Never travel to Florence without an inside pocket

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The Independent Online
IT'S SUNDAY evening and I'm standing in the police office at Pisa airport - see this column, passim - trying to explain that my bag's been stolen. Passport, ticket, driving licence, cheque book, credit cards, jewellery, camera, I've lost the lot. The theft happened at the railway station in Florence but the police there said it would take so long to fill in the forms that I'd miss my plane to London. So here I am, urgently needing to fill in a crime report - the delightfully named denuncia - and stranded.

The senior policeman, far from being sympathetic, demands to know why I was carrying valuables in a shoulder bag in the first place. The answer, that I don't trust baggage handlers, hardly seems the most diplomatic response in the circumstances. Before I can think of an alternative, he snaps that I should have put everything in the inside pocket of my leather jacket. I throw it open to demonstrate that, in common with every other coat I've ever owned, it doesn't have an inside pocket.

At this point, two thoughts occur to me. The first is I'm awfully glad I'm not reporting a rape. The second is that there's less than an hour till my flight and this guy wants to talk about ladies' fashion? To my relief, he hands me over to his junior and we start filling in the denuncia, passing the form backwards and forwards as we take turns to write down bizarre phrases like "carnet di assegni della Royal Bank of Scotland".

A third policeman accompanies me to the Alitalia office, where an official demands pounds 35 to issue a replacement ticket. I remind him that all my money's been stolen but my travelling companion gets out a Visa card and I never find out what would have happened if I'd been on my own. Our party, which has now swelled to four - me, my friend, the policeman, the man from the airline - moves on to the Alitalia ticket desk, where a clerk announces he can't issue a new ticket without seeing my passport.

It's now 20 minutes to take-off but we go through the whole story again and he types my details into his computer with laborious slowness. I get a boarding pass and we rush to passport control where the cabin crew are visible, waiting for us to accompany them onto the tarmac. "No one's told me about this," the woman at the desk says indignantly, glancing at the denuncia and reaching for the phone.

Everyone starts talking at once and she admits I've got the correct forms; we make such a fuss that she backs down and we get on the plane with five minutes to spare. I love Italy but I'm hugely relieved when we take off with the duomo, the baptistry and the leaning tower brilliantly illuminated below us as the plane turns towards Gatwick.

I'VE NEVER had to enter a country without identification before and, in the arrivals lounge, I make a phone call to cancel my credit cards before facing passport control. I'm completely thrown when the voice at the other end asks for my policy number. Policy number? I very nearly burst into tears, wondering why computers can't be programmed to recognise the stuff you remember in emergencies: name, address, date of birth. Or am I supposed to scrawl long lists of numbers on my arms in ball-point pen every time I leave my house? Which, by the way, I can't get into because the thief in Florence has got my keys.

At passport control I admit I have no passport and am astonished to be told that they're expecting me. A woman asks if I'd like to sit down, examines my denuncia, hopes the theft hasn't spoiled my holiday - and I'm through. I suspect it would have been different if I was black or Croatian but I'm tired and in no mood for a debate. I ring my best friend, who has a spare set of keys to my house, and against all the odds she answers the phone. I beg her not to go out and 45 minutes later I'm in a taxi on my way to her flat in Shepherd's Bush. I loathe Christmas but at least I'll be able to spend it at home.

"QUEEN orders divorce", the headlines blared on Thursday, over reports that she'd written to the Prince and Princess of Wales, telling them to end their marriage. I know the Queen sends congratulatory telegrams to people who've reached their 100th birthday but surely this is going a bit far? "Dear Mr and Mrs Roberts, it has come to the attention of Her Majesty that your marriage has been going through a rough patch. In view of the effect on Kayleigh and Kevin, Her Majesty feels a speedy divorce is the answer..." Yet another reason to thank God I'm single.

On the other hand, it's oddly convenient that the Queen's initiative coincides with the Lord Chancellor's proposed reforms to marriage law. Divorce "by royal command" sounds a lot grander than boring old adultery and couples who choose this route could have a little ceremony, presided over by the royal of their choice. Wouldn't this be a useful role for modern pared-down monarchy?

I WENT to three Christmas parties this week, at one of which I danced for hours, got dehydrated and passed out. "Woman collapses at disco without taking ecstasy," as someone remarked afterwards. Fortunately a friend was on hand when my Clarissa-like swoon happened, mopping my brow as people do in novels and escorting me through the revellers in search of fresh air. We came to rest - and I returned to full consciousness - in a draughty corridor next to a tank containing the ugliest koi carp I've ever seen.

This gives me an opportunity to end with one of the those philosophical observations columnists are supposed to offer their readers and which through some oversight, I haven't previously attempted. You go to a party with the usual modest ambitions, dancing the night away with a tall handsome stranger or something of the sort, and what do you end up with? Fish. Could there be, I wonder, a more apt comment on the debased times we live in? Merry Christmas.