It was inevitable that thriller writer Ed McBain would adopt an interrogative attitude when asked about packing. "Where am I going?" The choice was his.
"Italy, I'll fly to Milan, rent a car and just drive. "Fine, now what about the packing? "What sort of small suitcase are we talking about - what does small mean? A teeny-weeny little black bag that can go into the overhead locker? A two-suiter?"
He settled for a zippered canvas bag (with wheels). Now all that was left to do was select the contents.
"First of all my 'slop' clothes, comfortable, friendly gear that I'm happy wearing for driving, walking, climbing or sipping a grappa at an outside table in a small fishing village - or indeed any other sort of village."
Ed's slop is a regimented sort of slop. Item: one pair of cotton khaki trousers, faded blue jeans, safari shorts (with deep pockets), four T-shirts from Gap, one pair of Dexter waterproof, brown ankle-high shoes, six pairs of white cotton socks, one ratty blue cashmere sweater.
For smarter occasions, including any invitations that might come his way from, say, the American Ambassador, Ed can dress with the best:
"I'd take a navy blazer with grey trousers to complement, a grey sports jacket and dark blue trousers, six blue shirts - button-down variety, six ties in various shades, six Tommy Hilfiger long- and short-sleeved sports shirts in bright colours, six pairs of grey socks, six pairs of under-shorts, a dozen handkerchiefs, a pair of Bruno Magli black loafers, a Ralph Lauren cotton robe. For the American Ambassador's invite: a tuxedo, a ruffled shirt, black tie, black socks, cummerbund and Lorenzo Banff soft leather black loafers."
This needs to be a fairly accommodating small zippered bag. What about shopping, presents etc? "I'm not leaving any space for that. When I get to Milan I'll buy a Mandarina Duck bag for whatever I buy on the Via Napoleone."
Devious people, these crime writers. Surely a washbag and contents would be indispensable? "All organised. My washbag has three zippered compartments, and a hook to hang it up with; it can lie flat in the suitcase or be folded into a corner."
Its contents? "Moustache comb and scissors to trim beard, tooth-brush and paste, nail brush, tweezers, nail dippers. Mason Pearson nylon bristle hair brush, instant shoe shine packets, instant spot remover packets, disposable razors, tucks, travel wash and Purpose (moisturiser with sun screen)."
Obviously the washbag of a neat and tidy man, so is he as organised about travel medicines?
"I'm not a fanatic about this - I won't stock up with the entire local pharmacy on leaving. I'll just take a few necessities and the usual remedies for whatever travel complaints may suddenly strike: Comtrex, eye drops, nose spray, ear drops. Tums, aspirin, doxycycline capsules, dophenoxlat tablets, hydrocortisone cream, Cutter cream."
Then there is the emergency kit. This, which he claims fits into a small bag that can be tucked into the corner of the suitcase, or one of the side pockets, comprises: Scotch tape, small stapler (and refills), marking pens in various colours, a sewing kit, voltage converter plugs and several extra luggage combination locks to replace any of his all too easily lost ones. What would he take along to read? "I'll take the complete works of Shakespeare in one volume, because no-one's ever done it better and no-one ever will, and I'll take one of my own books to rediscover just how far I have to go to catch up." Any indispensable extras?
"My work calendar, my address book, my laptop computer, an ink pad and a rubber stamp reading: Dear................ On this trip I'm sending cards to just a few close friends.......................Signed."
All good interrogations have that killer question at the end. Ours is: okay - what have you forgotten? "Photocopies of my passport - and extra photos in case I lose the passport. Worse yet, I'll probably forget the passport itself."
And we supposed detective writers thought of everything.
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