What’s in Your Bag?

by Zoë Sharp

There have been some brilliant posts here lately, and I’ve missed them, dammit.

I’ve been head down, full tilt in the latest rewrites which are finally, out of the way. (Hurrah!) Yup, I’m finally in that nice little cosy cocoon between sending off and hearing back, when all things are possible and all hopes are, as yet, undashed.

I have my fingers, eyes, and toes crossed. Which makes it pretty difficult to type, I can tell you.

But, this means I can get round to all the email that’s built up over the last couple of weeks. Most of it is very straightforward, but in among the usual correspondence is the odd little gem, like this request from a local librarian:

“I am giving a talk to the Mothers Union in September and the theme is ‘Handbags’. I am hoping to get some photos and details from famous people like yourself to send me a photo of their favourite handbag and what is the most unusual thing they carry around in it.

“I know this sounds like a strange request and perhaps like your famous character, Charlie Fox, you don’t have a ‘handbag’. Unless she carries her gun around in it!

“I look forward to your reply.”

How could I resist something like that? Of course, having the kind of twisted mind that I do, my first thought was, could this information be used for some sinister purpose? Not that I think for a MOMENT that a nice Lancashire librarian has any designs on my handbag, don’t get me wrong. But from such things as this, whole plots sometimes spring. I had a run-in with a car insurance salesman last week, and THAT is just crying out to become the nucleus for a serial-killer book, let me tell you. Oh, boy …

But anyway, back to the handbags.

I’ve never been a big handbag kind of a girl. Mainly because, if I carry one, it tends to become less of a dainty purse and more of a heavy duty rucksack. It’s simply one of the laws of physics that junk expands to fill the square of the space available. So it is with handbags. What starts out containing keys and a cellphone ends up filled with just-in-case essentials that require either weekly visits to the chiropractor to realign your spine, or employment of a pack mule.

So, if I’m just nipping out to run a quick errand, my wallet and change go in my pocket, my cellphone goes on my belt, and my keys are in my hand. This latter also doubles as a handy self-defence tactic, but that’s another story.

But, for longer trips, there’s other Stuff that a writer just can’t get away without. So, yes, I have an all-purpose handbag, and here it is.

Damn fine splendid, isn’t it? The G&Co refers to my literary agent, Jane Gregory & Company, and the bag was a Christmas gift several years ago. Not exactly ideal as a slinky dinky evening carry, I admit, but incredibly useful all the same.

And it certainly gets a lot of use.

In fact, this bag went all over the States with me, when I was touring FIRST DROP. It’s large enough to take a lap top, a rolled-up evening dress and a pair of heels, and small enough not to rick my back trying to lug it around. It has an outside flap covering the main pockets for additional security, and a strap long enough to go over my shoulder. Of course, for perfection I’d like steel wire in the strap, too, so passing bag-snatchers can’t knife through the strap and make off with it, but I try to a) be aware of who’s coming up behind me, and b) not put myself in those kind of locations to begin with.

So, what’s inside? Well, oddments, I suppose. Some of which I’d no idea were still there. In fact, when I emptied the contents out to make an inventory, it was a pretty good excuse to have a clear-out.

1. Swiss Army Knife memory stick

Since I acquired this at the Reacher Creature party at Bouchercon in Baltimore, I’ve carried it everywhere. Not just because I’m a big Lee Child fan – although, of course, I am. It’s a much smaller version of the Swiss Army knife I’ve carried for years, but it has all the essentials: back-up copy of the latest book (along with the memory stick’s original contents – the first chapter of GONE TOMORROW), pen, knife, nail file, scissors, red light. OK, not so sure about that last one, but everything else is great.

2.  Headache pills, eye drops, antiseptic wipes 

I get rotten headaches that I have to stamp on as soon as they start to rear their ugly … well, head, I suppose. Otherwise they’re the kind where even the weight of your own hair is too much to bear. So paracetamol and ibuprofen, which I occasionally take together for their anti-inflammatory benefits, in case of bad neck/back. The Visine is a lifesaver when I’m travelling, because air-con makes my eyes resemble two fried tomatoes, as does several days of continuous contact lens wear, if I’m away doing shoots. And the antiseptic wipes are so I can clean my hands before shoving one finger into my own eye to either insert or remove said lenses.

