Groundhog Day in Geneva for travel retail’s Punxsutawney Phil

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Martin Moodie
Martin Moodie is the Founder & Chairman of The Moodie Report.

I’ve often felt like Bob Harris, the character played by Bill Murray in the 2003 film Lost in Translation, who finds himself jetlagged and disorientated in a Tokyo hotel room far from home.

Now admittedly Bob/Bill finds considerable consolation in the company (though not the arms) of Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) with whom he shares not love but loneliness. His conveyance of a detached, resigned and slightly otherworldly isolation borders on the exquisite.

But last week I was recast as another Bill Murray character, this time Phil Connors, the media man (weatherman, to be precise) and central character of the 1993 American comedy Groundhog Day. As many readers will recall, Connors is trapped in a time loop, hilariously (though maybe not for him) reliving the same day over and over again.

And so to Groundhog Day 2, set not in the town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania but in Geneva Airport, Switzerland. Starring not Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell but yours truly and my Spanish colleague, The Moodie Davitt Report Publisher Irene Revilla.

Have laptop, will travel: The Moodie Davitt Report Interim Geneva to Biel/Bienne Bureau is open for business.

It was a spring day in April, but you wouldn’t have known it from the near freezing conditions that set in shortly after our highly enjoyable visit to Biel/Bienne to meet Swatch Group International Wholesale & Travel Retail Manager Laurent Lamotte and colleagues. There, we got to experience the magnificent new headquarters for Swatch AG. Japanese architect Shigeru Ban has created a place of wonder, fusing the house’s identity and heritage with the landscape in a magnificent overarching wooden structure.

Arriving at the magnificent new Swatch office in Biel/Bienne.

I love the irresistible dynamism of the Hayek family-led group, its constant sense of reinvention, its ability to straddle various price points and positioning across its extensive brand portfolio, and its wonderful ability to combine tradition and modernity.

After several meetings, Irene and I rushed to the station to catch the last train that would get us to Geneva Airport for the late flight to Heathrow. It was going to be tight but manageable. Just. And then the unthinkable. A Swiss train was running late. Very late. That’s about as rare as an apology from Donald Tump or an act of swift Brexit decision-making by the British parliament.

As the weather worsened, the delay got longer. Was Switzerland becoming like the UK and developing ‘the wrong kind of snow’ on the line? By the time our train arrived nearly 40 minutes behind schedule, Irene and I knew we would have to race through security and immigration at the speed of Grand National winner Tiger Roll but hopefully with fewer jumps.

Having no baggage and being already checked-in meant at least heading straight to security, albeit at the end of an indecently long line. Irene took one lane, me another. The plane was already boarding and from security to B gates in Geneva is a long walk (with immigration in between).

“Any laptop or mobile phone?”

“Yes.” The routine is about as familiar to me as a morning shower.

“Please put it in a separate tray.”

A short wait on the other side of the scanner. And then the words you dread when in a desperate hurry.

“Is this your bag, Sir?”

“Yes, it is.”

“Do you mind if I open it?”

The cause of alarm, perhaps uniquely, turned out to be a tin of chocolates – an Omega-labelled gift from earlier in the day.

“That’s fine,” said the cheery officer, handing me my bag.

It was time to run. Time and British Airways waits for no man.

Except they did. The weather had worsened, and the plane timetable had taken on Swiss railway traits. Perhaps BA was delaying all exits in sympathy with the UK government?

Dateline: 3 April 21:30, Geneva Airport.

There was even time for a brief glass of (tackily sweet) white wine out of a plastic cup at the snack bar. Relax. Breathe.

As all travel retail road warriors know, when a day like this goes wrong, it goes really wrong. An hour stuck on the runway, while de-icing of the wings took place. After a day that had started at 4a.m. this was de-icing on the cake for me.

Finally, airborne. Time to kick back. A welcome hour or so to catch up on my writing backlog with no disturbance by email. Time to get the trusty laptop out.

