I was a Girl Guide once, briefly, but I don’t think that’s where I learned that it’s wise to travel well supplied. It just seems to come naturally to me to fear the worst and so carry enough on one’s person to meet any eventuality. So, even when just going out to a formal dinner, I will typically be carrying a hefty handbag with me and, if I’m away from Cambridge for a day or longer my rucksack will be bulging. People frequently comment on this: gosh that looks heavy they say. It may be because I look fragile and as if I might crumble under the weight, but I don’t think so.
Part of the trouble stems from the fact that women’s clothes rarely come equipped with a reasonable supply of useful pockets. Too often what may look like pockets in a jacket turn out to be mere illusions, simply flaps to fool you into thinking you will be able to stuff your wallet, your phone and your keys somewhere handy, as any man’s jacket would permit. But no, women are supposed to worry about the ‘line’ of their clothes and an unsightly bulge around the waistline would never do. Consequently, no deep pockets are provided and hence the need for a bulky handbag.
Mine is full of more than just the wallet, phone and keys of course. I always assume that something is likely to go awry and so come prepared with a small medicine chest of painkillers for that headache a long, tedious committee meeting can induce; and pills to stop a migraine attack in its tracks as soon as the aura hits (and sunglasses to reduce the risk of one starting). Then I also tend to have travel sickness pills because it’s more trouble than it’s worth to take them in and out (and I’d forget and never have them when needed if I removed them). A pack of tissues is also useful, since cycling tends to lead to a runny nose, and a tube of Strepsils to soothe the onset of a sore throat. I probably also have a supply of antihistamine’s in case a cat leaps onto my lap and sets my eyes streaming and my nose dripping. You’d think I was a hypochondriac judging by the number of pills I habitually have about my person, wouldn’t you!
Then I have the keys to my elderly mother’s house permanently in my bag, in case of an urgent summons; the last time that happened it was due to an overflowing cold water tank rather than a health issue, but I still need ready access. I also have a bicycle light, of course, since I’m based in Cambridge. Only one as the rear one is permanently attached but the front one needs to be removed and carried around. Occasionally I find it flashing quietly in my bag when it’s been accidentally pressed, something that is definitely bad for battery life. There is the fob for the college car park too, even though I practically never use it. A notebook, rather dog-eared but helpful for that urgent need to jot something down, plus accompanying assorted-colour pens. Before airlines got so neurotic about knives I used to have a Swiss army knife too, but it got confiscated and I didn’t replace it. It was useful to have the associated corkscrew permanently to hand though….Back in the days long past when drinking at lunchtime was still acceptable, I can remember impressing some industrialists by producing it at a meal when the wine was on the table but the waiter was late. Finally, while I’ve been lecturing this term I’ve been carrying around the remote/laser pointer for my laptop too, although that normally lives in my travelling rucksack.
So let’s see what else that rucksack’s contents are, intended for the overnight stay. Naturally, it is a rucksack designed for a cyclist, although I prefer to cycle with it in my bike basket rather than over my shoulders as I’m sure that’s better for my back. And I make sure I have as large a basket as I can find to accommodate this (it can even, upon occasion, take a suitcase, although I rarely feel I need to be so respectable as to use one of those and it is so much less convenient). Of course I have two charge leads, so I can charge both iPhone and iPad on a night away from home; a charger for my laptop which is always an awkward-shaped thing to squeeze in; and a USB mouse so that if I’m on a train and I have access to a table I don’t have to use the built-in trackpad which can be very irritating when the train bumps and jolts about. There are yet more pens in various pockets of the rucksack (including a highlighter) and emergency supplies of Elastoplast, a sewing kit, safety pins and small post-it notes. You’d be surprised how often I use all of these on my travels. There’s often a small packet of biscuits, courtesy of the last hotel I stayed in, and some herbal teabags and decaffeinated coffee for the hotel rooms which aren’t well supplied, plus a water bottle. Then there’ll be a polythene bag or two in case things get wet as I cycle to the station (and sometimes I’ve remembered to stash my waterproof trousers away in one of the pockets too). And all of that is before I include my toothbrush, hairbrush, contact lens solutions and other necessities for a night away.
Perhaps, now I think about it, it isn’t so surprising the rucksack looks rather heavy. At least an iPad is now generally sufficient to replace both the old-fashioned mound of paperwork for a committee meeting and the traditional A4 notebook to record interesting snippets from conference talks. But in general I will have both iPad and laptop since touch-typing on an iPad – for instance to write blogposts and deal with emails – is beyond me, although I’m pretty nifty on a proper keyboard.
So, if you see me looking weighed down, now you’ll know why. I’m prepared. For anything. Rain or shine, in sickness or in health, I’m ready to handle it all.