the internet to read Alitalia luggage horror stories (many and vitriolic). The things that I am most upset about are all the books in the bag. I’d specifically asked for books for Christmas, so that I would have something to read while in Italy. Yes, they’re theoretically replaceable via Amazon, but the post round here is no more reliable than the planes. I’m also freezing my arse off, as all my jumpers were in the suitcase, dammit! I ask Mum to send me receipts for as much as she can, so that if I have to make a claim I have something to make it with. She manages to root out a load of genuine ones, as well as corralling a load from her friends to pad out the rest of the claim. It may not be entirely honest, but my jeans, for instance, cost 150 quid to buy a year ago, and I’m buggered if I’m going to let the airline get away with losing them and not covering the cost somehow.
However, on Wednesday, 5 days after I arrived in Italy, I receive a phone call. My bag has been found! Hooray! The woman on the phone says that it should be delivered to me within 2 days. I mentally start dressing myself warmly and reading books, and can hardly contain my excitement. Will the bag arrive intact? Yes! It does! I email mum to let her know. Her surreal streak is clearly coming on apace; she replies, ‘