WEDNESDAY: I breeze up to the Italian consulate to apply for my mother- in-law's visa. Italy, however, has just joined the EU's Schengen agreement "to speed things up". After an hour's queueing, I can't make an appointment without presentation of a passport and must return the next day.
THURSDAY: My hour's queueing flies by, only to be told there are no appointments until Monday. Notices say "it is an offence to behave in an abusive manner towards staff of the Italian government". As if.
MONDAY: Two-and-a-half hours pass. I see the bearded visa officer. "This reference letter. It's no good. I need something from a bank. Come back tomorrow."
TUESDAY: Approach Beard in triumph, waving letter from the bank. He scrutinises it. "It isn't addressed to us." "You didn't say it had to be." "But it should be." "Well I'm sorry." "Collect on Thursday."
THURSDAY 9.20 am: "It's waiting to be signed by the Consul," Beard says. Ten minutes drag by. "There's some kind of problem with the Consul." Hurl my bag down in anger. Suddenly a wart-faced man appears: "We do not expect this kind of behaviour." I tell him this is my fifth visit. "This is bureaucracy," he tells me, "but you are not doing anything to help your case."
11am: "It has not been authorised." "But you said it was just awaiting a signature." "Not now," Beard smiles. "Well can you ring Rome? We fly in the morning." "This is not possible. You must wait."
5pm Wart-face confides: "The computer in Rome can't cope. It's just bad luck you picked this week." Beard comes in. "There's nothing I can do. I can only see what the computer tells me and it tells me nothing." He advises me to change the flight and return in the morning. Speechless, I stagger out.
FRIDAY (Flights changed to 6pm) 9.25am "Nothing yet, sir." The morning drags by.
1pm: Beard announces that there is nothing to announce. We leave, finally accepting that a pounds 500 holiday is lost and that my 15-hour ordeal has been in vain.
A WEEK LATER: I collect the passport. The visa expires in 10 days, leaving me no time to rearrange the trip. The final insult comes when, having congratulated Beard on running the most incompetent visa service bar none, he shouts: "You're never coming back in this building again." I agree.
Like the man said, I picked the wrong week.