Heathrow, in the closing stages of the year. I'm on my way north to bond with the relics. Everything seems to be going swimmingly. I have remembered to pack both toothbrush and vest, have charmed a cab driver into taking me all the way for pounds 20 and am even, as a result, early. I'm in a good mood. First mistake.
Terminal One heaves with waddling travellers, which makes my mood even sunnier. The sight of people hauling masking-tape-sealed suitcases on broken straps always makes me feel grown-up and sophisticated. I amble to the domestic flights queue and smirk as the couple in front of me go through the "What do you mean you haven't got them?", "I thought you had them" pantomime.
At the desk, I hand over my ticket to Aberdeen. The British Airways representative glances at it, clacks a couple of letters into her keyboard and says "You're travelling with someone else." "Nope." "Oh," she says. "I've got you down as in a group. Still. I'll give you an aisle seat." Strangely, this rings no alarm bells. I thank her, wave goodbye to my bag and stroll off to partake of those peculiar joys available in airports.
An hour later, me, my teeny bottles of glop, biographies of mass murderers, and extra socks are enjoying a prawn sandwich that cost the gross national product of Sarawak and listening to a trio of Aer Lingus trolley dollies as they discuss their recent assessment.
"She tried to tell me," says one, "to get my hair cut. I said, look, I'll wear any style you like, but I'm not losing my best asset for you." "D'you know what she did to Gloria?" says another. "Only gave her the number of Weight Watchers. Said she'd be having trouble getting up the aisles." I glance at the clock and see it's 20 minutes to my flight. Head for the x-ray machines. I'm queueing with my boarding pass when something makes me glance at it. Feel like someone's dropped an ice cube down the back of my jumper. Printed in the "TO" section is one word: "Belfast". Under "Name of Passenger" are the words "Mackie A Mrs".
Now, after long experience of the World's Favourite Airline, I am used to the concept of mislaid luggage. This is the first time they've actually lost me. I race back to the check-in desks, barge to the front while the queue mutters "I say" and "Did you see that?".
Everyone seems unconcerned. "It's all right," they say. "The Belfast flight has been delayed by a few minutes. You've plenty of time." "But I'm not going to Belfast. I'm going to Aberdeen." She looks doubtful. "We've got you booked to go to Belfast, Mrs Mackie. In a group." "I'm not A Mackie. I'm S Mackesy. Look. My ticket says Aberdeen." "Oh."
The ice cube has melted and is boiling against the small of my back. I can feel my expression change from seasoned traveller to wild-eyed terrorist. "We'll just get you off the Belfast flight," she says. It's 10 minutes to the projected take-off for Dyce. "Can you call the Aberdeen gate and tell them I'm on my way?" She gets one of those I-know-what-I'm-doing looks. I start hopping from foot to foot. Wonder why God saw fit to give me a name that brings on dyslexia in the reader. A couple of phone calls later, she smiles reassuringly. "Your bag's not going to Belfast." "Oh, good." I consider saying something sarky about the explosives contained within but remember how po-faced people in airports get about that sort of joke. I ask how I'm going to get it back. "You'll have to sort that out at Aberdeen," she says.
Ninety minutes later, blotched from a quarter bottle of claret and the screams of a red-haired infant encountering its sinuses for the first time, I'm kissing the tarmac in the land of my fathers. The immediate forebear is waiting mild-manneredly in arrivals. We pace the terminal until we find a sign saying "British Airways Customer Services". A young woman is playing with her computer. After a minute or so, without looking up, she says "Can I help you?" I explain my predicament. She finally honours me with a glance of pure disdain. "So you were going to Belfast and you've managed to end up here?" I sigh. Try again. Suggest she check the telex machine. She pulls a face, leans over. "Ah," she says, "You're Mrs Mackie." "No. Mrs Mackie is probably in Belfast now. I'm here." "And you were supposed to be going to Belfast." The inner me now resembles a Munch woodcut.
Back home, awaiting my case and watching EastEnders while everyone else carouses at a party, I open the BA Comments form that has accompanied my hand baggage. The front bears a picture of a smiling earth suspended in a deep blue universe. "How," says the legend below, "do we make you feel?" I find a green pen, search my vocabulary for dysphemisms, fill the space with swear-words. Then I screw it up and throw it on the fire. Fortunately, I had the prescience to collect two of the things.