I can remember, as a child, running off to school with nothing in my pockets except a handkerchief and, if I remember rightly, I didn’t even bother with that in summer. Later, when I was old enough to go out with my friends, I might carry said hankie, the key to the front door at home and some money, in case I wanted to buy a drink or make a phone call. These days, I sometimes wonder where that innocent simplicity has gone.
When I reached man’s estate and went out to work, wearing a jacket and tie, I had more pockets at my disposal and soon found that I had no trouble filling them. There was the wallet – every self-respecting man has to have a big wallet with money, credit cards, library cards, photos of loved ones, bits of paper with essential information scrawled on them and all those other things that you can’t remember why they’re there but you keep because you assume you will eventually need them.
Then there were the pens. You have to have pens – and pencils. Someone might ask “Can you lend me a pen?” and how stupid you would look if you couldn’t. And you might even need them yourself. Next the diary: you have to have a diary to write things down in such as birthdays and holidays. You probably never actually look in it but you still have to write these things in and transfer them every year from the old diary into the new one. And a notebook. You have to have a notebook because you might have to jot down the registration mark of a vehicle speeding away from the scene of a crime. Imagine the police asking you what the registration was and you not being able to remember. Oh, the shame.
Then there’s a comb, because you must always be well groomed. And a pipe, tobacco, pipe lighter and the pointy thing for unblocking the pipe and the penknife for scraping it out. And an old tobacco tin with bits of chalk in it because quite often, if you are a teacher, you go into a classroom for a lesson and find there’s no chalk. So you carry your own.
In your trouser pockets you have your handkerchief, loose change and, of course, your keys, a great jangling bunch that has the house keys, the car keys, the keys to the coal shed and the tin trunk in the attic. These regularly wear holes in your pockets. You try taking your trousers to the dry cleaner’s where the lady sits at a sewing machine all day long replacing trouser pockets but it’s a bit expensive so you end up patching them yourself with pieces of old sheet or table cloth.
The summer comes and you go on holiday. The weather is hot, very hot. You swelter in your jacket but you can’t take it off because of all the stuff in your pockets. Then comes the glorious moment of enlightenment. It comes in the form of a question that forms in the mind like a bubble on the surface of a pond, denoting mysterious processes in the depths: Do I really need to carry all this stuff around with me?
When my moment came, I enjoyed one of those moments of savage joy when the old is unceremoniously destroyed and the new tumultuously welcomed. Forget the pipe, the tobacco, the pointy thing and the knife. Smoking’s bad for you. Forget the wallet: a small purse for money and a credit card will do. Keys? Two are enough: one for the door and one for the car. What else? Oh, yes, hanky. It’ll all go in my trouser pockets. Sorted.
Oh, the freedom! Oh, the lightness! No notebook for speeding criminal cars, no diary for dates I remember anyway, no briefcase-sized wallet weighing me down!
These days, not having a car helps. That’s one or two keys less, especially as modern car keys are really radio transmitters and are enormous. But even so, my keys still burrowed through my pockets with monotonous regularity. It happened again a year ago, when we were on holiday in Cornwall.
“Damn. I have a hole in my pocket!”
“Repair it when we get back to the hotel.”
“Maybe they can give you some cotton and a needle. Or maybe there’s one of those little repair kits in one of the drawers.”
“I’ll just swap things around. Put the heavy stuff in the pocket without a hole in it.”
“Have you thought of a handbag?”
“A handbag. Or a manbag, if you prefer.”
Now Tigger, when she has an idea in her head, can be very insistent and persuasive. We walked down the road and came upon a surfer’s shop. It was about to close for the winter and there was a sale on. Scenting bargains, we went in.
On a shelf were some bags. “Here’s one,” said Tigger.
Without quite knowing how, I paid for it and left the shop with a handbag – or manbag, if you prefer – and very vague notions about what to do with it.
I took to it like a duck to water. It has a long strap that goes over my shoulder and across my chest. There is a big zipped pocket for my purse and smaller pockets for my mobile and Oyster card. Tigger gave me a key ring with an extendable cord so I can take the keys out and use them but they remain attached to the bag which is attached to me. No more forgetting my keys. I didn’t even bother to repair the hole in my trouser pocket.
It turns out, however, that a bag is a bit like a magnet: it attracts things. For example, I bought a magnifying glass to look at insects. Tigger gave me a pair of folding scissors (so useful for opening packets of peanuts!). There is a small pepper mill that goes everywhere with me and a pound coin I keep for the trolley at the supermarket. And pens and pencils, of course: you never know when you might meet a speeding criminal car or a sudoku puzzle. And the little spray can of antiseptic for when I want to eat something and there are no hand-washing facilities.
In fact, the bag is now stuffed to bursting point but a solution is at hand. Recently the zip broke on the front pocket where I keep my Oyster card and which I can press against the detector without taking the card out. Maybe the zip can be repaired but I have a better idea: how about buying a new bag, you know, a bigger one? Then it would be less stuffed. And there would be room for more things. Like photos and bits of paper with information on them. That sort of thing. Just essentials.
I read the other day that manbags are now passé and no one has them any more. Really? Well, chez moi they are still going great guns. They are permanently flavour of the month. I’d be lost without my manbag.
But I really do need a bigger one.