As penance for a week-long business trip to Southern California in February, I agreed to journal my pleasure and pain. Digital Moleskine at the ready…

T –10 days​

Check the weather in LA. Hot! Discover in my latest frenzy of tidying, I have discarded my summer wardrobe. Panic Stations! Quickly solved by finding a Christmas gift voucher from a local boutique.​

Pleasure level:​

High. Particularly with my new pink ankle boots from my favourite shoe designer.​

Pain level:

Low. Mostly triggered by the need to ‘get my legs out’ after a cozy winter in tights.​

T –5 days​

Start entering my advanced passenger information. Discover my US passport has expired. Did I say, ‘panic stations’, already? I didn’t mean it. This is true, deep, and intense fear.​

​Thankfully, the embassy offers me an emergency appointment within 48 hours, and I walk out with a shiny, tiny, temporary passport in less than an hour

No lectures, no recriminations, no guilt. Just ‘of course we can help you.’ So relieved, I even tweet them my gratitude and gush all day about the nice, happy Americans.​

Pleasure level:​

High. Managing to screw up royally without being punished creates its own, special delight. Plus, a gentle glow of pleasure in being American, which is rare in the midst of an election cycle like this one!​

Pain level:​

High. Fear, running across town to get the right photographs, running across Grosvenor Square to store my bicycle lights and tools at a local shop when they can’t be taken into the embassy, and shear embarrassment take their toll.​

​Travel Day – Stage 1, The train

As I board the train to London (which is 40 minutes late), I realise it’s going to be a crowded one. I manage to find space for my luggage in front of the rack, but it looks precarious.​

​I keep looking behind me throughout the journey, to make sure it hasn’t rolled or been moved or stolen. It feels so insecure, I start brainstorming new design solutions for ‘the luggage on train’ problem.

​At Reading, there’s a huge exodus, luggage is shifted, I jump up to rearrange. Almost there.

And then, absolute chaos. A woman returns from the buffet and discovers that her suitcase has been taken, and a lookalike remains. She goes mental. Screams, curses, threatens.​

​Working with the train manager, we try and get her calmed down, but the level of contagious stress in the carriage just continues to escalate. At the earliest possible opportunity I scurry up from my seat, grab my bag, and huddle in the vestibule with the other survivors.

Pleasure level:​

Non-existent. A disaster is just as bad, if not worse, when you’ve anticipated it.​

Pain level:​

Traumatic. I still get shaky remembering the incoherent anger and stress that woman projected out onto all of us.​

Travel Day – Stage 2, the airport​

​Fast forward. Successfully navigate Heathrow Express, Baggage Drop, Security. Lunching in the Lounge. This is the life that I have earned through all those miles. I’ve made it!

Except for the tiny, baby-sized cutlery. I feel like a toddler.​

Pleasure level:​

Medium. The lounge is always a mix of luxury and claustrophobic smugness.​

Pain level:​

Irritated. Is this cutlery a cost cutting measure, a design statement, or a way to convince us that we need Gold status and the First Class lounge?​

Travel day – Stage 3, the plane​

My first A380! Upstairs! Anticipation! Disappointment!​

​It’s just like any other seat on any other plane. Until joy is rekindled when I see the size of the toilet. Vast! Enormous! What a pleasure!

Pleasure level:​

​Medium. Really, it would be churlish of me not to enjoy a business class trip.

Pain level:​

Medium. Really, it’s not a glamorous age of air travel, is it, when the highlight is the loo?​

The trip

Was a great success. Hard work, but a true pleasure of collaboration and creative inspiration.​

So what did I learn? My true peaks of pleasure came from the places I least expected. My friendly experience at the embassy, a last-minute call to HMRC before I boarded to sort out a VAT question, the size of the loo on a plane.​

Those peaks wouldn’t have been so high if I haven’t been conditioned to expect the worst from them. It’s the gap between the anticipated and actual experience that matters most.​

My pain was at its worst when things seemed out of my control. In fact, my worst pain wasn’t even my own, but somebody else’s.​

​The next time you see somebody feeling the pain, don’t underestimate the power of forgiveness.

​Simple human kindness may be the greatest pleasure of all.


This has now become one of those viral Facebook sharing things, with the original ‘takee’ trying to find her bag filled with sentimental objects. I’ve shared back what I know, but I am even more irritated, as I know the incident was reported almost as soon as it happened, so a simple call to Reading station should have resolved the issue within minutes​.