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The ancient art of weight gain

'Does my bum (bag) look big in this?'

by Pat Morrissey

Reproduced from in focus 66 (October 1999)

As I sit here on a cold winter's Sunday afternoon, watching tourists clustered in purpling clumps on Southwark Bridge, and with the Buena Vista Social Club giving it large portions of Cuba's finest in the background, and (of course) a Rowlands-strength daiquiri to hand, it seems only natural to be thinking ahead to whatever dive trips I'll be going on later this year. Ah, the innocent pleasures of anticipation - I can almost smell the sea, taste the salt ... and, unfortunately, I can also make out the features of some grim lunatic on a Check-In desk, assuring me that my bags are far in excess of the allotted allowances, that it doesn't matter who I've got a letter of authority from, and that either I dump the camera gear or turn round and head home under leaden skies.

You recognize the scenario, I'm sure. Isn't it great? Tropical paradises await our dollar-heavy tread, unsuspecting coral-dwellers think that birth-reproduction-heath is all there is to life, foolishly unaware of the joys of Sea and Sea's latest lines in illumination that promise to make a Very light look dim; and this dweeb in an over-tight short-sleeved shirt is holding up the entire proceedings!

Well, for what it's worth, here are a few random thoughts on invisible weight gain from one who has been there, done that, bought the T shirt - and managed to get the whole lot home again. (For the sake of convenience, and in order to avoid unhappy litigious experiences, I shall use two near-myth ical characters from my own childhood).


Like so many other things in life, preparation is the key to getting more than your fair share in the luggage allowance lottery. Nothing makes you stand out more in the eyes of authority than being the ones hastily trying to pack and repack whilst in the check-in queue, or having a Hollywood-sized row over where 'the bloody batteries are'. It pays to think ahead. If you have a dive buddy, this is a GOOD THING, because you can share the really excessively heavy items between you, if you have a dive buddy who is not of the photographer variety, this is a VERY GOOD THING. (Should said buddy be of the female persuasion, she'll also have access to The Handbag Manoeuvre, of which more later). It should hardly need to be stressed that the order to pack gear in is: camera stuff, dive gear, then any clothes that will fit round these delicate items as padding. At least one week prior to departure, therefore, have all bags packed but not locked; after all, this is the time to swap things about a bit and play with the bathroom scales. Now weigh the assembled bags, and see by how much you exceed your allowance.

You now know the gross poundage that you must somehow still find a way of getting post the good folk at Check-In.

Golden Rule #1: now is the time to buy an extra large bum-bag, to be used solely for the transport of disposable batteries, if the worst happens, (and you have to jettison something, you can scrap the bum-bog and hope to get new batteries in the Duty Free area beyond Check-In.

Golden Rule #2: each member of the team ought to be dressed as if expecting to carry all excess weight items on their own person. (This Rule also holds true even if you are travelling solo). In practice, this will virtually never happen, but it pays to think of the worst possible scenario and act accordingly. How might this work? I hear you ask...


John has invested in an old waxed Barbour-type jacket, these are excellent because of the huge 'poachers pockets' inside each half of the front lining. Moreover, an old jacket attracts less attention than a brand new one, which smells strong enough to make your eyes water and will attract attention - A BAD THING.

Golden Rule #3: no matter if the sun is splitting the stones outside the British airport (another unlikely eventuality), John keeps the jacket on, in an emergency he can get a Nikon f4 body inside each inner pocket, at least 2 lenses in each outer pocket, and - if push comes to shove - he can load the areas between the lining and the outer coat with rolls of film. John's coat also hides the fact that he is wearing one of those rather naff photographers' sleeveless efforts, which are really just 15 or 20 pockets stitched together into a jerkin formation. Here again, the idea is to be able, in a pinch, to wear all items of excess photographic nature on the person for long enough to get checked in.

A word of warning here: this practice can be taken to excess, and must be guarded against. It's no use appearing cool and capable whilst checking in, only to keel over in a dead faint within two meters of the afore-mentioned dweeb; it draws unwanted attention. I have also seen otherwise intelligent professionals - you know who you are, Sanchez-Capuchino - subsume so much photographic hardware into a camouflage jacket that he looked like one of the more physically-deformed X Men of Marvel Comics fame. This is OK over a short period, but will lead invariably to injury in later life if you continue to insist to enquirers that you really are shaped like that, that it's not at all heavy, and then commence drinking cocktails in Singapore's classy airport lounges to deaden the pain. You have been warned.

Janet too has dispensed with over-much in the ways of haute couture. In this instance, Madam is sporting a (suitably-proportioned) burn-bag, a light jacket with as many pockets as appears de la tnode, and perhaps most crucially a handbag. Now, even a weak and pathetic woman that's to say, almost any jungle-fit, lean female fighting machine can usually carry I or 2 Nikonos V bodies in a handbag. Maybe a lens and a viewfinder, too - what do I know? All I'm suggesting is that, from the humble male point of view, women who can normally cart a stone or so of ointments, car keys, containers of little things that rattle when shaken and a travel iron about in a handbag on a normal day should have little trouble in hoiking a few photographic bits and bobs about for a matter of half-an-hour or so until through Check-In.

Picture the scene, then: our intrepid travellers have spent some little in preparing for the ordeal of checking-in, and have packed and dressed accordingly. What could possibly go wrong now, then? Surely they've beaten The System, and are practically home free? Not so, gentle reader, and next time we shall examine the sacred mysteries known as Hand Luggage, I've Never Met This Person Before In My Life, Making A Good Impression and Troubleshooting.

Yours in the bar, Pat Morrissey

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