Thirty-five is not a number most of us would usually be afraid of. It signals mid thirties, which is a thoughtful reminder that you do not yet have to deal with forty. It is the weight of a solid table, a vat of wine or a small child (and Nicole Richie). Not commonly a number to fear.
I had never considered I might fear thirty-five kilograms unless, of course, I unwittingly added them to my frame. That is until the number is flashing before me like a beacon alerting everyone of my indiscretion.
Not only is it flashing the numbers 35 in bright red LED, it is alternating this tattle tale with the word OVER in disingenuous capital letters.
Damn baggage restrictions!
Shrewdly believing I had solved the dilemma of appearing the quintessential spoilt princess I procure a suitcase big enough to conceal a decent size fridge, in a bid to avoid taking two, and have underestimated the weight of its contents.
Fitting enough couture inside to attend a cocktail party every night for a month, I zip it up with unfamiliar ease and celebrate my little victory with a cheeky glass of Sauvignon Blanc while congratulating myself on the limitless wardrobe choices I will be enjoying over the next ten days.
Sure, it's a little heavy and the taxi driver looks at me with disgust as I have to offer him assistance to lift it into the boot. Just put it in the car Pal, I'm not looking for judgment here. It has wheels for goodness sake. It's not like I'm asking him to carry it for me, just get it in the boot and be done with it. I know women who can bench press that weight you big baby.
Arriving in the midst of the airport’s early morning chaos I boldly stride to check-in and hoist my mammoth bag onto the conveyer belt. Distracted with locating my Frequent Flyer card and itinerary I almost don't notice the warning flashing before me.
'You'll have to fix that', comes the unimpressed tone of the woman behind the counter. ‘Fix what?' I reply puzzled, peering up at her steely gaze. The bag. It's over. You'll have to fix it. I feel my face turning crimson and break into an instantaneous sweat. Unsure of how I am going to remedy this problem I declare I have nowhere to put the surplus hoping she might let it slide.
An intensely serious woman in her fifties she is unimpressed at my response and rolls her eyes while whipping a small red, white and blue stripped bag from under her pedestal, shakes it with a loud flick and hands it to me. Start unloading, she demands unapologetic.
A male co-worker joins the judiciary and presents a level of empathy only a gay man could posses for such a situation and suggests I haul out a pair of shoes first. Unzipping my bag I hear some hecklers warming up in the queue and am horrified I have morphed from travel-chic to circus freak in less than five minutes.
I extract a pair of patent leather wedges from my bag and pop them on the scale, 1.3 kilos. Oh my God, I had no idea a single pair of shoes could weigh that much! 'There you go', comes my cheerleader’s reply, one more pair and you're off to the lounge. A pair of wood stacked platforms is the next one I can get my hands on and I consign them next to the wedges on the scale.
'Oh, she has to be kidding', sneers one of the hecklers 'where you off to honey, the Oscars?' I can take it no longer, ‘I appreciate, that a your shoe wardrobe probably contains one pair of RM Williams boots and one pair of Haviannas, but mine is a little more extensive', I sneer, 'so how about you do us all a favour and spare us the commentary, or shall I have this nice man fetch you a soapbox'?
Having caused a large enough scene, I remedy the baggage situation and retreat to the safe confines of the Lounge.
Further investigation leads me to discover the maximum weight of baggage can only go down if Unions, Workplace Health and Safety and baggage handlers have their way. Lower, are they serious? I appreciate the health concerns of those handling our wares but come on. If one pair of shoes is going to weigh 1.3 kilograms then we may be forced to limit our clothing or worse, our shoes, for any destination a plane is required.
A game has begun. A game that started innocently enough but is now an obsession. Baggage composition has become a strategic exercise involving laying out ones clothes in categories and envisioning shoe placement with each category. The greater the cross over between categories with the same shoe and bonus points are awarded. Only then can an utterly decadent and somewhat unpractical shoe can be added. These bonus points are best kept for the shoes you will only wear once, if at all, during the trip but feel you must have them with you anyway.
Once the contents of the baggage are determined, the bag can be packed and transported to the airport magistrate. No time for distractions now, the red LED numbers must be watched as intently as the super scale on The Biggest Loser, fluctuating from under to over and back again, finally reaching their destination of twenty-eight kilos – yes! A personal best for 2008.
Of course, this is a game that has to be played if the shoe addict within wants to exhibit her portfolio while abroad. Who wants to pop on that perfect dress without the perfect shoes for sunset cocktails, not me I can tell you!
I imagine that this is not a predicament the broader community of men will face. Questioning the males nearest and dearest to me, I am amazed at how little shoes factor into their packing equation. General consensus tells me that a dress boot, sneakers and maybe two pairs of casual and smart casual thongs is all they consider necessary.
Oh to be that nonchalant about the perils of living out of a suitcase. Most women on the other hand admitted to packing at least four days in advance and not considering any less than six pairs of shoes, which strangely, didn’t include the thongs they planned to take. I can only assume that thongs in shoe packing terms are equal to broken biscuits in diet terms, they don’t count.
In a vain attempt to blend into the background at the Lounge, I flick casually through the latest Vogue magazine and sip a glass of champagne. Resigned to the fact that every individual in the airport has witnessed my earlier humiliation I count down the minutes to boarding.
On the mere mention the plane is ready to board I spring up from my seat with enthusiasm that causes my mobile phone to go flying through the air and crash to the ground with an unforgiving thud. Retrieving the base and looking for the battery, a gentle man in his sixties approaches with his hand outstretched and surrenders my missing piece.
‘Thank you’, I manage as I scramble for the rest of my onboard luggage. ‘No, thank you’, he replies with a soft confidence reserved for men of his vintage, ‘You have made my day’. Witnessing the obvious confusion this proclamation brings me he smiles and admits he has packed six pairs of shoes for a three day business trip to Los Angeles. ‘You just never know, what might pop up’, he says.
‘Exactly’, I say, feeling vindicated. Anything could happen!
© Tracey Gillinder, 2008