In orderly fashion

Packing lists are a pleasure whether you follow them or not

I love a list. Every time I went on holiday, starting from as soon as I could write, I'd make a packing list. I now make these and keep them on computer, and I wish I had access to those I made years ago. I'm sure they'd make fascinating reading (age seven: "yellow shorts, turquoise towel ling top with tie sleeves, best Petit Bateau knickers"). Mock not - it's such funny little lists that, viewed years later, give us great insight.

This is how I learned that, in 1755, a man named George Lucy packed quite the wrong things for a holiday to Naples. Poor old George discovered that the Italians "dress much, and I have been obliged to daub myself all over with silver, accompanied with a sword and a bag wig". He had to write to his housekeeper to ask her to send out smarter clothes. "My best embroidered suit; the light-coloured suit of uniformity laced with gold; the white Dresden waistcoat and the two pairs of velvet breeches: one red, the other black. And half a dozen more shirts with the Dresden ruffles tacked to them." He asked for his most precious shirts not to be sent, for fear of theft, and he was right: his trunk was stolen by pirates and never made it. Baggage handling has improved little since.

I love the way lists hint at order, even if I rarely follow them - I tend to panic at the last moment and shovel everything in. Who, outside the pages of glossy magazines, lays co-ordinated outfits on the bed before packing? Isn't half the fun realising that you've turned up on holiday with ten tops and only a pair of pyjama bottoms? It's lovely to test one's improvisational skills.

Hmm, perhaps that depends on age. When I was 15 I went to Italy with my father. Halfway into our month's holiday, we went on a supposed day trip to see his sister - an hour's drive away. Would I like to stay the night without him? Sure! I was having such fun playing with my cousins. Only, the next day, my father didn't come and pick me up - or the next, or the next. Had I known the number for social services I'd have rung them. He left me there for one whole week. My poor aunt tried to help by washing and ironing my clothes every night and handing them back to me in the morning. I was distraught.

Thirteen years later, I found myself in Italy again, having forgotten to pack anything other than ten pairs of knickers, and having only the clothes I was standing up in. At first, I panicked and tried to get friends to break into my apartment and FedEx other clothes over. But then I relaxed and, this time round, I wore the same thing every day (washed, of course) and found it totally liberating. It was glorious, like having a holiday uniform. Sometimes, short lists are best.

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 30 June 2008 issue of the New Statesman, Thou shalt not hug