As a stand-up, I tour a lot, which means I’m forever lugging suitcases off trains and in and out of car boots. It’s boring, and my luggage is boring. Like 99 per cent of the population, I travel with various-sized black nylon, zip-up, box-shaped cases. Sometimes I remember to tie a jaunty ribbon to the handle; mostly, I forget.
Call me naive, but I don’t think anyone really wants to steal my stuff. Hence I’m not one of those weirdos who vacuum-wrap their suitcase in cellophane at the airport. Imagine going away with a new boyfriend and finding out he was one of those.
But obviously accidents happen, and once, at Gatwick, a man swiped my case from the carousel. At which point I jumped on his back and insisted he open the case to prove ownership. He obliged, only to reveal a load of grubby laundry. My William Morris embroidery was nowhere to be seen.
That apart, my luggage/travel experiences have been largely uneventful. Until . . . Cut to two weeks ago in Penrith, where various bods were being ferried from the train station to a car-hire base a couple of miles away. Somehow I got separated from my tour manager and ended up sharing a lift with another fiftysomething woman who told me she had returned north to “climb Helvellyn with my mother”.
I thought, “Blimey, her old mum must be fit for her age” – until it transpired her mum was in an urn in this woman’s suitcase, along with some fresh rose petals that the family were going to scatter with the ashes from the top of the mountain. Her mum liked roses, the woman explained.
I was touched and admitted that I didn’t know where my dad’s ashes were, though I suspected that for the past two years they’ve been under my mum’s bed – which, let’s face it, is like some spectacularly crap game of hide and seek.
Then the woman told me she also had a big container of Roses chocolates in her case to keep everyone going as they climbed the mountain. I told her I’d need brandy, and we laughed.
In my suitcase, I had the props for my stand-up show, including a knitted dog, a very large pompom and a thousand pieces of bunting featuring me in my bra, pants and slippers.
While the paperwork was completed at the car-hire base, our luggage was transferred into the requisite silver Audis, hers into a car bound for Helvellyn, mine into a car bound for a gig in the Lakes. Only, as we all know, all suitcases are black and nylon and roughly the same size and shape and . . . well, you can guess the rest.
My bereaved friend went off with my props . . . whilst I . . . Except that didn’t happen. I would love to say that on stage that night, I improvised with an urn of stranger’s ashes, some chocolates and a handful of rose petals, but the truth is that real life rarely hands you perfectly formed situation comedy on a plate. Life is mostly quite dull, and it’s up to the performer to turn it into some kind of joke.
This article appears in the 07 Jun 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Election special