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The Port

Today on What's New Pussycat, your intrepid correspondent speaks with Miss R., a young lady struggling to come to terms with her childhood baggage.

You can trace a lot of my issues back to a brown plastic suitcase. The Mothership forced me to lug it to school for four years. While my friends had Barbie backpacks, I had this shitty boarding school relic. This was a bag you'd take when setting off for London on a steamship circa 1955. Old people used to call it a "Globite" or a "port" and fondly remark what a sturdy, sensible bag it was.

classy!

I used to ask why couldn't I just have a normal schoolbag?

"Because!" snapped The Mothership. "The Port is strong, The Port is practical. Bananas will not get squashed inside it. You can lay your homework out nice and flat. You can drop it from a great height and your sandwiches will survive."

Never mind that it made me look like a miniature door-to-door salesman.

How did the Brown Port come into your possession? 

The Brown Port was the replacement for the Little Green Port (LGP). I got the LGP when I was in kindergarten. It was kinda cute to be 5 years old and trotting off to school with a tiny suitcase, but after a couple of years I realised its embarrassing-ness and I longed to be rid of it.

Can you tell us about its unfortunate demise?

It happened one summer morning as we were rushing off to school. I think it was a case of Mum thinking that I had put it in the boot of the car, and me thinking Mum had put it in the boot of the car. But let's not point fingers here. The outcome was, Mum reversed the car out of the garage and mowed right over the top of it.

So it was an accident?

Oh yes. But I didn't shed any tears over its mangled green corpse. I thought I was finally in for a decent bag, but Mum immediately launched the search for a Replacement Port. The hunt was exhaustive, spanning three towns.

"I can't believe how hard it is to find a decent port these days," she moaned.

Finally we ended up in Canowindra, the tiny town in which she grew up. We were in a dry cleaners' and the withered shopkeeper produced The Brown Port from a dusty shelf.

"We don't get much demand for these anymore," he said, "But it's a good case, built to last a lifetime."

"Oh, she only has another ten years of school left," the Mothership smiled.

"That IS a lifetime, Mother!"

But she was basking in her triumph. Not only had she succeeded in finding me a sensible port, she had got it for a bargain price, in her home town, and in the presence of our grandmother, The Queen of Shoppers.

"Yes, yes, that is indeed a good buy," said The Grandmothership in begrudging tones.

So I spent the next few years trudging up the school path every morning, head down, avoiding the mocking stares, hoping the Port was somewhat camouflaged by the bottlebrush trees.

I have to say I think my Port was even more crap. It was blue cardboard and at least a metre wide, I'm sure it's what Raymond Burr used to smuggle out his chopped-up wife in Rear Window.

Mine was worse. It was plastic. Brown plastic! It looked like a hitman's toolkit.

Ah yes. Readers should remember that this was the late 80s, in which Everyone Else had a canvas backpack, on which they could scrawl their name across the flap in black marker, then add poorly-rendered metal band logos and/or the name of their beloved (4 EVA) . But, our mother argued, if Everyone Else jumped of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, would we do it too? She also believed these newfangled backpacks were a chiropractic hazard, as the trend was to carry them on one shoulder only.

Yes, it was far more sensible to have a small child carry a large heavy suitcase and slowly disengage the arm from its socket over the course of the school term.

Do you also remember the trauma we faced every second Friday? Every second Friday our Dad would pick us up from school so we could stay at his place for the weekend. This meant we had to take The Red Suitcase. It was twice the size of the blue port, made of vinyl. Mum would carefully pack my shorts and t-shirt and tootbrush and PJs on the left side, yours on the right. Then she'd drop us off at the school gate, and we'd have to lug that monster up the path between us, in addition to our regular baggage. Pure evil. Then it would sit there all fucking day in the weather shed, wedged between the blue port and the brown, with all the other kids' backpacks hanging from the coathooks and laughing it up.

It just never made sense to me, why she was so insistent on traumatising us. It wasn't like we were poor and couldn't afford modern luggage. I can understand her desire to make her children individuals and not follow the crowd, but there are some occasions where a degree of conformity is necessary for survival.

It seems The Mothership's parenting motto was simply, "You gotta be cruel to be… cruel". 

Indeed. At the end of Year 4, I changed schools, going from the dinky 30-child school to the Big School in town. There was no way I was taking The Port into town. And that was your first year of high school, you came very close to taking Big Blue with you.

Yes, it would have been large enough to fit my bloodied corpse after some Year 10 kid kicked the crap out me. 

The only way I got rid of The Port was to publicly shame The Mothership in front of her friends. I outlined the trauma that The Port had caused over the years, and argued that it would make me a social outcast at my new school. I would have no friends, be forced to drop out in Year 9 and get knocked up by some pimply git in the back of a Holden Gemini. Her friends were astounded that Mum had forced me to have such a rubbish bag for all those years. The ambush worked – she finally agreed it was time for a new one.