3. Elastic bands 

Great for not only holding things together, but also for taking them apart. An elastic band will get the lid off a stubborn jar or, in my case, the stuck skylight filter off the end of a lens.

4.  Mints 

Always handy to have around, especially after that inadvised lunchtime garlic dip.

5.  Flashlights 

Yes, plural. I carry two. One is a little Maglite, which is wonderful for map reading in strange cities at night, when putting the interior light on would a) distract the driver and b) tell every drive-by gang-banger that Here Be fresh meat. Now I also have one of these little LED things that attaches to my keys, which is handy because I have it with me all the time, but you do have to squeeze it all the time you want it on. Very useful during power cuts in ladies’ lavatories. (Don’t ask.)

6.  Giant tie-wrap 

Officially, I carry this because of its versatile repair qualities. We were once doing a photoshoot on an extremely quick race car, when the down-force ripped away part of the front ground effects kit. A giant tie-wrap is just the thing to fasten the bits together long enough to get you home. And I absolutely DO NOT carry it because it would, entirely hypothetically speaking, make an ideal pair of instant PlastiCuffs for any would-be burglar or mugger. Uh-uh, no way …

7.  Sweeteners 

I happen to like Splenda in my coffee, and can’t stand certain other brands, which are sometimes all that’s on offer. The only disadvantage with carrying this is that it rattles when I walk. Either that, or I’ve started to rattle when I walk. Hm, maybe I better check that out.

8.  Ziplock bag of almonds and raisins

Emergency rations. When I’m in the middle of a photoshoot, I usually don’t have time to stop and eat, but if the shoot’s a big one, eventually my hands start to shake, which is not the best situation for a photographer. I stopped snacking on motorway services junk last year, and started carrying a bag of almonds and raisins instead. Marcona almonds are the best – lightly toasted. And, when you’ve finished eating, the Ziplock bag can come in useful, too.

9.  Ear defenders in old film pot 

You never know when you’re going to need a set of these. Not that I’m expecting gunfire, but the guy in the next hotel room could snore for Britain, in which case they ensure a good night’s sleep. And your hearing is so important – and so easily damaged – that it’s a good standby that takes up very little room. I keep mine in an old film canister, which is airtight and waterproof, and great for other things, too.

10.  Notebook, propelling pencil, ruler 

Ah, finally we come to the writer-y bits. I think best in pencil, and the last time I flew I was told you’re not allowed to carry a pencil sharpener onto a plane any more (?!) so I invested in a nice propelling pencil instead. And a ruler because I like to doodle house and room designs in anticipation of our next build.

And then we come to the slightly stranger stuff:

11.  Out-of-date map of the London Underground 

Hm, November 2007. Have they changed it much since then? Not sure. Still, very useful thing to carry, although since I stopped going to committee meetings for the Crime Writers’ Association, I don’t need to have it in there.

12.  Neck pillow 

This is still lurking in the bottom from the last long flight, I think. Occasionally useful to have in the car, but that’s where it ought to live – in the car.

13.  two £1 book tokens for a bookstore that no longer exists 

Damn, why didn’t I spend these before Ottakar’s was taken over by Hammick’s? Come to think of it, I think Hammick’s has now been taken over by Waterstone’s. Just how old are these things?

14.  piece of extremely rude Dutch toilet paper 

OK, not actually going to show much of this, just in case of offending any Dutch speakers out there. I happened across this in the loo of a little back street garage in Burnley, Lancashire. We asked the garage owner if he’d recently been to Holland, and he said no, it came from the Everything Less Than A Pound shop in the town centre. Out of prurient curiosity, we took some along to CrimeFest for Adrian Muller to translate for us. He did a bit of it, went very pink, and promised to do the rest later. Still, I now know at least one very rude word in Dutch …

And finally:

15.  Improvised knuckle-duster 

Hellfire, what’s that still doing in there! This was something I made for my Creative Thursday workshop at last year’s Harrogate Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, which was entitled ‘How To Kill Someone With Loose Change’ and was all about improvised weapons. This was a little piece I made out of a cheap table fork, and caused constant fascination at the event. But, I could probably be arrested on the spot for carrying it, so by the time you read this I will have already removed it from my person!


