Help! It’s been so long since I’ve been away that I’ve forgotten how to pack a suitcase | Zoe Williams

Did I always wear the same trousers for four days in a row? Do our clothes have to match? And what are the chances our holiday will happen?

I’ve lost a number of skills recently through under use. Turns out I can no longer read a map, due to prolonged not-going-anywhere, and nor can I make new friends, owing to systemic not-meeting-anyone. But the skill I miss most is packing. I can’t even remember where to start.

Try to imagine a whole week, not in your own house; there are so many imponderables. What will the weather be like on a given Wednesday, if two Sundays before, it was a monsoon and the Friday before that, you were Googling “wet bulb temperature”? Did I always wear the same trousers four days in a row, or is that a pandemic thing? Is the whole family supposed to match? If only half of you own a cagoule, is it better to not pack any than to create a dryness inequality situation? How many books should you pack, and is there a moral imperative to take one that is difficult? Does everyone seriously need their own toothbrush? (Actually, I do know the answer to this: emphatically yes.) What proportion of your clothes should be not-elasticated? Is it normal to change in the evening, just to underline how extremely special it is, to be not-at-home? Or was that last normal in the 1930s?

I realised, finally, after I’d drawn multiple inept diagrams of each family member, wearing outfits, that the real block is thinking about the future at all. Whether you get there via “Why don’t we have any Airtex?”, or “Do people still use sunscreen?”, the real question is: “What are the chances that this will actually happen?”

It all reminds me of being about to have a baby, and not wanting to buy it any clothes in case I jinxed the whole thing. It felt like an act of the most reckless audacity, to spend six quid on a babygrow ahead of the event, like daring the universe. “But even if you don’t have a perfect water birth, the baby will need clothes,” my sister pointed out, sort-of helpfully. This is the way to approach your suitcase; even if stuff doesn’t go to plan, you’ll still need clothes.

  • Zoe Williams is a Guardian columnist


Zoe Williams

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