S & M Files, Part XV

Distribution Permission

This version of S & M Files is freely distributable provided that the copyright notice remains intact. All material in the Annals, unless otherwise stipulated, is copyrighted (1999-2006) to Michelle A. Hoyle & Stephen B. Dodd.


*** This is another S&M Files breaking information update!
Yes, news as it happens!
Sit back. Relax. Enjoy.
All the fun of travelling but someone else's hassles

In this episode watch as
->Stephen is once again returning, Once Again, to Jolly Old England, sufficiently laden.
->In Canada just long enough to see every leaf simultaneously turn yellow and fall and to acquire more than a sufficient share of baggage. These, my friend, are the tales of one man's adventure home with Life Luggage.


Stepping off the bus in Calgary, affectionately called Cow Town by the locals, I was immediately struck by a prominent scent of, well, cows. And not just cows, but it seemed that wherever we went in Calgary, the scent of fresh manure followed us around. And when I say fresh, I mean really fresh. It struck me as just too fitting to have an old stereotype so blatantly smack me in the face, or more particularly the nostrils. It was like... it was designed. Is Calgary proof of God? Or just proof of City Council?

Turning to my friend and handy-dandy ride, Rowena, I asked, "Does it smell like cow shit here, or is it just me?"

On a moment's reflection, I realized I could have phrased that a bit better.

Unless, of course, it was me after all. The thought fleeted through my head of bringing the stench of cow poop stuck to my shoes for a three-hour crowded bus ride.


A month ago, in the far away city of Vancouver, an event happened that today would have a prominent affect on my life for the next 12 hours. Michelle somehow accidentally ended up in the Ikea and found herself just a bit too comfortable in some üer-designer Poång dooey and matching über-footstool. Said chair and footstool, having endured a trip from Vancouver to Edmonton was now my sole companion on my little trek across the globe. Well, that's not strictly true. In addition to a chair and footstool and assorted heavy and/or bulky boxes in my luggage, there was my laptop, my clothes, and yet another box of assorted goodies that had some days earlier mysteriously appeared in Michelle's hands and equally mysteriously transferred to mine.

Getting on the bus to Calgary I arrived with one, two, three, four, five pieces of luggage.

The bus driver paused in his loading of other people's baggage, spread his gaze across my pile and calmly declared, "Only one piece of luggage allowed." One!

Easy for him to say. I admitted ignorance and batted my sweet eyelashes at him and he agreed reluctantly to take my burden.

"Watcha doing, " he grunted between boxes, "moving to Calgary?"

Worse, I thought. Moving back to England.

Luggage Trolls

The luggage trolls at the Calgary airport took particular delight weighing my pile. Would it be a problem?

"No problem. $160 extra please."

Leaving my bulky problems in the capable hands of the luggage trolls, I dined on cheap Chinese food and eventually found myself at last venturing down the final corridor that led to the plane when a complete stranger, out of the blue, said a funny thing to me about my luggage.

"Don't worry," beamed a uniformed man heading a great velocity in the opposite direction, "your three bags will be well taken care of."

This was peculiar for two reasons. Firstly, I had never seen this man before in my life. Apparently, news of my luggage adventures precedes me.

Secondly, I had four bags checked in, not three. That's one bag short. But he was gone and the plane was being boarded. Well, maybe he was mistaken. Maybe.

Arriving some 9 hours later in Gatwick, England, I was informed that the cargo doors of our plane were wedged shut and the engineers were attempting to get them open. Through my head ran visions of my frail boxes exploding in the -65°ree;C cargo hold and freezing bits of wooden chair into sensitive door locking mechanism.

After some time, there must have been success to a degree for we all found ourselves crowded around the luggage reclaim seeking the missing parts of our lives.

Aha! One box arrives. Two boxes arrive. And... and... and.. Time seems to go by. Slowly.

The crowd starts to thin. Well, I guess he was wrong about the 3 boxes. It was 2 after all.

And then, the luggage stopped arriving.

I consoled myself in the fact that there was still a couple dozen people waiting with me. We all stood around staring at the empty carousel going around and around and around. Soon we gave that up and sat and watched the empty carousel going around and around and around.

Life and other passengers seemed to be passing us by.

Finally, like a proclamation from heaven, news of our fate arrived. Only it wasn't absolution for sins of our luggage stuck in some purgatory. It was news from above.

"All passengers for Flight 857U," the voice droned and I thought that's us!, "who are still missing luggage, " and I thought that's really us," please see the agent currently between carousel 3 and 4."

Uh oh. That didn't sound promising. Really not promising.

