Last weekend, staying at Domaine des Jasses near Carcassonne, I wrenched my hip whilst swimming. For a few days my right leg wouldn’t support my weight so Anthony Murphy, the owner of the property generously gave me an old walking stick. It’s more of a staff really, about 1.5 metres tall. Hedda kept saying, “You shall not pass!” when I used it, so I presume it made me look a bit like Gandalf. Despite her jocularity, it served me very well to get around.
The fun and games began on the way home when we got to the Easyjet Bag Drop at Toulouse Airport. “You can’t take that on board,” said the chirpy French official, pointing to the stick in my hand.
“How about if I take it to the steps of the plane and then we put it in the hold for the flight and the crew give it back when we land at Gatwick?” I asked. “That would do the trick, wouldn’t it?”
“If you can’t walk you can borrow a wheelchair, but you can’t take the stick with you,” he said.
“Surely it would be easier just to let me use the stick,” I ventured.
“It is not possible,” he said.
“Then, what do you suggest I do with it?” I asked.
“Leave it here at the airport and use a wheelchair,” he insisted.
“It’s a very nice stick,” I said.
He shrugged in that particular Gallic way that says everything and nothing.
“How much would it cost to put it in the hold as a piece of outsize luggage?” I asked.
“47 Euros,” he said, consulting his computer screen.
“I’ll pay,” I said.
He looked at the stick and then stared at me as if I was mad. “47 Euros,” he said. “Are you sure?”
“It was a gift,” I said. “I’m not going to throw it away.”
I paid up. He put a luggage tag through the cord. I handed the stick to another official at the Outsize Luggage counter and sank back into a wheelchair to be wheeled unceremoniously to the plane.
At Gatwick, a people carrier was waiting to take us to Passport Control with the rest of the aged and infirm, and then to collect our luggage. We quickly spotted our suitcases relentlessly circumnavigating Belt 03 but there was no sign of the stick. We reported its absence to a nice lady in Customer Services. She went behind the scenes to search but to no avail.
I dutifully filled in the Lost Luggage form with my details and a description of the missing item: Wooden stick. Approximately 1.5 metres long. Loop of cord at one end. An email was waiting for us when we got home, confirming the computerised details of the loss, which had somehow morphed into Brown Orthopedic Device(s).
There seemed little if any chance that anyone would recognise the stick if they were looking for Brown Orthopedic Device(s). I’d had plans for that stick: some Yonex binding for a handle and maybe a leather thong to replace the old cord loop. We would have been firm friends that stick and me, good companions on many a long walk, striding out together over mountain and moorland once my leg was better.
It was a fine stick and I mourned its loss, my grief tempered only by the knowledge that I had done everything in my power to keep it safely by my side. I wondered where it had ended up: fallen perhaps behind a hidden bulkhead in the luggage hold of the airplane, never to see the light of day. More likely, it had been thrown into a rubbish skip by an over-zealous airport cleaner or stolen by a kleptomaniac baggage handler with a stick fetish.
Gone. Gone. Gone.
But destiny decided otherwise – this morning a Gatwick Flight Services van pulled up outside the door and, like Stanley and Livingstone, my doughty stick and I were re-united.
Let joy be unconfined!