Andrea Butcher and her mother were watching `Airport' when events on the fly-on-the-wall TV programme suddenly started to become horribly real
y 81-year-old mother has decided to spend as much of my inheritance on foreign travel as is humanly possible.

She lives in South Wales and, as flights from Cardiff are still few and far between, this invariably means an overnight stay in my London flat before heading off for Gatwick the next day. She needs help carrying her suitcase but once in the airport she delights in being whisked around in one of those little electric buggies.

The routine that we have developed means that I pick her up from Paddington, take her out to dinner and then, the next morning, ensure that the suitcase gets to the check-in desk in one piece.

This particular time she was booked on a 14-day holiday to Rhodes. Her train was only 20 minutes late getting in to Paddington and we got to the restaurant in plenty of time for dinner. Back at home, we settled down in front of the television to watch the fly-on-the-wall documentary Airport. I thought it might help her to get into the holiday mood.

A young woman had lost her bag containing passport and tickets and was nearly turned away from the flight. Luckily, the bag was found just in time. As we watched, Mum turned to me and calmly said: "My passport is in the bureau." She had to be joking. But no. She had her tickets, her traveller's cheques, her insurance details, but she had forgotten to pick up her passport.

It was now 8.30pm, and she was due to check in at 7.15am the next morning. I rang National Rail Enquiries. If someone could get the passport and put it on a train, I could go and pick it up at this end. Unfortunately, the only train to London left at 9pm. The man on the phone explained that nobody wants to travel from Wales to London later than that. There simply wouldn't be enough time to get the passport to the railway station.

I rang my brother who lives near to Mum in Wales. His wife answered and told me that he was working the night shift and was on his way to the factory. His mobile was turned off and he had the key to Mum's house on him.

Back to National Rail Enquiries. Could I get a train to South Wales from Paddington? Yes, there was one at 10pm. The only problem was that I wouldn't be able to get back in time. There were delays in the Severn tunnel and it was unlikely I could get to Gatwick in time for my mother to get on her flight.

I phoned the airport. No one from the airline was available. The woman on the information desk was very sympathetic and suggested I try a courier service. Excellent idea. But after much ringing around, the best quote I could get for the job was pounds 580. More than the cost of my Mum's holiday.

I then tried to find out if there was a coach from South Wales to Gatwick in the early hours. Thwarted again. Victoria coach station was closed and directory enquiries was unable to come up with a number in Swansea or Bridgend.

The only option left was to hire a car and drive down to pick up the passport. Have you ever tried to hire a car at that time of night? Most places were closed and the ones that advertised 24-hour lines were either constantly engaged or not answering.

At that point, my brother rang. His wife had got hold of him at work and he was heading off to Mum's house to get the passport. Three and a half hours later, he arrived in London. I met him on the main road and showed him where he could park his car. We walked back up to my estate talking in hushed voices so as not to wake the sleeping neighbours. It was now about one in the morning. He still had his packed "lunch" on him so he tucked into that and chatted with Mum on the sofa while I made some tea.

He didn't want to stay, which was just as well as he would have had to have slept out on the balcony. After a 30-minute break he headed off back down the M4. With any luck, he would be fast asleep in his bed by the time we were catching the train to the airport.

I got to bed at 2am. The alarm went off a 5am and the taxi came to pick us up at 5.30am. We were off. My mother checked in without a hitch and I rang the office to say I wouldn't be coming in to work. Back home I slept until four that afternoon. I just hope I get a good present.

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