Rather than a voice from heaven, it was a request to see the gatekeeper. Gatekeepers, particularly those bearing forms, rarely impart good news. I scrutinized our gatekeeper. She was dispensing forms. Forms for the lost luggage souls.

I was weighted down with the good part, but not the whole part, of a chair and various other luggage and was finding it difficult to navigate through the throngs desirous of these apparently desirable forms.

"How could they," one lady started as I accidentally jostle her, "lose 50 pieces of luggage!" A curious thought indeed that I mulled while jousting for her spot.

But, dear readers, I never made it to the forms. For absolution was at hand. Without warning glorious pieces of luggage started to appear once more on the conveyer. It was like Christmas morning and discovering, yes, there are indeed presents under the tree.

Alas, though, not for me! There was coal and dust in my future. One by one the happy passengers plucked their presents from the waiting conveyers and departed like children bound to play with new toys. Our numbers dwindled smaller and smaller until I was left all alone with only one other companion. We both stared longingly as the empty conveyer rolled past, giving each other little glances of comrade.

The conveyer squeaked an empty, staccato rhythm. The world rolled by.

Well, that was it. I was resigned. My luggage was gone. Possibly forever. Possibly until it turned up in Norway.

I marched to the baggage desk to stake my claim and, as I walked, a funny thing happened. There was a tingling in the back of my neck. And I knew. Like Spiderman had his Spidey sense that warned him of danger, I had my super-luggage-sense that warned me of, well, luggage.

I whirled around and there like a scene out of an overproduced Spielberg movie, my luggage appeared. The doors to the side of the conveyer opened and in a swirl of mist and light, the baggage attendant appeared. Light gleamed off his reflective vest and he marched forward with proud, Hercules style steps. Nestled in his strong arms was a brown Stephen-shaped package. The music rose to a crescendo. My hero had arrived. Redemption.

And where had my naughty luggage been? Where else would lost luggage spend its time at Gatwick airport other than lying happily on the tarmac in the rain, waiting patiently for an airplane to land on it.

My waterlogged package and I were reunited.

Stage II - Trains

Gatwick is a curious place if you arrive by plane and are desirous of taking a train as most passengers are.

As alert readers may recall from previous S&M missives, the process of getting from train to plane is not as easy a task as you might suspect, particularly for the laden. Of which category I always seem to fall into, despite a professed minimalist lifestyle.

Despite the fact that the airport is built almost literally over the train station, they seem to have missed the fact that most passengers traveling by plane are likely to have luggage and could possibly find a long descent of stairs troublesome, to say the least, for their laden trolleys. Aware that this might be a source of frustration, they have cleverly diffused the situation by erecting barriers at the top to keep desperate travellers from shoving their trolley and life possessions willy-nilly down the stairs.

Other alert readers phoned our 24-hour help line to point out that there is in fact an elevator. However, you must require a major in spelunking and a minor in urban navigation to locate it. The process is something akin to this:

  1. follow the large, handy signs pointing you to the trains
  2. locate your train on the Big Board
  3. ignore the large, handy signs pointing you to your platform
  4. instead turn around
  5. retrace your steps back to where you came in the arrival area
  6. now, ignoring the still large and still handy signs pointing you to your train, wheel away to the... Flight Departure Check-in Terminal
  7. like a salmon swimming upstream, fight the throngs of the desperate to depart
  8. locate the clearly labelled sign that says "NO ENTRY"
  9. a few feet away is a smallish, darkish corridor with sign that says "elevators". The sign might be about the size of, say, my thumb.
  10. follow down the twisty passage until you find yourself dumped into the main entrance corridor funneling the throngs of the newly arrived into the Departure Terminal. Resist the urge to spawn.
  11. push your trolley past the sign that says "NO TROLLEYS"
  12. enter the room with your laden trolley past the other sign that pleads "NO TROLLEYS"
  13. wheel your luggage onto the elevator labelled "NO TROLLEYS"
  14. Note the handy sign in the elevator once you are underway. It says:
    Elevator Maintenance by BUDGET ELEVATORS". Let's hope they had trolleys in mind.
  15. Exit onto the platform! Is your train on time? Surprise! It is. Or was. Too bad you didn't migrate upstream faster.

    Are you a special S&M Alert Reader? If you are, you will remember the last time S&M tried to load luggage onto the train at Gatwick, the kind train drivers did not take into account the fact that people at an AIRPORT might have LUGGAGE and require a few extra seconds to load said luggage onto the train. We found ourselves in the position where:
    * Michelle gets on train.
    * I get luggage number one and get ready to pass it to her...
    * And... the door... slams... shut.

