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Switzerland.... it’s lovely but don’t leave your iPad

II spent two hours on the phone to Switzerland on Saturday, speaking to a woman who, if she did have a personality, kept it exceedingly well hidden.

‘My name’s Mia. I should be on my lunch break, will this take long?’ was how she answered the phone and the conversation kind of went downhill from there.

But first let me explain how this situation came about.

My dear mother – now 73 and becoming increasingly senile (she rang the other day to ask which button she needed to press on her remote control to get a re-run of Inspector Morse on; I told her that as I was sat some 50 miles away and had never used her remote control before it was difficult to give her exact instructions) – has been to Canada to see her sister, who was celebrating her 80th birthday.

This was a big deal for my mum as she went on her own. Given that she has a handwritten sign on her fridge reminding her what day the binmen come, we were slightly worried about her ability to make it across the Atlantic in one piece but she surpassed herself, made it safely to Montreal, and enjoyed a very nice fortnight.

We kept in touch via the wonders of something called Facetime, which is like a video phone call, although my mum has yet to work out how to properly use it and never will.

Without fail every single time she called, all we could see for the first five minutes was a dark screen with my mother’s muffled voice somewhere in the background.

“Mum”.

No reaction.

“Mum”.

Still no reaction.

“MOTHER!!!”

A faint voice responds, ‘yes love’.

“You’ve got your hand over the camera and the microphone. We can’t see you”.

Distant voice, ‘what’s that? I can’t hear you.’

This continues for around four increasingly frustrating minutes before my mum suddenly cottons on, removes her hand so we can finally see her, then laughs and says, ‘sorry love, I’ve done it again haven’t I?’

“Yes mum,” I say, adding, “for the eighth phone call in a row”.

‘You’d have thought I’d have learned by now wouldn’t you,’ she chuckles.

“Yes, you would,” I reply, ever so slightly testily.

Anyway, the holiday passed, my mum flew home, and my sisters and I picked her up from Manchester on Saturday morning and drove back to her bungalow.

We made some breakfast and she proceeded to tell us all the exciting gossip from her trip – ‘your Uncle Gerrard, I can’t put my finger on it but he’s just not been the same since the fishing accident’; ‘it’s odd you know but Canadian bacon just doesn’t have the same taste’; ‘we met a very nice man at church and he told us he lost his foot 50 years ago, but you should see the way he walks, you’d never know’ … it was pretty fascinating stuff.

Then suddenly, mid-sentence, she stopped and turned a funny colour.

‘Oh my god’, she cried.

“What’s up?” we replied, alarmed, fearing she was choking on her Tesco Finest Pork and Bramley Apple sausage and was about to slump to the floor.

‘My iPad,’ she said, voice quivering, ‘I’ve left it in Switzerland’.

After a short period of general confusion, my mother - who had flown to Montreal via Zurich – told us she’d just realised that while going through airport security she had left her iPad (a not inexpensive iPad that we had bought for her birthday three days before she went away) in the tray.

‘I put my bag in one tray but they made me put my iPad in the other. I picked up my bag but not the iPad,’ she said tearfully and shakily, as if describing the loss of a dear friend to a terrible disease.

We tried to reassure her that it was only an iPad and that it didn’t really matter in the great scheme of things but she was still quite upset (‘all my photographs are on there and I’ve a lovely one of your Aunty Kathleen standing in front of her geraniums’), and so it was that at 10am on Saturday I found myself googling phone numbers for Zurich airport.

After around 27 calls, and not speaking to one single human (‘press one for baggage control, press two for passport control, press three for Bernard and David who clean the toilets in terminal two’), I finally got through to a woman, who answered the phone in the manner of someone who had been relaxing in a hot tub with a pina colada and was absolutely furious to have been disturbed.

She said something I didn’t understand. “Do you speak English?” I asked.

‘Yes,’ she barked. ‘What do you want?’ She said this in a way which managed to be both threatening and aggressive, quite a feat.

“Erm, well, my mum has left her iPad at the security and I wanted to report it to see if we could get it back.”

Instead of saying how sorry she was and offering to do her utmost to help my aged mother locate it, she said, ‘you can’t ring this number’.

“Oh,” I replied, “why not?”

‘Because it’s a lost property matter,’ she said, sighing, as if I were the biggest imbecile she’d ever had to deal with in her 29 years of working at the airport.

“Ok, can you give me the number for lost property then,” I asked.

There was a slight pause, then she replied, ‘no’.

It was at this point I decided to cross Switzerland off my list of potential places to holiday.

“Erm, why?” I ventured.

‘Because you can only contact lost property by using the online form’.

Now I knew what she meant by this because prior to calling I had made approximately two dozen attempts to fill in said online form but failed due to the fact that every time I completed it and pressed send, it crashed my computer.

I attempted to explain this, to which the woman listened half-heartedly, possibly while munching on a sandwich and draining the last of her pina colada, before seeming to ignore everything I had spent the previous few minutes telling her and saying, ‘you’ll have to fill in the online form’.

To cut a long story short, the woman, finally, after I promised to send her half my life savings and include her in my mother’s will, put me through to another department where I was able to report the missing item.

Remarkably, despite the fact I held out absolutely no hope that they’d locate the item (I assumed someone at airport security had returned from their shift that evening with a nice shiny new iPad), we received an email later the same day telling us the item had been located.

I suddenly felt new respect, warmth and love towards Zurich airport.

The downside is that, after reading the email in more detail, they are unable to ship electronic items due to security reasons and so the item must be collected in person.

Which means if we want it back, I or my sisters now need to go to Switzerland to collect the damn thing.

Mothers, who’d have ‘em.

Next time you put your iPad in a tray when you’re going through airport security, remember to take it out of the tray afterwards

‘My iPad,’ she said, voice quivering, ‘I’ve left it in Switzerland’.