The case for the defence
IN her estimable 2002 tome, The Penguin Book of Etiquette, my stylish and well-travelled friend Marion von Adlerstein imparted her views on packing.
She suggested that if a suitcase is not quite full and there’s a danger of things moving around, ‘‘a smart trick is to blow up balloons and use them to load the space without adding weight’’. Deflate them, she adds, ‘‘once your bag starts to fill with papers, clothes or souvenirs along the way’’.
I find packing such a nightmarish process that Marion’s advice has led to the occasional bad dream in which a customs inspector, always gruff and sometimes toting a gun, has opened my case and been promptly hit in the face by a balloon that’s popped out right at him, like an uncorked genie.
In another dream, I am being interviewed on stage at a seminar. I have been introduced as a travel expert and asked to convey vignettes of my travels (or vinaigrettes, as my sons used to say).
Somewhere backstage is one of my suitcases; it is packed for a forthcoming trip to India and has been surreptitiously provided, with its key, by a family member who will later regret their deception. The host, with the dazzling smile of a white pointer, soon asks me for my packing tips and I lie my socks off about my famous economies and special space-saving measures.
Mr Toothy turns to the audience. There is a drum roll and the sounds of scraping and heaving as two stagehands push and pull a trunk the size of a compact car and deposit it in front of me, obscuring mefrom the audience. The case is unlocked amid further musical ceremony and those in the front rows crane for a better look. The smooth host surveys its mountainous contents.
‘‘Susan must intend to be gone for some time,’’ he laughs. ‘‘Yes, a week,’’ I reply, squeaking to be heard above much unkind tittering.
From the top layer, he brandishes aloft a tennis racquet, a selection of veils and a jumbo jar of Vegemite.
‘‘Tennis, anyone?’’ he laughs, swiping the air. I have to explain it is to hit mattresses in lesser hotels and unsettle bed bugs. Those veils of all known colours, lengths and levels of gold thread are for fashion emergencies, such as invitations to take tea with maharajas, swathe one’s face when aboard an odorous camel or to cover unattractive travelling companions, especially on long bus rides.
Vegemite? C’mon. No one of any substance ventures beyond our borders without a jar of the precious black spread. I have given it to drivers to use as axle grease when funny old Ambassador cars have broken down in India. When tea-tree oil and vitamin E cream have run out, I’ve smeared it on insect bites and chapped skin.
The dream usually ends as the hall erupts with applause and people push forward to be photographed with the magical trunk. Sometimes balloons are let off in great gusts and I think of Marion and really hope that she isn’t watching. As I wake, there is always the very clear image of an unsmiling seminar host, who appears to have the taste of vinaigrette in his mouth.