You were my first ever briefcase. In fact you were my last ever briefcase, which means we have a special bond. You were given to me just before the start of a new school year, in a new school. Moving from Lenham County primary school to Swadelands, the large secondary modern was an intimidating event, even though the two schools were side by side. Perhaps they thought you would at least make me appear confident and self-assured. In the way that only a 12 year girl carrying a briefcase could appear.
Over the summer holidays, my school uniform started coming together. The new white shirts in the cellophane packaging, the folds kept in place with long pins, the stiff plastic holding the shape of the collar. The regulation Swadelands red and black school tie, the grey skirt, the knee high wihite socks and the chunky lace-up shoes. And you. You were the largest of all the briefcases we saw in the store. Perhaps not the most attractive or trim but your roomy capacity outclassed them all. I can?t pretend that you were my first choice. I wanted an executive briefcase, one with the snappy gold colored locks that you could flip up, just like on TV when the bad guy would try to tempt the good guy by revealing a briefcase full of neatly stacked 50 pound notes.
But you won me over with your hinged wide opening, and your generous three-sectioned gusseted construction. Most important though was your three digit combination lock flap. I always kept your number safe in my head and was happy to take those few seconds to lock and unlock you at the start and finish of each class.
The week before school started, I packed you. New pencils, blue bic biros, my protractor and compass set in the plastic sleeve, regulation ruler, calculator and one of my dad?s office ruled notebooks with the first 10 pages or so torn out, leaving rough tufts of paper along the spine. Sometimes in the evenings I would imagine I was in my new class class and would take out my sharpest pencil and compass as directed by the firm but fair teacher, who would be impressed at the deftness with which I handled my tools.
I saw many different bags carried at Swadelands but none were quite like you. Plastic carrier bags were popular, held scrunched at the top like a sack rather than by the handles. Canvas fisherman bags also, which could be decorated with felt pen attempts at the AC/DC or Whitesnake logos. Some weather-beaten soft briefcases, similar to those which many of the teachers carried. But none as accommodating as you. You were a little bulky to sit under my desk but as there was always an empty desk next to me, you had your own chair to rest on.
At your peak, you must have been carrying 5 or 6 text books, class exercise books, PE kit and of course my lunch box and flask. Remember my blue lunchbox with the white lid that had the tabs on the side to keep it secure. I?d have to turn it on its side so it would fit into one of your sections, often leading to an unplanned merge between the ham sandwich and homemade jam tart.
And my tartan flask. Probably the same age as I was, the flask had held all manner of drinks over the years – tea, coffee, hot bovril – and the cup smelled vaguely of the beach and my Grandpa Gallant. Now it held soup. Those Baxters fancy soups like Barley Vegetable and Mock Turtle and unfortunately Mulligatawny. It wasn?t even a soup I particularly liked, which seemed to make it worse when the seal on the flask broke and spread the contents all over you. I feel bad because I was so embarrassed about your Indian curry smell, even long after we?d cleaned you up.
To be honest I’d become embarrassed by you for a while before that. When the headmaster?s wife, Mrs Farringdon commented on your sturdiness and practicality I wanted to cry. I wanted to hide you and instead put all your contents into a plain carrier bag so I looked like everyone else. You started feeling heavy and would bash against my legs or knock into the legs of the other kids in the corridor. I started putting you on the floor and scuffing your corners in the hope that you?d be replaced. Of course you weren?t. We stayed together, resentfully for another 3 years, through another change of school, until you finally usurped by a beige canvas fishermans bag.
Last time I saw you, you were in my old bedroom, stacked full of sheet music. You didn?t look much different, even though it?s been 25 years. Your combination lock still worked, though you?d been left unlocked, and the scuff marks seemed to have disappeared.
I?m going to seek you out when I come back home in August. For old time?s sake.