So what did you get next?

A shitty polyester sports bag that she'd won in a competition at Woolworths.

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About Shauna Reid

Ahoy there! I’m an author, copywriter and old school blogger. I love telling stories about life and helping my clients to tell theirs. Find out more about me and how we can work together.


13 thoughts on “The Port

  1. Yes, it would have been large enough to fit my bloodied corpse after some Year 10 kid kicked the crap out me.

    Perhaps that’s what the Mothership was thinking?

  2. I had one of those too — for one day. When it became painfully obvious that this was not the cutting edge of junior luggage, I demanded and received an upgrade, pronto. Rural Tasmania goes head-to-head with rural NSW in the luggage fashion stakes, and Tassie winnnnnsssss!

  3. I strongly suspect that if you now put those two bags on sale in a “vintage” clothing store on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, you’d be able to turn them into wads of hipster cash within forty-eight hours.

  4. I had a Port in 1984 when we moved to Australia from Scotland. We could never work out why they were called “Ports” but some shop assistant had told my mother it was the thing to do. About 2 other kids in my class had them. Thanks mum.

    In Year 8 (1990) I had one of those canvas backpacks with name on the flap. It was a newly fandangled died purple arrangement. I had G’N’F’N’R 4 EVA emblazoned on it, along with band names like Bon Jovi. I also had a perm. I’m so ashamed.

  5. Oh god, I had the same slogans on MY backpack! (Which was not trendy canvas, rather a cheap green plastic weave, but nevertheless able to be scrawled on with stolen whiteboard markers.) Aahh. Thems was the days.

  6. I did not own jeans until I was eleven. Until then it was stirrup pants and a permanent. And I can’t even blame this on my mother. I thought I was the height of fashion. Add this to my unfortunate propensity for vomiting in church (had to attend three days a week with the whole school, boyee), and the fact that I knew words the other kids still have not dreamed of, and my trauma level extends beyond the mark. Oh yeah.

  7. Dude, that is a lot of baggage. Funny when we remember how important it was NOT to have a weird bag! Or case, as the case may be.

  8. Well, it seemed to be bloody Country Road bags amongst the girls in my latter days of high school.

    Us men were just happy with ordinary backpacks or sports bags.

  9. YES!!! YES!!!! YES!!!! Oh my god, I was not the only one.
    Oh, it all rings so clear to me. I too, had a brown plastic case. Called a port, by my conservative South Australian mother, who resented the fact that she had to move with her precious two little girls to the dreadful wilderness of country NSW, so she was determined to take it out on us, by trying to morph us into little versions of her – comlete with school yard trauma and everything.
    Unfortunately, in my case, it wasn’t just the horrible port that made me a social outcast. I just wasn’t designed for school. I was from another world – and NOT the same world as my mother. It took me until I was 15 to sort it out, and by then I was toting a sandy-coloured canvas bag with my name on the backflap in black texta (spelt “SOPHI”)

    Now the port is somewhere in my Dad’s shed, with all my other possessions (mostly music textbooks, sheet music, CD’s, tapes, the odd instrument and microphone which I really want sent over, please…) And I love it, because it reminds me of my Grandma.

  10. Oh, the port. I was introduced to the port in 1979 when we moved from Scotland to Australia. I attended West Bathurst Public School and it was obvious I needed a ‘port’. My- mum bought me a small mustard-yellow one. Unfortunately it was kindergarten size — and I was in the sixth grade.

  11. When I started law school, I had a “cool” Versace shoulder bag that lasted about a month with all my heavy law books and crap. So then I got (what I thought) was a very sturdy Coach leather brief bag – that lasted maybe 6 months. I finally ended up with this $19 duffel from The Gap. It lasted the next two years.
    I occasionally saw some of the 2Ls and 3Ls with actual, wheeled luggage, like a carry-on bag. At first I snickered – but by the end of school had to admit I probably should have had something like that – especially first year.
    Well I was back by the school recently, and the rage among all the first years’ seems to be wheeled Tumi carry-ons. So I suppose sometimes practicality does win out!

  12. I was forced to carry a miniture black briefcase through the Sydney CBD every day like a miniture white-collar business clone – complete with school tie and suit coat. The ladies thought it very ‘smart’. I was a doll.

    When the fashion hit, my conformist image was gleefully usurped with assistance from an unlikely quarter – a standard-issue khaki army satchel (ww2 surplus) was issued into my possession by the cadet corps in perfect time. Emblazoned in proud and revolutionary slogans it served a life of robust and noble everyday duty thenceforth. Hurrah. Viva la revolution!

    The masters all mumbled about ‘attitude’ and they were right; all hopes for a ‘real job’ were discarded along with that miniture black briefcase.

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