April 15, 2007

A few weeks ago, at a store in Notting Hill, I noticed a tote bag that I liked. It was a neutral colour, canvas, with rope handles, and the words "I'm Not A Plastic Bag" written on it. Little did I know I had stumbled on the bag.

It was only £5, so I put my name on a waiting list. I'd never done that before, but I figured - why not? What else have I got to look forward to? I probably wouldn't get called anyway. Or if they did call, it would go directly to voice mail and when I finally got the message they'd be sold out.

Time passed. I forgot about it. Then one day I got the call letting me know that on March 20, I could retrieve my bag. I was told to arrive at 10.30am sharp. I did as instructed, but as I approached the store, there was a queue. This can't be for the bag, I thought. The queue wasn't even on the same street as the store. Then again, I was in Notting Hill. What else, other than a trendy bag, would women line up for on the coldest day of the year?

It looked like the old bread lines in Russia - only everyone was better dressed. There were hundreds of people standing, shivering - clutching their latte in one hand and their mobile phone in the other. Women in fur coats were discussing this environmentally sound alternative to plastic.

It was such a diverse group too. Fashion types, older women, at least a dozen men, and a smattering of nannies with baby buggies. A very international crowd. And best of all, we all spoke the same language. The language of Bag. Who says a good bag can't unite the world?

Right now, I'm sure there are men reading this thinking: "Oh, please. Not another article on bags. Who cares?" We care. Women care. And what's more, we don't care that you don't care. Besides, if they were selling £5 tickets to the World Cup, the queue would stretch from Notting Hill to China.

I spoke to a man who said he was waiting for his girlfriend because she was at work. Having an unemployed boyfriend has a plus side: it's like having a free PA. Another man was getting one for his mum. Then he added: "Or maybe I'll sell it on eBay."

After 30 minutes of waiting, with at least 30 more to go, the environmentally conscientious woman behind me had had enough and called in her replacement. A 4x4 pulled up, the housekeeper got out, took her place and the woman drove off.

Once I reached the store, it was very civilised. Five at a time were let in, and we were allowed to purchase two bags each. When women exited the store they were skipping with glee. No wonder so many men were waiting to get one for their girlfriend.

It was, in the end, a bonding experience. An elegant woman with a Hermés bag on her arm swore she's never waited in line before either. "Not even for the bus." But because it was for a good cause, it was worth it.

The following day I tried out my new bag. It was exciting for about 10 seconds. Then it turned into a headache. Immediately people stopped to ask where I got it and how they could get one. It was a magnet for small talk. And having to speak to strangers on the street bothers me a lot more than the ozone layer. So, now I have the bag, I can't even use it.