Can one piece of luggage turn you into a cliché?


I started to notice the signs in earnest after a recent burst of short-hop travelling.

In truth, the signs were visible years ago with the earliest version of the ‘˜Discman’, with its vast, attachable battery pack and the apparent need to bulk buy AA batteries every twenty minutes. Then affordable laptops meant the purchase of multiple computer batteries, and days spent prior to any trip charging these blinking, heavy, silver beasts.

Another tell-tale sign was justifying the purchase of noiseless earphones (bought at astronomic cost but ‘˜they really cut down on ambient noise you know’). Downloading movies hasn’t started yet, but I can see it’s only a matter of time before a newer iPod is justified for just this purpose.

Post 9-11 airport restrictions have resulted in another sign – the obsessive measuring of on-board baggage and reading of terms and conditions (‘˜so when they say ‘˜carry-on baggage’ does that mean a bag and a computer case, or’¦’).

The ‘˜on-board liquid’ rule means hoarding smaller plastic bottles to transfer gooey liquids into thus avoiding the embarrassment of one’s ‘˜plastic bag’ being examined throughout passport control. ‘˜I’m sorry sir you can’t take that amount of hair gel on a plane – you’ll have to apply it all now, or offer some to all the other male passengers’.

Another sign: spending too much time in luggage shops assessing options, that’s after the obligatory graze of the tech shop and slightly too geeky conversations with assistants over the relative amount of mega-pixellage on offer. Or whether that particular high-def digital camcorder is actually mac-compatible or not. (NOT, can you believe it? The reviews were right).

Signs of WHAT, you might be asking. Well, and I hesitate to admit this, but signs that I am turning into Monocle Man.

In case you’ve been off on a two-year long paragliding course you may not know that Monocle magazine is the recent publishing sensation that regularly sells over 100,000 copies a month with its heady mix of articles on the world’s best ice-hotels to visit, assessments of the political situation in Maui, interspersed with hilarious men’s fragrance ads or slightly less than subtle dps ads for its founder, Tyler Brûlé’s, branding concern Winkcreative.

Now, up until quite recently, I would occasionally buy it since it was in theory designed for someone like me, only to be in practice bored brain-dead within minutes (possibly due to lack of interest in that month’s analysis of best vodka bars in outer Vladivostok, or the accompanying piece on the must-have Tibetan wool cardigans this season).

But only last month, I sat there, early for breakfast in a hotel in the Scottish Highlands, and unwilling to read the Angling Times I plumped for Monocle and, amazingly, proceeded to read it. This may of course be merely a symptom of impending middle age and a doomed attempt to ‘˜keep up’. (I remember decades ago, living in Australia, actively seeking out copies of The Face and Arena and actually reading them in a desperate attempt to stay in touch with European culture).

But I read it, I enjoyed it. But then, as I say, my life is now intertwined with the minutiae of life-or-death struggles its readers endure on a daily basis.

M-man really needs someone to program his iPhone for him, but has to struggle with the settings himself (‘˜for god’s sake where’s technical support when you need them’). He moans about the quality of the 3g on offer wherever he may be (‘˜can you believe France Telecom’s network went down for almost a week? Unbelievable’). M-man stocks up on after-shave in airports (he knows it’s tacky, but heck, it’s cheaper). M-man has every latest digital camera, but will quickly transfer his affections to a new one (he has his eye on the high end Leica but even he thinks 3k is a bit steep). M-man’s become adept at getting guitars on-and-off planes without getting their necks snapped, even learning that it’s best to buy second-hand guitars in far-way places then get them back duty-free by pointing out the dings. (‘˜Yah, I flew out for a small gig in Tokyo’). M-man asks for foreign currency in small bills then keeps a few bundles of major currencies in his desk so he’s got a taxi fare in any world city (he could get called away at any time, you see).

But the final confirmation that I have turned in to Monocle man, came when I bought, with inevitable ‘˜get-on-and-off-a-plane-quick with-no-baggage-hassle’ logic, one of those little suitcases for the overhead locker. You know, the ones with wheels and extendable handles. That make you look like a complete plonker. Yep, that’s me. SO ashamed am I of this recent purchase that I’ll wheel it through the airport but quickly collapse the handle and carry it normally when I get back to Blighty, just in case anyone sees me.

But Monocle man wouldn’t stress about the small-wheeled appendage, he’d read through his catalogued back issues and try to spend at least Β£500 on the most expensive one he could find. Now, I didn’t do that. I bought the cheapest one I could find at the key shop down the road, for Β£35. Perhaps there’s hope for me yet? Trouble is, I can’t help thinking there’s a much more stylish one I could get. I’m sure I read an article about this recently’¦

By Michael Johnson