The Mysteries of Packing

Kage Baker loved travelling. She loved packing – she was very good at it, too, and always managed to get all her clothes into bags she could almost carry unaided. But then, she also loved luggage, and made sure she had available suitcases, duffles, packs and sea chests in all sizes.

She was fond of retro styling, so she had a lot of suitcases with faux crocodile and snake skin finishes – not real, because it isn’t really cool to kill endangered reptiles for mere fashion; also, they scared her. But you can print any texture you like on cow hide or cardboard. And since what Kage really liked to do was plaster every piece of luggage with old travel stickers, she could have had bags bound in flour sacking and they still would have looked elegant.

No sissy modern conveniences like long handles or wheels, though – she abhorred that look, though millions of women have praised all the gods of going for supplying luggage with wheels … No, Kage packed carefully and carried her own gear; and if she ran out of arms, I bungied her suitcase to my vulgar wheelie cart and hauled it happily. Kage had usually packed my cases, anyway.

These days, I just about always forget something vital when I pack. Two weeks ago, I packed a dozen pair of underwear for a mere weekend (I kept thinking Pack panties! and stuffing 3 more pair in the bag.), and neglected to pack my Buke. I can’t blog on my phone or Kindle, Dear Readers; I don’t have enough fingers, or I have too many, or maybe my thumbs are hinged on the wrong sides of my palms … at any rate, forgetting the wee computer leaves me mute for the duration.

Costume pieces are always at risk of vanishing from one’s bags, of course. Because of that, there is always a weekend during a Fair where everyone is wearing some piece of someone else’s clothes. Opening Weekend, I was wearing a white shirt from the Goon Squad days of Renaissance Faire under the zouave jacket I’d borrowed from our saintly Costume Mistress (thank you, Liz!); Neassa was wearing  one of Kage’s camisoles, her sister Kelly’s knickers, and my earrings. Various ascots, socks and tie pins were rotating through the Bar Crew, and I think one of the Parlour Maids was wearing a spare doily in place of a missing cap. And I know we pinned Kelly’s sausage curls to Ashby …

There is no ensemble cast in the world that doesn’t hold its costumes in common like this. If the audience had X-ray vision, we could charge an extra fee for playing Who does this belong to? from the mezzanine.

The sheer amount of stuff that has to be packed for a weekend at Dickens Fair is, naturally, part and parcel of the problem. You need your costume pieces – and most of us are costumed from the skin out; even if we’re wearing 21st century skivvies somewhere under all the lace and linen, we’re wearing period pantaloons, camisoles and corsets over them. Character clothes for Dickens have to include our personal props, as well: capes or shawls or jackets for street wear; bonnets and top hats and bowlers; umbrellas, walking sticks, reticules, shopping baskets, gloves, stuffed rats, gin bottles full of tap water (Or Mountain Dew. Or cream soda. Or even gin).

I carry a reticule, of course – it’s the Victorian lady’s purse. In fact, I carry two, a little one in a larger one. The reticules contains my pass, my money, a pen, a pearl-handled derringer (fake); nitroglycerin (real). These things tend to reside in my sewing basket when I am seated in the Parlour, along with my knitting, my phone (turned off), my car keys, and whatever else has crossed my event horizon since that morning. And while the sheer amount and fussiness of my kit is larger than most of my household – as befits the lady of the house – nonetheless every other cast member in the place has similarly packaged necessities concealed about their persons.

And somewhere in the Cooing Cave (our narrow, dark kitchen) are a series of Trader Joe’s bags and duffles, with everyone’s real clothes stashed for changing into when the show closes that night. Kage’s crocodiled and stickered case used to be there, too … The gentlemen often don’t bother to change, as they know they look perfectly divine in Victorian dress. But you can’t drive in hoops or a corset, so we ladies have no choice but to at least strip off a few layers in order to get into our cars. And since it’s freaking cold in San Francisco by 8 PM, we usually pile sweaters and jeans on top of our Merry Widows and combinations, and hope the car doesn’t break down somewhere before we get home.

Your chances of looking halfway normal if you have to stop to buy sugar cubes or lemonade mix on the way home are all determined by the skill which you brought to packing your costume in the first place. It’s something Kage excelled at. She was always put together, man. She said it was just costuming – whether it was the black percale she wore as Mrs. Drumm the cook, or jeans and a pirate hoodie over a Jethro Tull T-shirt, it was all costuming of some sort – and she knew how to pack costumes.

I’m a rummage sale without her: rags, bottles and bones, and it’s striped socks in two different colours today, but no one will see my legs anyway; just someone please tell me if I got the extra two earrings out of my ears …

But in my mind, at least, everything is perfectly packed. It’s a kaleidoscope up there, of slivers of glass, paste gems, dipped pearls, bits of tinsel and sequins. It all revolves around the image in Kage’s imagination, the portraits of us and our particular London, that she packed into my mind before she died.

Always ready, always waiting.  Right where she left it.

It’s all there.





About Kate

I am Kage Baker's sister. Kage was/is a well-known science fiction writer, who died on January 31, 2010. She told me to keep her work going - I'm doing that. This blog will document the process.
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2 Responses to The Mysteries of Packing

  1. Medrith says:

    Stuffed rats? Yuck. I was noodling around on trying to buy crossbow pistols (backordered so I can’t count on them for Christmas) when I noticed that they have remote-control rats. Really nasty looking too. I wonder if you need one? Probably someone would club it to death.


    • Kate says:

      Yep, rats are a necessary component of all Fairs. Nothing says “Olden Days” to a 21st century wayfarer like a RAT. Stuffed ones are easiest and most hygenic. Unless – as we used to do at Renaissance Faires – you stuff them with Chef Boyardee Spaghetti and then mash ’em flat with a large wooden mallet …. I used to do this on the tables at the Front Line of the Inn Yard, as part of a “modern housewives’ skills” demonstration. A spaghetti-stuffed rat can splash a couple of yards if you get a good, over-the-shoulder swing going.

      But, yeah – a remote controlled rat would be too much for our actors. Terriers that they are at heart, there would soon be a war party whooping after the poor rat through the streets of London. Rather like the way they chase Bill Sikes after he murders Nancy .. .another daily event.

      Not all of Dickens Christmas is tinselled faeries, y’know. Some of it is, like, serious stuff.


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