   So, while I realise that all you manly men out there will, naturally, disdain at the idea of carrying a handbag, with or without such contents, what’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever found in a pocket, bag, or the glove compartment of your car?

If you could only keep one item, what would it be?

In an ideal world, what would you LIKE to have in there. And no bottomless pints of beer or X-ray specs, please. Well, OK then, if you insist …

I’m away on shoots all day today – with my G&Co bag, of course – but I will be back to answer your comments later this evening.

And this week’s Word of the Week is salto, meaning a daring leap, or (in gymnastics) a somersault. Also, salto mortale, meaning a mortal or fatal leap.


20 thoughts on “What’s in Your Bag?

  1. Louise Ure

    Like you, Zoë, I’m a one bag girl. In my case it was hand crafted by some good friends in Arizona (http://www.darkstarleather.com), with turquoise, snake skin and silver embellishments and braided lattigo straps that don’t fall off your shoulder. Gorgeous. It was my present to myself when I sold my first book.

    And I’m not getting into the gross/weird/unusual things it carries, but like you, I do keep an oversized plastic tie wrap. Handy for oh so many things.

  2. Sylvia

    I too am with you on the no handbag, grab wallet, phone, keys and go…

    That said… I pulled my backpack-style laptop bag which has tons of little compartments to see just what the heck is in there…all airport security approved of course.

    – Security card for the office, complete with photo from 2004
    – pens
    – business cards
    – ziploc bag of vitamins that are likely from the dinosaur age
    – bottle of magnesium tablets (great to help you sleep while on the plane!)
    – Cat 5 cable, in case wireless is out
    – 2 USB memory sticks
    – Neutral colored lip gloss
    – Tampons
    – 3 small notepads with tons of scribbled notes – one personal reminders, one book/story ideas, one for work
    – iPod cable
    – earphones
    – Treo phone USB cable
    – Extra power cord for laptop
    – 5 old boarding pass stubs

  3. toni mcgee causey

    I think the only thing I’m missing from your list is the Dutch toilet paper and the fork Knuckle-duster. Which is pretty cool, btw.

    I carry a smallish purse, but it’s stocked exceptionally well. Instead of a swiss army knife, though, I have a small Leatherman all purpose tool. I have the little Maglite as well. Antiseptic wipes, Kleenex, chap stick, mints, ear plugs, eye drops, pocket mirror, matches, pens, bookmarks, wallet, sewing kit (I am adding a zip tie now), iphone/earbuds, wallet. I got rid of the big satchel purse because it was too easy for people to hand me junk for me to carry.

    The weirdest thing I ever carried in a purse was a pet ferret. (I don’t recommend this.) He got in there and was napping and I was out the door and away in the car before it dawned on me that the purse was much heavier than it ought to be. He did, however, enjoy the grocery store.

  4. Eika

    My handbag is a sling-over-the-shoulder affair originally used by my parents to hold two disposable cameras on vacation. Now it’s mine. It typically contains some feminine products, keys, cell phone, notebook, snack, tiny book, deck of cards, money… you know. The important stuff.

    Weirdest thing ever, though, goes to my sister. Her handbag is half the size of yours, or smaller, and yet, when she was searching for chapstick once, she pulled out a hammer. Completely metal. Must’ve weighed five pounds by itself. I have no idea why it was in there- she’s certainly not the type to ever use it.

  5. J.D. Rhoades

    Love the Swiss Army Knife memory stick. My flash drive’s on my keyring, but does not alas, have blades or tools. My keyringn also has the security card that allows me to take the courthouse elevators to the courtroom level, as well as a blue stone a friend sent me from Turkey that’s supposed to ward off the Evil Eye. It also has keys, some of which I’ve forgotten the uses for. It’s getting a bit bulky for a keyring, come to think of it.

