Not that you liked it much, but everyone knows how awkward mothers-in- law can be and this one isn't exactly overflowing with good will towards her sons' wives. The saving grace, however, is that you're travelling British Airways. You get on the phone and within minutes the FBI is on the case, hunting down the teenage baggage handler who supposedly sneaked the rocks out of your luggage.
There's a press conference, coincidentally generating more publicity for your Budgie the Helicopter books, and one of your aides issues a statement on your behalf. You are, it says, ''totally overwhelmed by the incredible effort of the security forces and British Airways in the UK and US". Everyone, except the alleged thief, goes away happy.
I HAVE a personal interest in this story because, three years ago, a virtually identical misfortune happened to me. I'd been to Florence for a weekend and I checked my luggage in at the British Airways desk at Pisa Airport; when I got home that evening, I discovered my bag had been opened and my jewellery was missing. Like the Duchess (or her staff) I leapt to the phone. The baggage handlers for the flight were probably still on duty. I told a British Airways security man at Heathrow who said he'd get on to his opposite number in Pisa at once.
I wasn't expecting British Airways to call in the carabinieri but I was startled when I called the following day for a progress report, to discover they'd done absolutely zilch. A female member of staff loftily informed me that, under the terms of the Warsaw Convention, the airline wasn't responsible for valuables placed in the hold. When I explained that we weren't talking diamond tiaras here her scorn knew no bounds. ''Oh well, if you buy your jewellery at Next...,'' she said with withering contempt.
I pointed out that the missing items actually came from a jeweller in Siena which makes inexpensive but beautiful copies of Etruscan ear-rings and it would cost me several hundred pounds to go back and replace them. She was unmoved and I eventually elicited from her the information that British Airways has a customer relations department whose phone number she wasn't prepared to give out, raising the intriguing question of how its staff actually relates to the airline's customers. Through sheer persistence I got its fax number and weeks later after sending a series of increasingly angry faxes I got a cheque from British Airways to the full value of the stolen jewellery.
I am not, of course, suggesting that the royal family gets special treatment. No doubt there is a clause in the Warsaw Convention covering thefts from people with titles and British Airways has no choice but to follow it to the letter, including ''hours of extensive interviews'' with staff who were on duty at the time. But if the problem arises again, I'm going to explain that while I usually travel incognita - wanting no fuss, you understand - I'm really the Countess of Chiswick. And if they don't get on the case pronto, my staff will have no alternative but to issue a strongly worded press statement on my behalf.
TITLED or not, everyone needs to be valued, as the Princess of Wales pointed out in her speech to the homeless this week. Especially, as she didn't go on to say, when they've married into a cold, dysfunctional family. It's a pity that Diana's one natural ally among the royals died in 1962, the year after she was born, and the two women were never able to compare notes. I'm thinking of the Duke of Edinburgh's fascinating aunt, Princess Marie Bonaparte, whose unhappy marriage to Prince George of Greece turned her into an enthusiastic follower of Freud.
Princess Marie was Napoleon's great-grandniece and an heiress in her own right. A suitable husband had to be found but her union with Prince George was disastrous. Reproaching him years later for the manner in which he consummated their marriage, Marie wrote, ''You took me that night in a short, brutal gesture, as if forcing yourself, and apologised, 'I hate it as much as you do but we must if you want children.' ''
Affairs with various men, including the French prime minister, Aristide Briand, failed to satisfy her and she became obsessed with the unusual notion that her frigidity had a physical cause, namely too great a distance between her clitoris and her vagina. Freud, who analysed her in Vienna, tried unsuccessfully to talk her out of having operations to cure this supposed defect. Princess Marie went on to develop this theme and others in an article Les deux frigidites de la femme and a book, Female Sexuality. I don't know if it's still in print but, given their shared interest in psychotherapy, perhaps someone should give the Princess of Wales a copy for Christmas.
I HESITATED in front of the meat counter at Marks & Spencerin the King's Road this week, vacillating for a few seconds over whether I should buy beef. Not that I think the link between BSE and CJD has been proved but it's hard to shake off the habit of not believing a word this government says. Ministers assure us British beef is safe, ergo it must be dodgy. In the end, I compromised. I'm still eating beef myself but I've stopped feeding it to my animals.