Regular readers of this Blog will know the rest, I suspect. In a 2014 Blog I wrote: Over the course of 12 years at The Moodie Report I have lost around 20 cell phones; numerous blackberries (probably a few strawberries and blueberries along the way); countless (and I do mean countless) chargers, adapters and headphones; two passports; a briefcase (appropriately, only briefly); half a dozen or so digital recorders; I estimate around four dozen pairs of spectacles; many duty free purchases (well I do believe in giving back to our industry) and believe it or not at least a dozen shirts (do not ask). Certainly I’ve also lost my way (in airports and in life) on more occasions than I care to name and heck, I’ve probably even lost my mind on occasions.

Things have not improved during the ensuing five years. There was, of course, no laptop. It was not in the sky bound for London but, probably, in a tray bound for Lost and Found. The next day’s workload loomed like the Matterhorn, which, like my laptop, I was now leaving behind me.

Now, my laptop plays a roughly similar role to me as an umbilical cord does for a baby in the womb. The relationship may be even closer. I have a recurring nightmare in which a drunken surgeon is standing over me swigging from a bottle of Jack Daniel’s (he has good taste at least) while wielding a scalpel in the other hand.

“Sorry Mr Moodie, it’s the laptop or your leg,” he says, looming over me with menace.

“No, no Doctor,” I scream. “Please. Not the laptop! Take the leg. In fact, take both!!”

Ah, the glamour of travel retail.

My audible despair at my loss from my backrow aisle seat positioned right opposite the washroom (I told you it was that kind of day) was enough to have a kind cabin crew member called Helen ask if I was ok. “No,” I groaned with the kind of almighty sigh that you can imagine Puff the Magic Dragon exhaling when Jackie Paper came no more.

“I’m so sorry,” she said, as I explained my plight. “Can I get you anything?”

“A parachute?” I asked hopefully before settling instead for a Sauvignon Blanc from the buy onboard range to drown my sorrows. But Helen and her equally kind colleague Adele didn’t offer me a wine from the trolley. Instead, a few moments later they returned from Business Class clutching not one but three quarter bottles of very nice wine, including one Champagne. “We thought this might cheer you up,” said Adele. Helen and Adele, it did and you did. I hope to see you on a flight when I am not in a state of grief.

And so, enter Bill Murray, cast once more as a hapless media man who keeps living out the same day. Having failed to resuscitate any from the scrapyard-like pile of old laptops that sits forlornly alongside a long-forgotten Bremshey running machine in his original Worldwide Headquarters (the garden shed), there was only one choice. Back to Geneva on the 06.40 from Heathrow T5 and hope for a return to Swiss efficiency.

Three hours sleep behind him, off sets Bill. Wan-faced, fed-up, worried that his laptop may have been blown up by over-Zealous Swiss authorities.

But Bill need not have worried. This was Groundhog Day after all and so the laptop would almost certainly reappear like magic. Maybe Andie MacDowell would too.

The lady in the lost and found department looked very efficient. Bill just looked, well… lost.

“How can I help?”

“I left my laptop here last night. In a security tray. I only found out when I was on the plane to London.”

“Really. And you flew all the way back today?”

“Yes,” Bill muttered shamefully, not wanting to relate his nightmare about the Jack Daniel’s-drinking surgeon.

The courteous young woman disappeared behind a door just as swiftly as the  laptop had descended into the security machine the night before.

“What is your name please?” she asked after returning a minute later worryingly empty-handed.

“Martin Moodie,” replied Bill, acting the part to perfection and looking as miserable as Theresa May after being asked out for a private dinner date by Jeremy Corbyn.

“Yes, we have your laptop,” she said with a smile that suggested the fact was never in doubt. “But it will cost you 20 Francs.”

“Make it 2000 and take my legs!”

Bill clutched his laptop like it was his long-lost son, promising never to abandon it again, the rest of his Groundhog Day passing not like a nightmare but like a dream. If that makes him the Punxsutawney Phil of travel retail so be it. Bill has his friend back.

All smiles at last. And note the empty security trays behind me.
Dateline: 4 April 12.45, Geneva Airport.
Friends reunited: The map pins denote locations where I have lost things.

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