Who owns this bag? That's the question us Londoners have recently been asked to ask ourselves as part of a tube-wide security campaign. We've been advised to keep our eyes peeled for suspicious looking baggage in case of imminent terrorist attack. I've been playing my part, looking around particularly carefully, but I've actually ended up noticing something completely different. Virtually everybody on the Underground is carrying a bag. Except me.
I don't carry a bag to work. I always used to think that this was perfectly normal behaviour, but closer scrutiny has revealed that I'm in a tiny minority. A bagless freak in fact, adrift in a portable world. Somehow I manage to survive my daily commute weighed down only by a couple of pocketfuls of belongings - one wallet, one phone, one travelcard, two handkerchieves and a bunch of keys. Even in coatless summer that's all I carry, which makes me wonder why virtually nobody else can survive even twenty minutes underground without some sort of plastic or canvas receptacle weighing them down. Travellers are regularly being advised to "Keep all your personal baggage with you at all times". Are Londoners taking this instruction too literally?
Shoulder bags, battered briefcases, sleek attaché cases, chunky handbags, bulging rucksacks, square DJ bags, posh carrier bags with rope handles, supermarket carrier bags stuffed with groceries, sports holdalls, cavernous laptop bags, cross-body sling bags, downpour-resistant backpacks, luxury clutch bags, gym bags, leather satchels, designer luggage, canvas drawstring bags, sporty duffle bags, and of course the devil's own wheelie suitcase - the tube is absolutely heaving with all of the above. The question Londoners should be asking therefore isn't "Who owns this bag?" but "Why do so many of you feel the need to carry bags in the first place?"
I can see why holidaymakers need to carry luggage, I know that shoppers have to lug their purchases home and I'll concede that pocketless women need a handbag to keep all their bits in. But I'm absolutely baffled why so many people find a bag essential in their everyday commuting lives. And why so many bags on the tube droop in an unfilled unfulfilled way. How little are people actually carrying around with them? A book, a packet of chewing gum and a bottle of Dasani? A couple of magazines and a packet of cigarettes? A sweaty gym kit ripe from the lunchtime workout? A hoard of post-its and plastic folders nicked from the office stationery cupboard? Seriously, I haven't got a clue what other people feel compelled to carry round with them because I'm not a bag carrier myself. Any of you bag men and bag ladies like to confess?
Most disconcerting of all, however, are the multitude of people who 'need' to carry more than one bag when just one would do. I've lost count of the number of tube travellers I've seen laden with both tiny handbag and big rucksack, or huge holdall and little shoulder bag. Surely all those belongings spread between two bags would fit quite happily inside just the one, and then there'd be less bags and more space for the rest of us. And, probably, fewer security alerts too. So, people of London, do your bit for the capital and leave your bags at home. You'll survive, and maybe the rest of us will too as a result.