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The case of the missing underpants – in Finnish Lapland

There were two memorable incidents in 1997. One was the appearance of the previously unknown heavenly traveller, now known as the Hale-Bopp Comet – and the other was the loss of my underpants in the north of Finland. And the two incidents are connected.
I led a group of ITCM readers on a trip to Rovaniemi, the capital of Finnish Lapland. We were hosted by the Finnish Convention Bureau and Finnair. The trip was packed with interest and excitement.

Each day was filled with a range of activities and we each had our own sno-mobile to whiz from one location to the other. On one occasion I tested what it was like to dismount from the vehicle and just managed to haul myself back as I sank in the snow up to my armpits.
We were safely looked after by the local DMC, as we competed in Arctic Olympics, in team sports such as running with snow shoes, lassoing reindeer antlers, racing on husky-pulled sleds and stock car racing on a frozen river. We relaxed with a lunch in a hotel carved out of the ice.
We also got involved in a mad race on sledges pulled by reindeer round a frozen track. I remember I was going at a terrific pace and was astonished to see Jim Collins’ reindeer catch me up and start to overhaul me. However, when it went past me at speed I realised it was running light as Jim had fallen off and had been left spread-eagled on the track some way behind.
The first evening we were ‘captured’ by Russians who claimed we had been trespassing on the wrong side of the border with Finland and we were taken to a prison camp. There our punishment was to have a ‘savu sauna’ – a sauna heated (and blackened) with fiercely hot smoke.
The final evening was spent eating a hearty meal in a log cabin beside a roaring open fire. We were all then invited to try a Finnish sauna followed by a naked roll in the snow outside. This meant going from a temperature of 100degC to one that was minus 15degC.
Some of us were tipsy enough to accept the invitation and I remember lying on my back on the frozen snow staring up into the amazingly clear sky. And then the Hale-Bopp Comet was pointed out to us - very easily seen with a bright tail that was apparently hundreds of thousands of miles in length.
We stayed in the snow slightly too long, mesmerised by what is also known as the Great Comet of 1997 and we were desperate to get dressed and warm up in the cabin. But my dressing was delayed, because, try as I could, I couldn’t find my underpants. Not in the cabin, in the dressing room alongside the sauna nor in the sauna. They had vanished.
Then Jim Collins told me he had thrown them into the log fire. I couldn’t believe his story and we all took part in a new hunt to find the pants and prove that he was only joking. But we failed and we had to accept that he had been telling the truth. We put his action down to a mix of high spirits, Finnish vodka and feeling sore at being beaten in the reindeer race.
Next day we were on the Finnair flight en route for the UK when one of the cabin crew asked if there was a Mr Paulden on the flight. I put up my hand and the young lady came to me carrying a silver dish covered by a cloche.
‘This is a present from Mr Collins’, she said as she set it on my knee and then removed the lid. I was expecting that Jim had asked them to present me with ice cream or trifle or something as a way of saying ‘sorry’.
But no. When she lifted the lid she revealed a pair of underpants!
I hasten to add that they were not my used originals – but a packet of Calvin Kleins.

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