A diversion, and a long way from home

Sunday February 27, 2005

Most of my day has been spent getting stuff ready for eBay, and uploading the first few of them. Time consuming, and not very interesting. I enjoy writing the descriptions but the detail and the photography really isn’t my bag at all.

Speaking of bags, I did steal a happy hour or so to take up pen and brush and make a sketch of my famous ‘bag’—actually, a cheap shoulder-hung commodious hold-all of many pockets in an uninspiring black canvas with black zips, strap and buckles, all faded and tatty with much use. I don’t go anywhere without it, and haven’t done since the mid-70s when the stuff a chap has to carry around with him got to be simply too much for pockets.

And it’s the stuff inside that makes any bag interesting unless it’s one of those beautiful be-jewelled purses that are, probably rightfully, still the province of women who enjoy a bit of glamour and glitz in their lives.

I decided then, after a false start, to pull all the stuff out and draw bag and contents together.

It’s truly astonishing what I find necessary to carry about with me. From left to right, my leather wallet, holding cash and credit cards, till receipts, unfiled vouchers… no way of not carrying that. Slightly in front from there is a plastic breath-mint case, all rattly and ready to aid in clearing those after-coffee moments. Then, a small stack of documentation and portable writing/drawing books, starting at the bottom, a ring-bound ruled notebook in a hard cover, then a bright red pensioner’s wallet, containing cheque and paying-in book and with a sad hole left where my weekly State pension book used to live. Above that, a leather-bound slim-style filofax pocket book where I keep stuff like my driver’s licence, insurance documents, and plastic cards that won’t fit in my wallet. There’s always a wad of yellow ruled paper in it, too, not much used these days but after years of executive note-taking, impossible to cast aside entirely. Above that is my small case-bound sketch-book complete with elastic band to hold it shut against the water-buckled pages that are eternally anxious to escape. Next to these is my faithful pencam, with two spare batteries. Then, the most recent addition, my Dell PDA or pocket PC, sitting on its own black leather case. In front there is my essential cellphone alongside my favourite drawing pen and, lastly, a good old-fashioned Pelikan propelling pencil.

If I’m going to be out for any length of time there’s usually a slim volume of verse to tide me over long waits in waiting rooms, a small pack of wet wipes, and a couple of individually wrapped Italian biscuits in case I get munchy. There’s even room for a small bottle of mineral water if I think I’ll need it.

There it is, then. Didn’t take too long to draw, or to apply the washes. I used some cheap Winsor and Newton watercolour paper which buckled as I worked. I don’t mind that too much but a product labelled as suitable for watercolour ought to be better behaved. I deliberated over the ‘black’ washes, considering whether I should use a true black, and decided that a succession of Indigo, followed by Payne’s Grey, and finished up with the classic burnt ochre mixed with ultramarine. The result is far more blue than reality but by the time I’d got to that point I was painting what I saw growing on the paper and in my mind, and I find the blue-ish washes much more exciting than the dull, inpenetrable black you’d get in a photograph.


Stickford Feb 27,'05
Bag and contents


There is a story behind my carrying a bag but there would be, wouldn’t there?

Time before last I was in Los Angeles—I reckon it was in 1983 but don’t hold me to it—I was there to attend and participate in a large computer conference sponsored by IBM, with my expenses paid for by my then employer. During a break I was sitting in the smoking section (can you imagine, smoking in Los Angeles?) of the long hall provided for coffee and nibbles consumption between sessions, my bag at my side. Not this bag, but a rather smaller one in black calf leather. Same shape and function, though. I zipped it open, pulled out my pipe, matches and baccy, and commenced to stoke up and enjoy a good British moment.

Two young women had been observing me, whispering and giggling, and pointing at me. In my stoic British way I decided to ignore this display of bad manners, putting it down to another of those aspects of American social interaction I really don’t understand. Not that giggling, inconsiderate young women are unique to the States, far from it. Finally, curiousity prevailing, the bolder of them piped up: “Say, what do you carry a purse for?”

“To hold my personal things,” I replied evenly, in that slightly cold and flat British monotone that gets us such a bad name.

“Well, Gee, we thought you’d have your lipstick in there.”

“Terribly sorry to disappoint you.”

Answer came there none, apart from pulling back, losing the foolish grins, and then sidling away, sheepishly.

Now, being fair, this was long before blokes in the States adopted the European way and began to carry a bag about with them, moderating over the years, as we have, to something more along the lines of a large haversack. So it could be that these young women had never seen a man with a bag before. Doesn’t excuse them of course. Bad manners are bad manners and there’s nothing truly to excuse them.

Next on my agenda was my appearance as a guest speaker at a side meeting, where I gave a presentation of the way we were pioneering the use of the IBM ‘TIF’ product (don’t ask, and I won’t tell) in Britain. Only a fifteen minute talk but I’d prepared carefully, and I knew several of the people among the 100 or so in the audience so I didn’t feel too much like a British fish very much out of British waters. I got a good few laughs, and a number of sympathetic “yeah’s” when I described the difficulties of persuading IBM to support one of its lesser-known products away from the ‘strategic’ mainstream. Red faces from the line of black-suited IBMers in the back row but one. Highly satisfactory. But then I noticed a pair of even redder faces in the very back row. There were the two young ladies from my coffee break encounter.

Afterwards they had the good grace to come up to me, apologize nicely, and say they hadn’t realized I was English. We slipped off later and had a very tasty pastry and Coke together, they smoking cigarettes and me puffing away at my pipe, and we became good friends in the ships that pass in the night sense of the word.

Hey ho. Funny old world, ‘ennit? I’d better get back to my eBaying.



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