“Napoleon! Oh no, I can’t bear it… Napoleon’s stuck up a tree!”
Everyone’s dreamy post-lunch haze was shattered by Aunt Jane’s cry. Matthew, who was snoozing on a rug, sat up with a jolt and mentally scrolled the contents of the fanny pack (made by a venerated Italian fashion house) he had on under his baggy shirt. He wasn’t supposed to be wearing the bag at all. His wife, Kate, couldn’t bear the sight of him in it. (“It may be from a fabulous brand, darling, but it’s no different from the bum bags you used to mock chaps for wearing in Méribel.”) But it had been a 50th birthday gift from his sartorially savvy daughter ahead of his first trip to Glastonbury and he had grown strangely, and rather defiantly, fond of it. “You can’t wear that – you look like a tourist!” Kate had sniggered, as he’d clipped it on for the first time in preparation for that celebratory Glasto weekend.
“Laugh all you like,” he had said. “But you won’t be saying that when I tell you it’s got a mini bottle of Moët and a lightweight Pac a Mac in it.”
“A computer?” she’d shrieked.
“A raincoat,” he had corrected. “In case of unexpected showers.”
In the end, Kate had waived her horror in the pursuit of a responsibility-free weekend. Along with her shahtoosh and lipgloss, he had even managed to fit a portable phone charger and a couple of UV glow sticks in there for good measure.
“What goes on tour, stays on tour,” she had insisted after a particularly sticky pint of cider had occasioned him to rootle through the fanny pack in search of a wet wipe. “As soon as we get home, that thing is going into a bottom drawer.”
At first, he had complied. But then he had been invited to a boys’ fishing trip on the Tay and hadn’t been able to resist. Just like Kate, his old friends had all been scathing at first. Until he had silenced them by revealing the travel humidor that fitted inside, and handing everyone a box-fresh Cohiba to keep the midges away.
From that point on, his fanny pack had become his guilty secret – a warm glow of happiness nestled in the small of his back. Regretfully, he knew it was quite safe from Kate; the last time she had spontaneously put her hands up under his shirt had been to check that he was actually wearing a nicotine patch when she had made him give up smoking.
His favourite pastime was theming his pack to whatever a particular day, or outing, might require. Tiny wirecutters – perfect for a country walk or a spot of electrical DIY just about anywhere. Or mini salt and pepper grinders for a trip to any one of the bland, allergen-free sandwich chains near his office – or to a flavourless family lunch at Aunt Jane’s, for that matter…
“Napoleon! Please, somebody help me!”
Reaching for the zip on his pack, Matthew leapt into action. He knew that rope would come in handy! He had anticipated needing it to secure ladder to pergola while he pruned Aunt Jane’s wisteria, but a cat in crisis would do.
He tossed the coiled end of the rope over the highest branch he could manage and began his wobbly ascent. He had never really liked Aunt Jane’s cat Napoleon and could have been sure that the creature was sneering at him disdainfully as he spreadeagled himself between two branches, just below the one on which the cat was lazily swinging his tail.
“Matthew! What the hell are you doing?!” Kate’s shriek made him flinch and he almost lost his balance. “And what on earth are you doing wearing that thing?”
Just at that moment, he felt Napoleon’s claws dig into his shoulders and back, as the cat used him as a human bridge to aide his descent. Twisting in pain, Matthew felt his grip begin to slip on the rope.
“I can’t believe I didn’t pack any splints or bandages,” he thought as he fell, as if in slow motion. Down and down he plummeted to a fate of certain broken bones and, worse still, fanny pack confiscation. Down and down – until, suddenly, he jerked to a stop and was left hanging like a puppet.
“You see!” he cried, looking triumphantly at his wife and pointing at the belt of his fanny pack, which had serendipitously hooked itself over a low-hanging branch. “You see?!”