  6. Tom

    Gotta say, it never occurred to me to carry an Emergency Ferret.

    As a Well-Prepared Manly Man (who drives 50 miles a day on 405 south of LA), I carry what some catalogs call a bug-out bag. Our tech support guys call it my purse, to which I reply, "It’s a sporran!"

    Reading through the list, I sound like a bit of a mad survivalist, even to myself. But the main idea is to carry the things I’d need in an automotive emergency or an office accident. The bag has Molle straps on its back for additional attachments. These carry my cell phone and multi-tool belt holsters.

    In one end section are a large folding knife with a seatbelt cutter section to the blade and a window-breaker pommel. Next to it is a little Guppy multi-tool, which incorporates a small crescent wrench and a socket with a set of screwdriver tips.

    Small cable ties, superglue, a small Maglite, a tiny notebook, a couple pens, and a larger notebook go into the big center section. Guess I should add some bigger cable ties, now that you mention it, Zoe. There’s a small spool of wire, too, and a spool of electrical tape.

    In the second end section, I have a tin of licorice Altoids, a second Altoids tin containing my small iPod, and the clever plastic spool and case containing my Sennheiser earphones.

    The small outer pocket has yet another tiny notebook and pen, along with an earpiece for the cell phone and some small first aid supplies. I should get rid of the notebook and pen, and add more bandages and topical prep.

    Being over-prepared is like having insurance. If you have ‘it,’ you won’t need ‘it.’ If you don’t have ‘it,’ Bad Things Will Happen.

  7. JT Ellison

    I am almost ashamed to admit it, but I have a bag fetish. Mostly small bags, and a lot of Coach. I have a vintage Gucci credit card holder that I’ve been using as my wallet since I was seventeen. I rarely carry more than my little wallet, my iPhone, business cards, a brush and various and sundry lip products, but I rotate through computer bags and satchels and little bags. It’s a real problem.

  8. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Louise

    I’ve just been and looked at the Dark Star Leather website. Oh boy, some VERY nice stuff there. But much too pretty for a scruff like me to take out and use on a daily basis, I fear ;-]

    Since you are also into your motor cars, I would expect you to carry a giant tie-wrap, of course.

    And there, your Honour, rests the case for the defence …

  9. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Sylvia

    The only disadvantage of not regularly carrying a handbag is that I have a tendency to go places and fail to pick it up when leaving. I once managed this in the Damon’s restaurant attached to the Hilton Hotel in Waco. The bag, needless to say, contained such little items as passports, money, credit cards, etc. Fortunately, the staff had rescued it from the booth where we were sitting and had it safely tucked away when I finally remembered I didn’t have it …

    … the NEXT MORNING!

    Sheesh, and have I never been allowed to forget that or what?

  10. Zoë Sharp

    oh, and I thought I was being paranoid backing up onto two USB memory sticks, but then one of them managed to corrupt a file and I lost several days’ worth of revisions, so that tends to make me a bit more cautious.

    Tampons are something that every self-respecting thriller writer ought to carry – they make ideal emergency dressings for gunshot wounds!

  11. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Toni

    Are you sure we’re not related? I’d be happy to demonstrate the best method of making the knuckle-duster, although I don’t think it’s a good idea for me to try bringing one-I-made-earlier through an airport …

    And why am I not surprised about the ferret? I have this vision of you being accosted by Security at the grocery store. "Excuse me, ma’am, but what’s in the purse …?"

  12. Jake Nantz

    When I played lacrosse in college, the coach always had a long lanyard on his keys, and it hung from his pants pocket. We, of course, all had one for our dorm room keys so we could just hang them around our necks and not have to change between practice and the dining hall (it closed 15 min. after practice ended, so no one else got to smell how funky we were, don’t worry).

