Is there such a thing as a perfect suitcase? If there is, I have yet to find it — and I have had a lot of suitcases down through the years.
Thirty years ago, when I was about to emigrate to Canada, one petrol company ran a promotion for the longest time, giving out stamps that allowed you to collect them for household goods, electrical appliances, and yes, even a set of suitcases.
For six months, I would drive on fumes just to make sure I was able to visit the particular petrol stations to collect my tokens. There was one such station near the newspaper office I worked, and would time my visits there to take advantage of a friendship I had endeared myself with one forecourt attendant, just to make sure I could claim or cajole a few more stamps to claim the suitcases.
Truth be told, I did collect enough for two sets of three cases. They only lasted long enough for my wife and me to get to Toronto!
As a child, suitcases were made of a heavy cardboard-like material, and never seemed to last. People too would put stickers on them of all the exotic and faraway places they had visited, just so that everyone else could be infused with a touch of envy.
Photographers used to announce their presence at any airport with hard-shelled aluminium cases that held their cameras and lenses in protective foam padding. They didn’t put stickers on the outside of their cases, but the imagination ran riot to conflict zones then such as Vietnam or the Congo, Belfast or Biafra.
For years, when I did use a suitcase, I always opted for ones that were expandable. The trick was to get as much in, fold over the lid, lie down on it and wriggle until you managed to get the zips to meet somewhere. Closing the suitcase was an act of gymnastics worthy of straight 10s. And when you opened it, it burst forth with a spew of kinetic energy capable of launching a rocket — except that you were lying belly-down on it to get the two straining zips apart.
I could never figure out why anyone would buy a hard-shell suitcase. There’s only so much you can get in those, and if it doesn’t close, you’ve packed too many clothes.
Sometimes, when I stand by the carousel belt, I am fascinated by the shapes and sizes of luggage as they appear down the chute. There’s always someone on my flight who uses a blue-and-red checkered laundry bag, with their name and address sellotaped on one side. And next time you fly, they’ll be on your flight too. Look and see.
And why, I wonder, do people use those wrapping services that cover cases in cling film? If I was a customs officer, they’d be the first people I’d stop because I always think they’re trying to hide something. Go on, the next time you’re at a luggage carousel, watch — and you’ll probably think the same as me.
I’m always amazed too that some people use a bag that looks like a sack, like something a sailor at sea would stuff all his belongings into. There’s no wheels on those things, and you’d actually have to physically carry it on one shoulder, then swop it to the other one, then swop it back again and again after every five steps. Completely useless.
Sometimes, depending on whether I’m going for a long-distance hike, which I like to do in faraway places, I travel with a large backpack. I can tell you check-in clerks hate them, and look at me as if I’m some sort of wondering hippy that never settled down.
Moral of the story? Don’t get on my case.