Bear with me while I go through my receipts

Once we got to arguing about the value of my cashmere cardigan, I was ready to give up
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THIS IS a long story, so bear with me, as they say, and oh how I wish they wouldn't. "Bear with me a moment, madam," says the Directory Enquiries operator, "I'm going to have to go through to my supervisor to see if she has any record of a W H Smith in the Manchester area." "Bear with me, please," says the girl on the hospital switchboard. "I've already got three people holding for Colposcopy. Would Professor Grindspoon, Colostomy, be able to advise you?"

You may have read earlier this week that from now on, it is illegal for package tour operators to offer discount holidays only if you agree to buy insurance from them, usually at an inflated rate. Now, you're fully entitled to shop around and get the discount; but that wasn't my problem. We went skiing in Austria last March, and, ever dutiful, I bought accident insurance for the family. World Cover Direct offered untold millions for loss of life or limb at a perfectly acceptable rate, and off we flew to Zurich.

At Bludenz we changed trains, and it was only when we were retrieving our bags from the rack that my husband realised his was missing. Yes, he had loaded it on. No, it wasn't there. Funny, you don't reckon on the sober, sanitised, Swatch-making Swiss as suitcase stealers.

We spoke to the guard, everyone looked under their seats, and I was calm and even sympathetic until I remembered that at the last minute I had shoved my excess effects into my husband's bag, including my black cashmere cardigan, at which point I hyperventilated. "Haben sie Geduld, gnadige Frau," said the guard (Swiss for "Bear with me, madam") and he redoubled his underseat searching.

Worse even than the loss of my cardigan was the discovery that the whole fillet of best Aberdeen Angus we were bringing to our friends in St Anton was in the missing bag. It is to their credit that despite this loss, they provided us with replacement clothing. A pair of socks on the Arlberg costs 17 quid.

Well, never mind, we were insured. Not, alas, for the untold medical millions but for up to pounds 1,500 per suitcase. Back in London we sent police forms and lists of our missing clothing to World Cover Direct and waited. We are still waiting. Now, let me ask you just one question. How many of you keep the receipts for every item of clothing you have bought in the last, say, five years? You don't? You mean you throw them away? Well, I'm sorry, without receipts, without proof that your suitcase was, in fact, full of clothes and not old newspapers, World Cover Direct cannot possibly compensate you for your loss. But I don't keep receipts, and anyway the cardigan was a present from my mum, I said. In that case, the appropriate bank or credit card statement with the item showing would do, said World Cover Direct.

Another confession. I don't keep bank statements either. They are read, marvelled at (surely I can't be that much overdrawn), binned. And if you think I'm bad, consider my friend Nicky Freud, who does the same with Christmas cards. "You're supposed to hang them up on ribbons until Twelfth Night," I once told her. "Nonsense, they're just more bloody mess," she said.

So anyway, I trudged around my usual shops, begged duplicate receipts and sent them off. Not good enough. Where were the receipts for the contents of my sponge bag?

By now it's June. My husband is still waiting to be sent receipts for the trainers and sports shirts he bought in Wimbledon last Christmas. Our claim is being attended to, say World Cover Direct.

Months pass. The shadows lengthen, the nights draw in. I miss my cardigan. And then last week, an investigator from St Albans called Mr Caroline turned up on my doorstep to take a statement for World Cover Direct.

It would take at least an hour. Name, age, occupation etc, and more. Was I born in this country? No? Then when did I arrive in Britain? Did we rent our flat? That's none of your business, I told him. In fact, it's an impertinence, and besides, what has it got to do with the missing piece of luggage?

"I have to take an official statement," said Mr Caroline, scribbling. "You say the incident occurred at Bludenz [he made it sound like Gomorrah], you informed the guard and made subsequent enquiries. Did you find the missing case?" Well of course not, I said, or we wouldn't be sitting here now, would we?

By the time we got to arguing about the value of my cashmere cardigan I was ready to give up. Yes, it really will cost pounds 150 to replace, I've checked, I said. But the insurance only covers its second-hand value which couldn't be more than pounds 20, said Mr Caroline.

Bear with me please while I stick this pin in the waxen effigy of a travel insurance consultant. I've just bought it. I've kept the receipt.