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A tribute to the humble suitcase

by Nicky Gardner

Picture above: photo © Saniphoto / dreamstime.com


The classic suitcase has been relegated to the carousel of history as travellers opt for more modern styles of luggage. But the suitcase is still replete with double-edged meaning - a symbol of freedom for some, but a reminder of unhappy exile for others.

The suitcase has turned out to have a relatively brief career. The portmanteau and cabin trunk both had a decent innings. Then came the suitcase which, while still favoured by a certain class of traveller, now finds itself challenged by rucksacks (or backpacks if you will) and all manner of chic travel bags.

And yet the humble suitcase, during the few decades that it was an unchallenged travel essential, acquired an extraordinary symbolism. Famous authors sat on their suitcases at docks and railway junctions. Paddington Bear, surely the politest migrant ever to arrive in London, sat on his suitcase. And a dozen Bond movies featured suitcases full of devious tricks, though none as stuffed full with premonition as Marion Crane’s suitcase in Hitchcock’s Psycho.

Few images are as compelling or disturbing as the solo suitcase. Suitcases and humans go naturally together. The lone suitcase left endlessly circling on an airport baggage carousel is an awful reminder that even the best planned journeys may go horribly wrong. My clothes, your clothes might one day make just such a desolate dance in an airport on another continent. Those tags with three letter codes that airlines use are, let’s face it, pure bait to the precocious suitcase no longer in love with its original owner.

Suitcases really do have minds of their own, you know. You have surely heard the tale of the suitcase that was tagged for Lille (LIL) and went to Lima (LIM) instead. And it is alphabetically but a short hop from Manchester (MAN) to Manaus (MAO).

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