This story is set in Rome. I’m saying this upfront because most of my stories take place in Tooting, Gravesend or Birmingham, and I feel this is an exotic touch which will engage readers (millenials mostly) and give people stumbling across McCannecdotes for the first time the impression that this is a blog of worldly adventures in far flung places.
Also worth noting is this is not, 100% strictly speaking, my story. I was there (yes, in Rome, the one in Italy, in person) and I witnessed key moments from this story. But despite being exactly the kind of thing that would happen to me, this did not actually happen to me. After extensive content licencing negotiations I’ve been permitted to write this up. Those of you who remember, I have occasionally had Guest McCannecdotes here (well, two, both written by the same learned/oafish friend under the pseudonym Jamon Iberico) – but the victim of this story didn’t want to write it up on my behalf (or our behalves) presumably because at work we’ve made him tell this story so, so many times that he must have grown weary of it.
I will certainly do the story justice, partly because I am a seasoned anecdotal veteran having been publishing on McCannecdotes for 13 years. And partly because I recently once again heard this story, told in detail by him, and I also have a recording of this retelling, which I plan to refer to.
Like all the juiciest stories, the true identity of those involved need to be protected. I will use the initials “AB” to describe my friend here. Coincidentally, “AB” is his nickname, and the name that has been used for him by myself and colleagues ever since we met him, so there is little stealth here, but it sounds like a codename and adds panache.
It was summer 2019 and myself and AB were booked on a business trip to Rome. Even this was not without complications as originally by mistake AB and another colleague called “Al” were booked on the flights. This was likely due to the fact Al was far more likely to be required on an overseas trip than a runt like me, and the person booking assumed there must have been a mix-up.
It was to be a conference of highly esteemed international company delegates (further reason why it had been assumed I was not supposed to be on the flight), for a couple of days involving high-level meetings, intense collaboration, and finishing off with a reconnaissance around Rome’s finest (video games) retail outlets.
Pre-departure in the office, we talked luggage. I had a bag stuffed with every item of well-fitting clothing I owned (about 6 items) plus one nice shirt I wanted to wear but was so tight I would have to make sure I didn’t consume food or fizzy beverages for the duration. AB was proudly showing off his posh suitcase. “It has a built in USB charger” he gloated. “It cost many hundreds of pounds”, we had no trouble getting him to admit. Hundreds? I mean who spends that kind of money on a bag. Fucking ridiculous. I shook my head disapprovingly until I was distracted by the thought that my £300 LEGO rollercoaster needed dusting when I got back.
We set off from the office, chanting “LADS ON TOUR! LADS ON TOUR” all the way to the airport (note: this part was missing from AB’s recent retelling but let’s pretend it happened).
In no time at all we were in swanky Italian offices, sitting on chic Italian chairs, breathing fragrant Italian air, and guzzling lush Italian coffee (from the Italian vending machine in the Italian office, which MUST have been better coffee). Ideas were shared, brainstorming was done, great minds melded (this bit is all for the benefit of anyone reading who might have their hand on the corporate travel budget tiller and thus have a say in whether such expenses were justified or could be again).
When the work was done, AB went off for a bit of sightseeing, while I went back to the hotel to spend a couple of hours trying to fit into my “nice” shirt. Then we headed out to a nice outdoor venue for a collegiate evening of networking and hardcore business chat, complemented by nibbles (Italian ones), wines (Italian ones) and waitresses (Italian ones, YES!)
AB had a fair amount to drink, but I’m glad to say remained lucid till the very end (which was about 1am) – indeed the only real indicator of the amount he had to drink was a gentle swaying from side to side which started about 9pm, and which a) matched quite perfectly the gentle breeze of the outdoor venue, and b) I found strangely soothing.
The next day we were to be driving around town visiting stores, and I was inwardly relieved that I wouldn’t have a hangover to deal with, especially in this heat.
