Packing and Unpacking

End of the week, and people will have been packing. Most likely Helen will be staring at a pile of suitcases in a holding area in the office, as students cram some last crumbs and souvenirs of English into their mental wardrobes, preparatory to departure.

Travelling Light – Flight into Egypt, Gentile da Fabriano

Travelling Light – Flight into Egypt, Gentile da Fabriano

It was John Locke who conceived of the mind as a sort of wardrobe into which ideas (or was it impressions?) were crammed. It would be nice if it were true. A wardrobe has shelves, perhaps drawers, organisation. Most of us chuck our impressions and ideas down a mineshaft or well where they lie athwart one another, slowly composting.

Some students seem to take more time packing than they do organising their thoughts. Packing is a delicate business, for some people. I’m not so fussy. I once saw my rucksack coming along the carousel at some airport or other preceded for several metres by a procession of my underpants, a pair of trousers, a shirt. It was, if I’m honest, a fair comment on my packing skills. On another occasion I managed to spill a box of powdered milk and a bottle of whisky in my bag on the first day of a holiday, which was a valuable lesson learnt, even if I cannot for the life of me now think what I was doing with a box of powered milk in my luggage.

For all that, I think I would sooner pack than unpack. Sorting through balls of imploded washing and getting the curdled whisky-milk out of the million stitched corners of your rucksack are never inviting. Our students must feel something similar about retrieving mouldy corrupt morsels of vocabulary from their word-hoard on the first day of their return home. But in time all is put in order, and you forget, and you start vaguely to think about going away again. And then you remember that you have to pack.