Ian McMillan: Don’t let my secret out of the bag...

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Can I begin this column by making it perfectly clear, as politicians say, that I’ve got no objection to men wearing women’s clothes, and vice versa. Is that clear? Good. I don’t mind other people doing it, but I’ve no desire to do it myself. I do admit that I like a nice pinny on when I’m washing up, but I don’t count that as cross-dressing, no matter how frilly the pinny is. It’s just to stop me splashing my manly corduroys, anyway.

So that’s why I’m sitting on a train looking furtive, and why I’ve taken the unusual step of putting my overnight bag on the seat next to me. Luckily, the late night express from London isn’t too full, and nobody wants my bag’s seat. I’ve even devised a story about booking a seat for the bag because my uncle’s ashes are in it, but so far nobody’s asked. I’d like to relax but I can’t. I’ve got my arm round the bag and I keep glancing furtively about me in case a phalanx of uniformed bag searchers come down the train. In search of what? In search of blokes like me with dresses in their bag.

Let me explain: my wife and I and my lad have been to that London (as they still call it round here) to see a play and stay overnight in The Big City. I’m staying on another night to do some “work” as I call my media-based activities. So I’m in charge of the overnight bag and I wave my wife and lad off on the train from the shiny new futuristic King’s Cross. And because I’m in charge of the overnight bag I’m in charge of my wife’s lovely dress and her lovely cardigan. I’m a middle-aged man from Barnsley with a lovely dress and a lovely cardigan in my luggage. It’s an accident waiting to happen.

I stroll up to the other hotel, the one I’m staying in while I’m “working” in That London. I check in and a cheerful child with a name badge offers to take my luggage upstairs and I’m about to say “Yes, my good man!” because he looks bored, when a dreadful scenario plays itself out in my head. I imagine him hefting the bag; I imagine that the zip suddenly and spectacularly fails to perform even the basic functions expected of a zip and the contents of my bag flutter across the hotel foyer just as a gang of elderly American tourists make their steady way to the lift. I imagine them, and the young lad, and receptionists, and the businessmen in suits, all staring at the dress and the cardy spreadeagled limply on the floor. They look at the dress and the cardigan. They look at me. They smile and shake their heads and one of the Americans says “My…”

So I decline the offer and carry the bag to my room, holding it like you might hold a baby. I have to go out and, ridiculously, I put the Do Not Disturb sign from the door onto my bag, in case somebody comes to clean my room. The next morning, having slept next to the bag, I check out of the hotel, decline luggage help and proceed nervously down Pentonville Road. A whole day until my train. Will my secret (that’s not really a secret because it’s not my dress) be safe? Hope so. It’s not my colour anyway.