The Diary of a Disgruntled Roman

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SYNOPSIS

In an impromptu trip to Rome, an unsuspecting traveller faces instant disappointment when his luggage appears not to have shared his enthusiasm for the trip. ‘The Diary of a Disgruntled Roman’ follows the hilarious journey of a lone adventurer, sparing little detail as he narrates his battles through a series of catastrophes, all the while trying to enjoy, and share, some part of his quest for cultural fulfilment. What are holidays without a hint of stress though, right?

The Diary of a Disgruntled Roman is a narrative travelogue, structured in the form of diary extracts, following the journey of a lone adventurer, Thomas Lott, as he battles through a series of disgruntling events to explore the cultural paradise of Rome. The book is fundamentally a travel guide of Rome, outlining the best places to visit, with various historical facts and practical tips that might help encourage a reader decide to visit themselves.

The book contains most of the features you would expect to see in a generic travel guide. It outlines major sights; it pulls out useful tips to be aware of before the reader visits; it pulls out various historical ‘fun facts’ too, catering to history fans who will undoubtedly be interested in exploring the remnants of ancient Rome. Where The Diary of a Disgruntled Roman differs is with the sarcastic narrative that underpins the entire trip from the very beginning, helping to produce a travelogue that combines the styles of Michael Palin and the Grumpy Old Men TV series. British Airways’ unfortunate inability to reunite the protagonist with his luggage, for what turns out to be for the entirety of the trip, sets the tone for a series of other, and not often related, catastrophes, all narrated in a comic, sarcastic light.

The guide encourages readers’ Schadenfreude as they share in the funny side of the narrator’s reflections of various frustrations on the trip. The central premise is that, as we all know, things do not always turn out the way you would like them to. A holiday is supposed to be fun, a relaxing time away from the stresses of the workplace wherever that office may be, well not this time.


NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR

The following tale is wholly factual, though the ever-existent hints of distress in my description have been enhanced for your benefit.

My trip was both brilliant and disastrous in almost equal measure, and I hope that you enjoy both my recollection of the series of unfortunate events, but also my accounts of the cultural paradise and historical knowledge I hope to impart on you.

In some ways, I have tried to mimic that same devilish tactic customary of primary school teachers, using gimmicks and humour to trick you into learning.

In no way should the horrors of the following extracts deter you from visiting Rome, indeed I sincerely hope it encourages you to go. It is a brilliant, brilliant place and no, I have not been paid to say that…


PROLOGUE

I feel it appropriate to begin this tale by telling you a couple of quick things about me, not to shape your reading of my experience with my relentless bias, but to help you understand the raw emotions that I experienced during, and since, the time you will shortly read about.

I am not a quintessential complainer. I have spent many an occasion quietly stewing over situations that annoy me, taking I feel an impressively Vulcan-like approach, whilst inwardly planning my grand revenge. I am the sort of person who glares at the man coughing on the train, right up until the moment he senses my gaze at which point my angered glare rapidly turns into an awkward smile. However, perhaps the one thing that enrages my ‘human half’ is inexplicable inadequate service. It drives me, in short, fucking mental.

I have also quite recently developed a penchant for the solo adventure, though in truth the taste was birthed out of my inability to convince my group of friends that visits to places of historical significance are fun, and worthy of their sacrifice of precious days of annual leave. It may well have been a blessing in disguise though; I have grown quite fond of the freedom that solo travel has given me to explore areas where perhaps the average mid-twenties lager lout may not have been quite so far inclined. That is to say, to put this into context, that I very much look forward to these trips.

So all in all, as I looked in amazement at my computer screen one hungover Thursday afternoon, spotting lastminute.com’s brilliant Rome offer, I took my shot. I was instantly jittery – though this was perhaps the after effects of the late night before. A few days in the blistering Roman heat, sharing my holiday hours between fulfilling the desires of my inner history nerd, taking some calm periods to myself for my writing projects, and spending valuable time poolside, topping up the pasty white pins.

I could not wait. That feeling of escape, of excited anticipation, of imminent adventure. Allow yourself to feel those emotions deep within your soul, and with them I hope that you enjoy what will soon follow.


Day 1:
“The Booking”
Thursday 16 August 2018

 

If there is one thing that I have learned about professional working life, it is that surviving an eight-hour-plus day in the office on a pounding hangover is quite simply unbearable. I would go as far as to say it simply is not worth it, as though that stops us. That inhumane removal of the protective shield of bed covers, still pungent with the aroma of the evening’s drinks selections; the absence of the distracting Netflix comedies to take one’s mind off the physical pains coursing through your “not-18-years-old-anymore” body.

One is left grief-stricken, slumped over a slowly swaying keyboard, clustering whatever brain cells survived the night to trudge through the gamut of inbox flags, desperately seeking the most appropriate ones to cope with that day. That, combined with the Oscar-worthy acting performance required to cover up the after effects of the previous night’s antics, in the hope of maintaining some degree of professionalism, makes it very difficult to judge somebody too harshly when they refuse any further requests for “one or two later?” Or so it should.

I scoured the internet that Thursday afternoon, desperate to find a last minute holiday destination deal (in every sense of the term) for the week to follow, something to take my mind off the steady pounding of my temples, and behold, a stupendous offer on the outskirts of Rome, with British Airways no less! “Sorry guys, I’ve got a flight tomorrow, I should probably leave it this evening,” was my innocent response to the group, as they suggested that dangerous “one or two later?” midweek teaser. Instant daggers, bemused expressions and wry smiles came my way as I faced an onslaught of Thursday afternoon criticism, deeming my tame response outright deplorable. With so much packing to do, making full use of the free checked baggage offer I had found, and with an early start the next day, going home stone cold sober was the only sensible option.