    Anyway, I’m 34 now and still have it on my keyring, hanging out of pocket like coach did. I guess for your "how to kill with household items", you could swing it like a very small morning star (or a medium-sized one, if you have as many keys as Dusty). Of course, it will only work as long as it takes for the little metal clasp to break, and then you’ve got an unconscious assailant to explain, and your damned keys will have gone missing…

    Then again, in a pinch I’d go for the 3 inch blade of the lock-knife in my other pocket first, but that’s just me.

  13. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Eika

    I used to carry a deck of cards, but now my phone has solitaire on it, so I tend to use that instead.

    Like your sister, I too have my own personal hammer! Well, actually I have two. One I carry in the car because every since Delta used my big camera tripod to chock the nose wheel of a Boeing 767 (or so it seems from the dents in the thing) one leg tends to stick and I have to fump it wiv a ‘nammer to get the leg to operate.

    The other hammer, obviously, I keep only for best ;-]

  14. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Dusty

    I like the sound of the Turkish stone to ward off the Evil Eye. I think I got to get me one of those.

    I have tried to cut down my keys. Now I just have car, house, mailbox, and a Tesco clubcard – which would not, alas, gain me access to the executive elevators. For that I’d need my Fortnum & Mason card … ;-]

  15. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Tom

    Wow, can I travel with you? Actually, we spend so much time on the road that our car is pretty well stocked for emergency items, although, like you, it never occurred to me to carry a spare ferret in case of high-speed blow out.

    Might I suggest adding several pairs of latex gloves to your kit? It’s a well-known fact that punctures always happen in the foulest weather, in which case you’re going to be handling a very grubby wheel/tyre.

    I’ve looked at those gadgets for cutting seatbelts and punching out windscreens, but we always carry a five-cell Maglite, which would do the trick, and there’s a spare Swiss Army knife in the glovebox – along with car park/toll change, and hypothermia blankets. Hey, it’s only June …

    Incidentally, just as a piece of useless information, if you flip a car with gullwing doors and it comes to rest upside down, so the doors won’t open, the recommended method of escape is to kick the front screen out. They’re usually bonded in from the outside, so both feet against the glass and a good shove should do it.

    A sporran, eh? I like the cut of your jib. Us Brits are enormously amused to hear what we would call a bum-bag referred to as a fanny-pack in the States. To us, that has all kinds of vulgar connotations ;-]

  16. Zoë Sharp

    Oh, and forgot to mention – superglue doubles as instant wound sealer, although I believe it may not be good for you in the long term. Still, it beats bleeding to death by the side of the road …

    And: "Being over-prepared is like having insurance. If you have ‘it,’ you won’t need ‘it.’ If you don’t have ‘it,’ Bad Things Will Happen."

    I’m reminded of the saying of a fire extinguisher salesman: "One of these hangin’ on yer wall, and yer never has a fire."

  17. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Toni

    "Tom, you would not believe the ruckus you can create with an Emergency Ferret. Good for distractions of a crowd when a getaway is a must."

    The mind boggles. I’m reminded of interviewing Meg Gardiner at CrimeFest, when she discussed her main character, Jo Beckett, having once chased a neighbour’s house monkey with a samurai sword. Mind you, she also once wrote a travel article called, ‘With the Kids at the Cobra Petting Zoo’

  18. Zoë Sharp

    Hi JT

    It takes someone as organised as you to be able to co-ordinate using a different bag for every day of the week ;-] I’d ALWAYS have left something vital in yesterday’s bag.

    And I confess that I have recently purchased a couple of eveningy-type bags, just to have somewhere to put a room key card and money for the bar at conventions. For some reason, evening dress designers aren’t big on pockets. Maybe it’s a gap in the market …?

  19. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Jake

    Perhaps the lanyard would make a handy garrotte for parties?

    The self-defence trick with keys is to keep the keyring in your fist, and just have various serrated edges of the keys poking out from between your fingers. That way you do a reasonable amount of damage to your assailant, but can still open your front door at the end of the night.

    I have a lanyard on my back-up memory stick, which also comes in useful for press cards at motor racing events. I like stuff to have a double purpose, I guess ;-]


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *