Like a pocket on a string

Wanted: small but practical holder for all your essentials

Much as I would love to do my shopping with a wicker basket in which nestles a red clasp purse, it's not a good idea if you live in the real world, where people might take advantage of such an obvious offering of loose change.

Mugging is nothing new; in the 17th century thieves would carry on their shoulders a basket containing a small child covered with a blanket. As they passed someone wearing a particularly fine wig (wigs were expensive), the small child would spring out, nick the wig and get under the blanket again, and the thieves would melt into the crowd. Safety aside, bags are great, but every time you need to pay for something, answer your phone or show your bus pass, you need to rifle through bag ephemera, which can take time.

Years ago, the leather supremo Bill Amberg used to do something called the disco purse. This was a flat, rectangular little purse made of leather with a snap closure (the sort you need to press together to open, which then snaps shut when you let go). It hung around your neck and came in various colours and finishes. When he stopped making them, I bought up his remaining stock of about four because they were genius. Your travel pass, cards and cash were always around your neck, handy for purchase or passage. I still use mine every day, except that lately I've needed more room.

It's really hard to find such things. Designers have been so busy making the must-have bag of the season that there's little design input going into something small but practical. Muji used to do something madly useful, if a little dull (it was only in black or khaki nylon). Also it was a trifle too big, so you'd end up using it as a proper shoulder bag, which is definitely not what this is about. What you really want is an extra pocket on a long strap, but infinitely more organised than a pocket ever could be.

You can find offerings in luggage departments: labels like Kipling make them but they tend to be garish and nylon. If a good leather manufacturer ever has a stab at them, it never seems to understand the need for compartments: the separation of stuff into a dozen internal pockets can make life a whole lot easier.

The closest I've found was an old fly-fishing pouch by the Columbia Sportswear Company that I used to keep my flies in when I was fishing really light. It's fairly incognito and fabulously organised, with lots of useful pockets and an adjustable strap - perfect apart from the fact that it hints at sporty action rather than style. Still, I've always got the clutch bag for the latter, which is wildly impractical for daytime use but, for having things to hand, can't be beaten.

Annalisa Barbieri was in fashion PR for five years before going to the Observer to be fashion assistant. She has worked for the Evening Standard and the Times and was one of the fashion editors on the Independent on Sunday for five years, where she wrote the Dear Annie column. She was fishing correspondent of the Independent from 1997-2004.

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2008 issue of the New Statesman, Now it gets really dirty