Trouble In Paris | an amusing short story from our archives


What is the mysterious item causing so much chaos – and why is our heroine so attached to it?

Our hotel room is plunged into darkness. I open the door and it’s not just our room. It’s the whole of the wing. Guests in towelling bathrobes fumble through the darkness. They are looking for someone to blame.

That someone is me.

“I told you not to bring it.” Thomas can be irritatingly smug. “First security and now this.”

“It’s one small home comfort,” I say, groping my way to the bed.

“But you have Paris.”

Through the dim light of the city in darkness, I can see Thomas sweep his hand towards the window.

You’ve plunged Paris into darkness

He’s right. We breakfasted in a café on the Champs-Elysées, lunched in a boat on the Seine and dined in a restaurant at the foot of the Eiffel Tower. I didn’t “need” the offending item.

“Yes.” I try to lighten the mood by adding, “Now, we’ll always have Paris.”

But Thomas isn’t playing.

“No. Now you will always have Paris plunged into darkness,” he grumbles.

“Not all of it,” I say, acutely aware of the mutterings from along the corridor.

“We could’ve just gone to the bar,” Thomas goes on. “That thing is dangerous.”

“No-one got hurt.”

“You nearly got arrested.”

The source of the problem may be in our room

There’s a knock at the door. Thomas answers it.  A boiler-suited maintenance man with a torch introduces himself in heavily accented English.

He explains that a fuse has blown and the whole of the hotel wing is now without electricity. He believes the source of the problem may be something in our room.

“Did you notice anything?” he asks. “Perhaps a spark from a hair dryer?”

“No,” I say, too quickly. “Nothing… Nothing at all.”

Triple negatives are always positive indicators of guilt.

D’accord,” he replies. It’s too dark to see if his face registers disbelief.

I’m going to pretend I’ve never met you

“What have you done with it?” Thomas asks when he’s gone.

“I put it back in my suitcase.”

“So you’re planning to bring the bloody thing home again?”

“Why not?” I reply. “It works fine everywhere else.”

“In that case, I’m going to pretend I’ve never met you when we go through security,” he says, as the lights come on.

“It wasn’t so bad on the way here,” I say. Although I admit I was a little worried at the time; when it showed up on the X-ray machine, the electrical item, which is now back in my suitcase, did look a little like a handgun. But once I’d explained, the security folk were fine.

“Haven’t seen one of those for a while,” was all the official said.

“No,” Thomas weighed in. “They’ve been superseded…”

“By things which take up too much room in hand luggage.” I finish his sentence and try to make light of it.

The impression of a handgun shows up again

“It will be harder on the way home,” Thomas says now. “The officials will be French. They won’t understand why you can’t travel without it.”

It turns out he was right.

The impression of a handgun shows up again, as we queue to board the Eurostar. Once more I unpack and show the staff my portable water immersion heater. It’s more compact than a travel kettle and unfolds so that a bar rests on the top of a mug holding the heating rod in place while water boils.

I’m all for having Paris, but French hotels never have tea or coffee-making facilities and continental cafés, by and large, don’t do English breakfast tea.

“C’est pour le thé,” I explain to uncomprehending officials.

They do understand it’s just a tool for boiling water and not an offensive weapon – but they don’t understand why I can’t travel without it.

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Karen Byrom

My coffee mug says "professional bookworm" which sums me up really! As commissioning fiction editor on the magazine, I love sharing my reading experience of the latest books, debut authors and more with you all, and would like to hear from you about your favourite books and authors! Email me