Plus Crossword and Quiz
There are some purchases you make that surprise you into realising you’ve grown old. I’m not talking about the more obviously desperate items of dependency you find in the far corners of pharmacies. No, I’m referring to zip-up cardigans, nonslip shoes that you don’t have to lace, money trays, keyring holders with built-in torches, the Sunday Telegraph, historical novels. Not definitive markers of obsolescence, but first intimations of mortality.
In my case, it’s a backpack. I know the young wear backpacks, but they don’t wear them in the spirit of shame in which I wear mine. The young fling them with insouciance over one shoulder, which my physiotherapist (another intimation of mortality) tells me is bad for the spine. So I strap myself rigidly into my backpack as though I’m sending myself on an Age Concern package holiday and have all the cucumber sandwiches I’ll need while I’m away. I couldn’t look worse if I wore a vest.
That it should come to this after all the elegant briefcases I’ve owned and loved and polished: my professor’s Leonhard Heyden Salisbury, capacious enough to carry the complete works of Kafka and Kundera; my battered cognac Bridge bag for literary festivals; my svelte Jasper Blue Fabriano folio case that holds a single Point Of View for Radio 4. Bags denoting confidence and authority.
But they either hold too little when I’m travelling abroad, or weigh too much. It used not to matter: I had the memory not to need to carry lecture notes, and I had the strength to toss Kafka and Kundera into an overhead locker. Now, if I’m to travel anywhere with more than a couple of sheets of A4, I must be backpacked.
Rucksacks, we used to call them in the days we traversed inhospitable terrain. By “we”, I mean other people. I have an aversion to the accoutrements of adventure, so won’t be carrying rolled-up groundsheets and gunmetal water bottles. In their absence, I am less of a danger to fellow travellers – and where, you might ask, is the joy of wearing a backpack if you can’t smash into people with it? But that’s just another reason I look wrong in mine. I’m too obviously peaceable. I don’t cycle for the same reason.
Time’s whirligig brings in its revenges. The last time I carried a bag on my back, it was a school satchel and I wore a cap. No wonder I’m ashamed. A man should not look like a boy. I strapped on my backpack for a journey two weeks ago, anyway, and expected people to point at me in the airport and laugh. But here’s the worst thing: they didn’t. You know you’re getting old when people don’t notice you look a prat.