Alas, six pints, three quite indescribable shots, and a ‘calm down’ whiskey later, I found myself stumbling through my front door ruing my inability on this occasion to shield myself from peer pressure. Bleary eyed, I grabbed at my suitcase and packed… everything. The angel on my shoulder had evidently taken that evening off, leaving the devil laughing, ale in hand, dancing the Gangnam Style.


 

Day 2:
“The Swaying Keyboard”
Friday 17 August 2018

 

I will struggle to wipe from my mind 10:30 that Friday morning, as I stared down at the ‘X’s’, ‘W’s’ and ‘T’s’ ice-skating across my office keyboard. I sat, slouched and unsteady, clutching my flat white. With a herculean effort, I would lift my head every so often from the abyss to stare at the various emails flying into my inbox, all as dull as the last one, in my pained state, before recoiling back into my chair. I looked aside, eyes bloodshot, to see in the corner of the office my suitcase, the contents of which I could not be quite certain of, having forgotten that frantic period of packing the evening before. I looked ahead once more at the computer monitor, and was dutifully warned that I had just six hours to pull myself together before I needed to make my way to Heathrow Terminal 5.

By no stretch of the imagination did those six hours pass by in a merciful flash. Office visitor after office visitor came and went, whether actual or imaginary. I had prepared myself for at least two heart attacks too as breakfast slowly transitioned into lunch. Nevertheless, against all odds, I survived. Just. The clock hit 16:30 and had I possessed the strength to lift my arms, there would have been a very public display of my jubilation. However, pulling strength from the depths of my soul, I made my swift exit from the building. Ah, the fresh air and sense of imminent adventure seemed to bring back some degree of life to my drained body, though the sunglasses were still essential as I travelled from Blackfriars, to Paddington, to Heathrow – glued over my still recovering eyeballs. My headache soon abated too, and as I strolled into Heathrow Airport, I allowed the buzz of the forthcoming trip to take over, my unnatural grin no doubt scaring many. I passed through security quickly, with little problem, and sat down to a processed mac and cheese, delightfully disgusting, with an hour or so to spare before my flight. Or so I had thought.

Of the many side effects associated with excessive alcohol consumption, with which I humbly assert expertise, blurred vision is underrated. Combined with my already faltering eyesight, when I looked up at the flight information board to see green flash to red by my flight number, I knew that my initially casual assessment of the situation had been foolhardy. “Last call,” came the dreaded tannoy announcement. Oh, shit. Laptop, slammed. Bag, grabbed. Sprint, engaged. Adrenaline had begun to pump its way through my still wearied body as I ran aimlessly, hoping that I was making my way in some manner towards my destination.

Sprint, stop, search. Sprint, stop, search. Sprint, stop, search. By sheer dumb luck, I arrived at the shuttle service and looked down at my phone. I had just five minutes before the gate was due to close. They don’t leave without a passenger though, right? The shuttle arrived instantly; maybe this is my day, I remember thinking. This thought soon dispersed as the doors took a million hours to open, leaving me standing jittery, my foot tapping amidst the calm, collected and sensibly early crowd of fellow passengers. It was as though I were six again, standing in the line at the bank with my parents, desperate for a wee.

I am never one to answer unknown number calls, if any calls at all. Who actually speaks on the phone anymore? In fact, quite often I will let the phone ring out as I see the names of close friends trying to contact me, instead waiting to WhatsApp them seconds later – “sorry mate, was in the shower…” But as my phone buzzed and an unknown number popped up, I had high hopes that there could only be one reason for this particular call. I answered. “Mr Lott, is everything ok?” “What?” I responded, still not certain who this was as I tried to calm my breathing. “Yes, brilliant, why?” “Mr Lott, this is Andrew from British Airways.

We’re just wondering where you are Sir?” “Andrew!” I responded, my relief evident. “Hold the plane. I am on my way!” Hold the plane… hold the plane? Who did I think I was? What he said… “Sir, you really should have been here earlier. We will try our best, but if you are not here in five minutes, it may be difficult for us not to close the gate. The other passengers are already on board and we need to do our utmost to ensure that the plane departs on time.” Extremely reasonable. What he meant… “Who does this guy think he is? Hold the plane? This is not a private jet Mr Bond, we are closing the gate. Bye!” “Andrew,” I said, responding to the former, “I’ll be there!” What he said… “Ok Sir, we hope to see you shortly.” What he meant… “Tosser.” To my, and evidently his, surprise, I managed to sprint, perhaps faster than ever before, into the then deserted boarding area within that crucial five-minute time frame. Andrew’s eyes widened as he saw my bison-like figure move closer towards him, sweat dripping, my passport outstretched.

Baywatch springs to mind. He smiled as I steadied myself and handed my boarding pass to the attendant, evidently surprised as he sized me up that I had made it and waved me through. “Just in time Sir, well done.” Now, I am not a huge fan of flying. I find the experience extremely uncomfortable, a feeling not helped, as I made my way to the back of the plane, by passing disgruntled eyes, tuts and outright glares.

The lack of control; the thought of being so unnaturally high above the ground; the knowledge of almost certain death should something actually go wrong – all contribute towards the discomfort that the logic of favourable statistics for air travel safety fail to counteract for me. So, as I sat back, still dripping from my unexpected HIIT workout, desperately torn between scooching closer towards the dreaded window view or remaining touch-tight with the grossly overweight teen to my right, I buckled up, praying to my atheist self that this will all be ok. It was; I survived. Whiskey had proven itself a useful Valium substitute as the plane tore through the skies of Europe, landing safely at Fiumicino Airport, Rome.

 

 

Author Thomas Lott
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