Life in the old bag yet! That’s the one hanging from Hattie’s shoulder I hasten to add.

by Jeremy Miles

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The old Billingham 225 (and Hattie) in action in Vietnam a dozen years ago.

An old diary tells me that 30 years ago today, on 1st of February 1985, Hattie and I acquired a Billingham 225 camera bag. Until its straps started falling apart five years ago it would accompany us on a bizarre variety of writing and photography assignments for the next quarter-of-a-century.

It’s first outing was to a factory making bullet-proof cars in Bristol. It then travelled with us all over the world to Australia, the USA, Canada, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Israel, Greece, Turkey, the Czech Republic and most of western Europe.

That bag was with us when we were tear-gassed in Bethlehem, encountered renegade bikers in Nevada, got sand-whipped in the Sahara, soaked in the Mekong Delta and searched at gunpoint in Cambodia.  It’s met rock stars, movie actors, writers, politicians and broadcasters.

bag old

Billingham before repair

bag new

Billingham with new straps

I know it’s stupid to get sentimental about a battered old bag. It’s not as though it’s our only camera bag. It’s not even our only Billingham bag but we’ve been through a lot together and when the old 225 finally appeared to give up the proverbial ghost we put it in a cupboard, unwilling to throw it out. We’re not superstitious but it had become a kind of talisman. I cleaned it up, scrubbing everything from elephant sweat and turtle poo and the accumulated dust from ancient sites and ramshackle roads from its grimed surface. It was incredible how well the bag revived but the straps were still in tatters and until a couple of weeks ago we were convinced it was beyond repair.  Then I had the remarkably unoriginal idea of contacting the Billingham factory in the midlands and, after a brief inspection, they announced that it indeed it could be saved.

It wasn’t cheap. Fitting new straps and webbing handles cost eighty odd quid but they did a spectacular job and in less than two weeks we were reunited with the bag, still full of character but given a wonderful new lease of life. It was only then that I realised that February 1st marked  its 30th birthday. What new adventures can we plan?

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