Magazine article The Spectator

It's My Bag

Magazine article The Spectator

It's My Bag

Article excerpt

There are moments in life when one realises that one has gone a little bonkers. In my case, they occur quite frequently. The last occasion was when I was staying with some friends in Portugal who recalled how, on one of my visits some years previously, I had arrived distraught. My new and expensive leather suitcase had been badly scratched in the aircraft's hold. Although I remembered the scratch, I had forgotten the embarrassing detail that my friends then savoured retelling: I had spent a considerable part of my stay obsessively polishing the scratch, presumably with saddle soap or leather cream that I had brought with me specifically to cater for this distressing eventuality.

At least I had provided them with some entertainment, I suppose. But my embarrassment was accentuated when this story was recounted again, this time to another friend, who remembered that I had then tried to prevent future scratches by buying a cover for the suitcase. It was in reality just a cheap black canvas holdall, in which I used to insert the precious leather suitcase. But even that did not stop the effects of ill treatment by airport baggage-handlers and so - not before entertaining the idea of having a special hard-canvas cover tailormade for this suitcase, a service that is actually provided by a shop in the Burlington Arcade - I decided to abandon all hope that anything marked 'fragile' could ever be treated carefully in an airport. Ever since, the suitcase has remained in an upper cupboard waiting, like Cinderella, to be taken out as the perfect accompaniment to a motoring holiday. But the call never comes and so it languishes, loved but unused.

I suppose it was not entirely news to realise that I have a luggage fetish. About ten years ago, I acquired, from those army surplus stores that seem no longer to exist, a pair of sailors' suitcases. They were made of tasteful beige canvas, with leather corners and leather handles. They combined elegance with practicality: clothes emerged from them in the same neatly pressed state in which they had been packed. This is not the case with soft luggage. Ever since undertaking a trip to India in the 1980s, I have been a fan of hard suitcases, and a principled opponent of rucksacks and of most forms of soft bag. This opposition -'contempt' would be a more honest word - was conceived on the platform of a railway station in Gujarat. As I stood, feeling rather smugly cool and collected, wearing a light 1950s summer jacket I had borrowed from my father, and having put my suitcase down while waiting for a rickshaw, I was approached by a rather pretty Norwegian backpacker. She was carrying what appeared to be a small house on her back, which was attached to her by a strap which went around her neck. The poor girl was practically choking when she asked me whether it was not very inconvenient to carry a proper suitcase around India. I do not recall my reply, but I do recall fantasising that, had I gently pushed the girl over backwards with my forefinger, she would probably never have been able to get up again, and would have instead remained in the dusty Ahmedabad street, her legs waving in the air like a beetle. Anyway, when my car was broken into many years later near the Campo de' Fiori, and its entire contents stolen, I regretted the loss of those naval suitcases almost more than the tens of thousands of pounds' worth of my girlfriend's jewellery, dresses and shoes, or indeed my own suits and other accoutrements. …

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