It's nothing overly substantial, indeed it's more a delegate bag than a briefcase. But I use it as and when the need arises, especially for important things, and have done for a third of a century.
Its origin is somewhat uncertain. I'd have known for sure back in the 1980s, when I was given it, but the facts are now lost in the mists of time. Not even my Dad remembers, and it was he who gave it to me, acquired from some corporate event he'd attended. He got invited to events and things for work, because his job had occasional perks like that, even though they weren't always directly relevant. In this case he got invited to something with a freebie delegate bag, presumably as a way of distributing the papers, and afterwards he handed it over to me.
Because I've used it so often since, a lot of the lettering on the front has either faded or rubbed off. The three most important words I can read in the design on the front are International, Industrial and Congress, not that any combination of these means anything to me any more. There's also a year, which I think is 1983, although it's now illegible and I'm having to rely on my memory instead. And of course events in 1983 are pretty much ungoogleable, even adding additional key words, so I still have no idea what and where the originating event might have been.
So I have this mystery briefcase. What marks it out from your average freebie is the quality of the design. The fabric is thick, rather than the flimsy cheap material you might expect. The zip at the top is proper metal, properly sewn, with strengtheners at each end to prevent fraying. The interior has two pouches, divided by another sheet of fabric carefully attached on both sides. And the exterior finish isn't leather, but has a classy textured pattern that looks like it might be. It looks smart, rather than the free gift it so obviously was.
And so I carry it around with me whenever there's a need for practicality and unfussy style. It certainly isn't fashionable, that isn't the point, but it is unobtrusively acceptable in a variety of formal and semi-formal situations. In general I'm hoping you won't notice it, this thanks to its understated ordinariness, rather than being too obviously cheap or ridiculously showy. Generally I hate accessories, but this Eighties throwback hits the spot.
It always goes to job interviews. You need something with you on these occasions, something to contain the paperwork you need but nothing so unwieldy that it gets in the way. It's smart enough that it can be opened in front of an audience, and thin enough that it can be placed on the floor out of the way during discussion. It's had presentations inside it, and information packs, and rough notes, and expenses forms, and occasionally a token of success on the way home.
It went to that job interview in Berkeley Square in 1986, the one I completely messed up in the third room, and to an equally unsuccessful pitch in Soho Square that same year. If either of those had worked I'd have lived a very different life, and no doubt bought a better briefcase too, all the better to impress the client with.
It went to that job interview in Windsor the following year, the one that did work, for which a rather more substantial briefcase was required. It went to my next job interview in the Home Counties, probably simply as somewhere to keep my newspaper out of sight lest it lose me the post. It went to a pair of job interviews in East Anglia, where I thought the wrong one won, but it turned out to be right. It went to the job interview that brought me to London in 2001, the contents carefully calculated to impress, which they duly did. And it went to that less successful interview in Victoria a few years ago, the one that should have worked but didn't, and which has left me where I am today.
It's also been to more everyday important events. A few bits of paperwork for a VIP meeting. A report for a trip to Milton Keynes. A hiding place to smuggle a document without suspicion. A work event where I wanted to make sure I had a packet of crisps for the train home. A conference on Merseyside where I didn't want to have to keep lugging round lots of handouts. Not to mention getting my will sorted on the farm where my solicitor hung out... but that's Norfolk for you.
It's been all over, my briefcase, and somehow I've never left it behind. It ought to be really easy to put a thin black object down at a time of stress and then forget it was ever there, but thankfully I never have. I've also somehow never damaged it beyond repair. I've overfilled it on more than one occasion, but always pulled something out before zipping up to avoid wrecking the seams. In fact the worst I've ever done is stick a fountain pen inside and then lug it around all day with the lid off, then discovering a nasty blue patch in one corner in the middle of Piccadilly Circus. Unfortunate, but nothing terminal.
And it's been getting a few more outings of late. Last week I took it to a meeting in preference to a transparent plastic folder so the participants couldn't tell what was inside. Yesterday I had to take it to a meeting room overlooking the Thames full of important documentation, which I pulled out at one point to useful effect. And today I'm taking it out of town again so that an expert can look carefully through a different piece of paper.
I rather like the fact that I'm taking it back to Windsor, which is almost full circle. Even better the Queen's in town today, she's handing out the Royal Maundy, and my freebie briefcase isn't something I'd be ashamed to for her to see me with. I probably won't see her, indeed my meeting today probably won't be as important as it could be. But it comforts me that my briefcase is so often present at turning points in my life, despite being a throwaway item I was never even meant to have.