    As the train pulls away, Michelle reaches into her pocket and holds up our train tickets. It was an interesting day.

    This time around it would be easier. I didn't have Michelle with me to get stuck on the other side of the door. Easier. Right.

    This time around, instead of Michelle, I had luggage, luggage and luggage (and luggage and luggage, too).

    The train pulled into the station. I tensed. Every muscle in my body was strung, taut. I was a runner at the starting gate waiting for the signal. The boy of coiled steel. In my head, I rehearsed throwing box after box after box through the train doors. I would dive head first through the closing doors and roll to my feet, poised by my luggage. I could do it!

    The train stopped. I sprung and jump-started my laden trolley towards the closest door. "WHIRRRRRR!" went the poor wheels as they accelerated from zero to slightly short of the speed of sound. There was no stopping me. There was no stopping my trolley.

    But wait! What's this? A point of handy reference is that there are two kinds of trains that pass through Gatwick. Ones that are easy to load and ones that are, well, not. There are nice ones with large double doors to cram your boxes through. And there are ones where the doors are the size of a linen cupboard and open not into an entrance but directly into someone's knees. Actually, that's not true. They normally open into two pairs of knees.

    Guess which kind of train this was. Good guess.

    There is just no way I can cram one, two, three, four, five boxes and bags plus me through a small door without breaking kneecaps.

    But I was saved! There was a LUGGAGE car on this train. I beelined for it and like magic the door opened by itself. On the other side of the door was a kindly snack and drink vendor about to wheel his contraption off the train.

    No time! No time! I launched a box through the air narrowly missing his bushy mustache. He recoiled for a second giving me a chance to lob another volley through the temporarily vacant space. Survival of the fittest, I thought! This is Darwinian luggage loading/unloading! You snooze, you lose!

    Whoosh, another box sails through the door! You ain't wheeling that drink cart! Incoming! WHOOOOSH! Another box.

    And then, as if in slow motion, I made the gymnastic leap, clutching my shoulder bag through the door. Grace, beauty and speed. I would be a professional luggage loader. Today, I would get to Brighton with all my luggage! Turning around, my hair bobbed with the slo-mo' camera movements that must be surely tracking me as I anticipated the train's immanent departure. I waited.

    And waited. And waited some more. The vendor casually moved his cart off and another vendor with great leisureliness moved his cart in.

    They stayed and chatted. The train sat.

    Stage III - Home Is Where The Fur Is

    Now dear readers, the train did go eventually, and despite the cab driver not taking credit cards or Canadian Loonies for that matter, I did eventually get home. (I'm due to wash dishes Saturday mornings at the 20 20 20 Taxi Company.)

    I wrestled my boxes up the narrow stairs and opened the doors. I wasn't quite sure what to expect. As observant readers will recall, we have two very large, extra-fluffy cats that were taken care of by a cat sitter. Well, at least she claimed to be taking care of them. There was no sign of these large, furry critters.

    Yet I knew they must have survived at least some time into my absence. I love coming home to a clean, orderly flat and had vacuumed quite thoroughly prior to my departure. The floor on my return was, well, missing. That is there seemed to be more cat fur than there did seem to be floor. Either they were very talented at shedding or our cats had spontaneously exploded in great balls of kitty fur. The cats did re-appear eventually from whatever hidey hole cats the size of a 1200-Watt Microwave hide in. (In the 1200-Watt Microwave?)

    I had an urge to vacuum. A strong urge. The kind of urge that only comes from living in a cat nest. My vacuum... was at my friend Mike's in Croyden where I had lent it before leaving. Sigh. I collapsed onto a pillow of fur, dreaming of judgement day where I was tarred and feathered.

    *** Stay tuned faithful readers!

    In our next episode (really!), we watch as Stephen is propositioned by a gay telephone booth, discover why major traffic arteries enjoy sudden concrete walls in the middle of the lane, and pit an afternoon jogger against a speeding locomotive - (guess who wins!).

    [Michelle's Mind]

    S & M Files
    Ep. 1 (I) | Ep. 2 (II) | Ep. 3 (III) | Ep. 4 (IV) | Ep. 5 (V) | Ep. 6 (VI) | Ep. 7 (VII) |
    Ep. 8 (VIII) | Ep. 9 (IX) | Ep. 10 (X) | Ep. 11 (XI) | Ep. 12 (XII) | Ep. 13 (XIII) | Ep. 14 (XIV) |
    Ep. 15 (XIV) | Ep. 16 (XIV)