What's in a Londoner's bag?
Do you have a “leave the house song” that you sing before you walk out the door? Leaving the house each day is never easy when you have so much on your mind, yet you have to try and remember the mundane things that cannot be forgotten. Phone. Keys. Wallet. Bus Pass (Oyster card for the tube!) This is the song we sing, these four items that form the bare minimums for every journey beyond our front door.
I have tried to set up my house so that I never forget anything, but as everyone knows, this isn’t always possible. I have a small board with hooks for keys near the door, and keys are not allowed to go beyond this point or we will have to hunt them down. The phones are always moving around, but I have tried to locate a few places within the house where the phone can be placed, saving me from tearing apart the sofa cushions. While my husband’s wallet has its home, mine seems to bounce from bag to bag, so when I just leave it in the last bag I used, I’m pretty sharp at finding it quickly to transfer to the next bag of choice.
The bus pass (or Oyster card) has left the rotation, as we have opted to use the riverboat instead of the underground due to COVID, and we have been using our phone app to purchase tickets. The underground has been running regularly since the pandemic began, but we chose to stay away for a while. I have heard from friends that some lines are adhering to the regulations. I heard the Jubilee Line tends to have very considerate riders who wear a mask properly and give space as much as possible. I heard the Northern Line is a total nightmare, as people cram in without masks as if the pandemic never happened. Yikes!
Now depending on weather, we add to our “leave the house list” random items like sunglasses, scarves, gloves or umbrella. That is pretty normal, and I have efficiently arranged the umbrellas (in large and small sizes) in the entry closet next to the door. In the same closet, we have our new COVID Mask Basket, complete with travel hand sanitizers, masks, filters, and wet wipes. This is also conveniently placed for when we arrive home and need to “de-Covid” ourselves with the wet wipes.
If we were travelling to the airport, add in “passport and airline tickets” followed closely with “phone chargers and travel adaptors”. Too many times have we paid for a ridiculously overpriced phone charger at the airport because we forgot ours. Any away journey for me must include glasses and contacts, because I don’t have the luxury of eyes that work!
Recently, I have added “bike helmet and gloves” to the list. As you have read in previous blogs, I love to cycle around London. When I designate a cycle day, it usually involves me dressing in cycle-appropriate gear and riding my own bike into Central London. I have to add bike lock, chain, tire repair kit, water bottle, and other cycle-related paraphernalia to the list. This also adds to the bulk of what I am carrying. On days when I would like to dress in “normal” clothes (leaving the padded shorts and neon jacket at home), I have opted to use the rental bikes in town.
Commonly known as “Boris Bikes” — they got their nickname from Boris Johnson. He cycled around town alot, and when he was mayor, introduced the cycle hire scheme. It is rather cheap to hire a bike, and you can opt for a pay-as-you-go option or an annual membership. I have the annual one because I use it so much. £90 for the year, unlimited use. Not bad! So, on days when I am going to zip around town on a Boris, the bike helmet and cycle gloves come with me.
Water is a must to carry around with you. I rarely leave the house without a water bottle. Before COVID, London had a become a refill oasis, with water fountains and bottle refill stations popping up everywhere. There was a law that stated that any restaurant or cafe had to refill your water bottle if you asked them to. In addition to helping keep citizens hydrated, this was a direct effort to reduce single-use plastic. Sadly, when the city went on lockdown due to coronavirus, the water refill stations were turned off or wrapped up with tarps. The nightmare of trying to sanitise these stations on a regular basis was too much for the councils to manage. I hope they return soon, because they were becoming a lifeline for people like me who are consuming water all day and need quick refills.
In the Spring, I add gummy candy to my list. Seriously! When I am leading a group down The Mall to enjoy the Changing of the Guards, the London Plane Trees shed their spores and filament for about a month. It almost looks like snow! When you are constantly talking, you inhale these little fibres, and the coughing begins. Coughing in my line of work is bad, and coughing in the world of COVID is even worse! I found over the years that gummy bears or any kind of gummy candy provides the juices and coating my throat needs to push those pesky fibres down the throat and off my vocal chords. While Haribo is the dominating gummy candy here in the UK, I rather dislike them. Instead, I order from this amazing place in Germany called Barin-Treff. They make the most delicious gummy candy, and the flavours are so diverse. Plus, they have a vegan range that is softer and easier to chew, thus adding more advantage to me eating them on the go.
Over the years, I have also become a lover of the thermos. Bringing a small thermos of tea for a quiet moment in between tours is something really special. When I buy tea, I am not just purchasing a beverage. I am investing in a quiet moment between tours, when I find myself on a rooftop or a bench, watching the world go by and resting my voice. My thermos not only symbolises the hyper-organised person within me who wants to conquer the world before 9am, but also the picky person who doesn’t like the boring beverage options on offer in cafes. Why settle for a ‘Breakfast Tea’ when you can enjoy Fortnum & Mason’s Smoky Earl Grey or Twinnings’ Rose Garden. (More often than not, it is Yogi Throat Comfort tea, because this is also a moment of therapy for my voice.)
If my day consists of tours where I needed props or costume changes, my bags became a little heavier. I often feel like a turtle, lugging around my entire life on my back. One day after carrying around a backpack from 8am until 9pm, I weighed it and discovered it was 22Kg —- that’s 48lbs! No wonder my back and shoulders are always in need of a massage! That’s insane! Often, I would unpack everything and look at the contents and ask myself “do I have to carry all of this?” Sadly, due to my self-created schedule of wacky tours and fun adventures, the answer was always YES.
As this pandemic pause has caused me to re-evaluate many things in life, one of them is the load I carry. This has been both a physical, mental and emotional journey. With all this time on hand, a big question has been asked: How can I leave the house and not have to carry so much stuff? This has been a question I have often asked, but never had the time to unpack and figure out.
Previously the solution was “get a bigger backpack!” Instead, I’m starting to look at how I operate my schedule. Do I need to run three different costume tours in the same day? Can I find a way to be more efficient in my props? I feel that the answer is “yes, I can”. Reviewing my 2021 calendar, and trying to plan for an unknown year of business, I am looking to streamline my schedule so I can offer some fantastic and fun tours without having to carry the weight of the world on my back. This is exciting, as I am looking to offer tours I haven’t run in a while, and tours I wanted to run but didn’t have the physical capacity to accommodate. I am also excited for my virtual tours that just launched, giving me the opportunity to reach audiences who cannot make it to London.