The following morning we rolled downstairs to gather for the store visits. We’d be ferried around, Apprentice-style, in a handful of people carriers. I practiced holding my phone in that weird way they always do on the Apprentice, in case I got any calls in transit – for example a call from Al to say the original mix-up about the conference had itself been a mix-up and that he was indeed supposed to be there in my place.
We’d be heading to the airport in the afternoon for flights back so we checked out, and arranged to leave our stuff to be collected, in that Raiders of the Lost Ark style warehouse all hotels have behind reception. We all received numbered tickets and I placed mine in a secure pocket. Usually this would involve choosing a pocket from which a papery item couldn’t fall out in the process of sitting and standing up, and also not beside any items which may be hastily removed, like a wallet, during which the papery item could slip out and into the wind unnoticed. On this occasion I was wearing my “nice” jeans which didn’t fit so great anymore and they were so tight it was impossible for any item to be retrieved from any pocket at any time whilst the jeans were being worn. I made a mental note that I would need to pop to the bathroom later to retrieve my ticket before getting my bag back.
With the Apprentice music in my head, off we went in the cars. Now the entire trip had been a triumph of planning and hospitality from our Italian colleagues, but one thing that did baffle me was the store itinerary. We’d be visiting 6 or 7 outlets, some in town, some on the outskirts. One was even by the airport (which we’d be going to later in different taxis). It felt like it made sense to do these in some sort of efficient order, perhaps swinging by the hotel second last to get bags and then going to the store by the airport, and then the airport.
It was not to be. We headed east out of town for the first store. Then back through the city centre, and out the opposite side, west all the way to the airport. Then back to the city, and south, then around the city to the north far out of town, and so on. We were in those cars for hours. It’s like on the Apprentice when they’re given the task to buy something stupid like octopus tongues and they have to go to every fish market in London and they’re not allowed to use sat nav… except hotter.
AB didn’t fare well. The scorching heat, the driving, the stopping and starting – the previous night started to catch up on him, and his poor face transitioned from queasy yellow to suffering green as the trip went on. I think he made it to store number two, before rushing to the bathroom, possibly on the pretext of a number two. In truth he was vomiting liberally, but such was his work ethic he was probably also keeping an eye out of any video games or PlayStation gift cards being merchandised in the store toilets. He returned looking much better, much whiter (maybe a little too white), safe in the knowledge there were only another five stores to visit before driving to the airport, waiting for two hours, boarding a flight, taking off, landing, then getting a taxi home to bed.
After a long day we arrived back at the hotel, gorging on lovely pasta at a little place en route. We picked up our bags, and I’m pretty sure AB hugged his like a loved one. It was at this moment I realised the olive green of his suitcase was a near perfect match for AB’s complexion in the back seat of the car a few hours previously.
I cursed myself for not doing a little sightseeing, like AB had the previous day during the short break between work and dinner. I had never been to Italy before, and all I’d seen was the hotel, the office and half-a-dozen electronics shops. I decided to try to sightsee from the taxi to the airport and asked AB to point out anything of note while I held my phone ready for a tourist snap.
And that’s how I ended up with this lovely memento. I think it’s some kind of castle. Or it’s the Vatican. Or Berlusconi’s house. Or maybe the Coliseum. It’s definitely Rome. Look at the flags.
We arrived at the airport in good time for the trip home. As we stood outside, AB fumbled with his new-fangled suitcase; he wanted to remove his laptop in advance of the security queue. A good shout. I didn’t need to do this – my bag had a dedicated laptop sleeve from where it could easily be removed even under the pressure of airport security. AND I GOT THAT BAG FOR FREE FROM WORK.
I was making the most of the pre-airport vaping opportunity, sucking in two hours of nicotine into my weary lungs. It was about five minutes before I questioned why AB was still messing with his suitcase – specifically with the combination lock.
“Ha!” was going to be my only reaction if AB had any trouble with this posh suitcase. My bag was “secured” with a netball keyring.
“I can’t seem to get it open,” he said.
“I’ve definitely got the right combination, it’s not something I’d forget.”
“Let me keep trying, hang on.”
“Ha! Wait, why do you need to open your suitcase now?” It’s a testament to how long he’d been at it, that I had actually forgotten the reason why he was going in there.
Like a shit safecracker, he stood up exhausted and disappointed. “I’m going to go in and see if someone can help me open this, I’ll meet you at security.” He headed inside while I vaped a bit more before having a wander round the airport with my fuss-free (and free) luggage.
AB got short shrift from the first two people he went up to in the airport building asking them if they could break into his suitcase. I feel it was only the staff’s laidback Italian style that prevented him from being wrestled to the ground and impounded. Eventually, he found a security guard with an open mind, who had a go. No luck either, he told AB the only way would be to physically break open the case, ruining it.
“Ha!” my voice would have echoed around the airport if I’d heard this.
The guard got his pocket knife out (why is he allowed a pocket knife when I’m not allowed 101ml of water?) and proceeded to gut open AB’s posh suitcase.
It was miraculous AB hadn’t encountered more suspicion from this request initially, but the suspicion certainly arose when the shredded zip was opened up.
Inside was lingerie, bikinis and assorted women’s clothes.
It was not his suitcase (I’ve gone through all the checks to verify this, in case this was a ruse to cover up a fondness for ladies’ undergarments). AB’s poncy, niche moneybags suitcase, in no-doubt hand-painted olive green, was not the only poncy, niche, olive green suitcase at the hotel. He tried to figure out what to do – he had ample time, as the guard called over all his mates to come look and laugh at the story, and at AB’s sheepish face. He called the hotel.
“Oh yes we have another bag here just like it,” they confessed.
Whatever happened to that ticketing system. We looked after our tickets all night through the rough and tumble of a work drinks reception, for nothing huh?
They asked AB if he could put the now-destroyed suitcase in a taxi back to the hotel, so the owner could at least get back the lingerie which by now half of Italy had seen.
By the time AB rejoined me at the other end of the airport, he was exhausted, having had to find a taxi driver who spoke enough English to understand his bizarre predicament and unusual request. There was no chance his own case could make it back here in time for departure, so this would need to be sent on, we had a flight to catch!
Or so we thought. Our flight was delayed. And delayed. And delayed. Meaning we were not only sat there in Rome airport for hours and hours, but also that there would have been plenty time for the hotel to have sent AB’s own suitcase over to us, if we had known. Having set off for the airport in the afternoon, it was past midnight by the time we got to Gatwick, and I needed to get a taxi all the way home to Gravesend.
I took this selfie of me and Whacky when I arrived home, and it’s become a visceral reminder of how absolutely fucking exhausted I was. LOOK AT ME! I didn’t ever look this bad even when I was drinking.
But this was not quite the end of the story. Sure, AB was to have his pristine suitcase shipped back to him by the hotel staff, as soon as they had conducted a full judge-led enquiry into the failings of the paper ticket system. He thought this would mean next day or the day after, but there was a problem. You see, FedEx wouldn’t take it – not a bit of it, and not because they have the same opinion of wanky suitcases as I do. No, the case had a lithium battery built into it (remember the fancy USB charger), and this could not be allowed unaccompanied on the plane. The hotel receptionist felt embarassed by the whole affair, but not enough that she’d be willing to sit in the hold of a freight plane handcuffed to AB’s suitcase.
The only option was to rip the built-in charger out, wreaking about the same amount of damage to AB’s case as his henchman the airport security guard had wrought on that poor woman’s. AB was waiting a full week for his suitcase (including the laptop that started all the trouble) to be returned to him. What did he do at work, you ask? Well… if it wasn’t for the recording of this story which I mentioned earlier, I’d probably have dismissed this memory as false or an exaggeration – but AB indeed spent five whole work days without a computer, and just cracked on with a pen and paper – just like the old days. I do recall him having lots of meetings, and definitely suggesting more meetings, and occasionally asking people to print out e-mails for him, but he did it.
Recently, he returned to Rome on holiday, and couldn’t help but snap this photo for me – you know, in case the story ever made it to McCannecdotes…