Raymond’s got a brand new (Billingham) bag

Billingham Hadley Pro

Billingham Hadley Pro

I came to England with a small (Tamrac) camera backpack, kindly lent to me by a neighbour. Not a bad little bag — perfect size for my Fujifilm mirrorless system. It fitted under the seat in front of me on the plane and I tucked my ancient 38-year-old nylon zippered pouch containing passport, cash and other important documents in the upper compartment.

As a working camera bag on the run, however, it failed miserably. Every lens change required me to sling the bag off my back or shoulder, onto the street or other hard surface, and it tended to concertina open, with the danger of spilling contents onto the ground.

I’ve had my eye on the Billingham family of camera bags — Specifically, the Hadley Pro — made in the West Midlands town of Cradley Heath, not far from my hometown. In Trafalgar Square, tired of the aforementioned irritations of the Tamrac bag, I searched area camera stores for a dealer. A few Google Map inquiries led me to Richard Caplan, a Leica specialist in Pall Mall, incidentally, in the Quebec Embassy building.

Richard Caplan Photographic, in London ... or Quebec?

Richard Caplan Photographic, in London … or Quebec?

I had already established that they had the colours I preferred: black (FibreNyte material) with tan trim. £200 later, I had myself a fine shoulder bag, designed with compact camera system owners in mind. I also sprang for the padded leather shoulder pad, at £30.

Based on the current price at B&H Photo in New York (free shipping to Canada over $100), I actually paid $10 more than if I ordered from B&H. However, I saved $7 on the shoulder pad (though they only had black) and, if I take advantage of the rebate at the airport, I’ll save £33.50 (CA $57.59) on the total.

The Hadley has two roomy pockets on the front, closed by press studs, besides the main compartment divided by velcro-secured pads, and a rear zippered pocket. I do miss the small envelopes built into the Tamrac for such things as memory cards and batteries. I have a pouch for these items, but could’t find it before I left! Net side-pockets on the Tamrac were also handy for stowing other accessories or a water bottle, but the Hadley is built for different style of use. AVEA accessory pouches can be attached to the Hadley Pro.

The genial proprietor of Richard Caplan, having pointed out that we were, by rights, shopping in Quebec, also regaled my wife Amanda and I with other historical stories of the area.

The shop is situated across from St James’s Palace and, around the corner from the oldest pub in London, The Red Lion, situated in narrow Crown Passage.  We went ’round for a pint of bitter and a chicken “sarnie.”

The Red Lion

The Red Lion

The pub is, or was, connected to Buckingham Palace by a series of tunnels. Edward VII, Queen Victoria’s randy son, used them to arrange dangerous liaisons with mistresses, perhaps over a pint and sandwich.

I was eager to transfer my gear from the Tamrac to the Billingham … which was difficult standing at the bar. As I was making the switch, a table became available, where we ate our lunch and I finished setting up the Hadley Pro. Three men, pints in hand, asked if we minded them taking the seats on the other side of our table. Of course not.

Their accents led me to ask, “Where are you guys from?”

Vancouver, it turned out.

After touring the National Gallery, we returned to our digs in Greenwich. Taking advantage of the panoramic views of London, I worked late, making night photos. As a result, plans for next day’s early start didn’t materialize. Nevertheless, we began packing around 10am.

Where is my all-important green pouch — the one that has protected my travel documents and journals for more than 3-decades?

Panic. Phone calls. I even contacted the guys at Richard Caplan who slipped ’round to the Red Lion to see if it had been turned in. Unfortunately not.

I was ready to traipse back down to Canada House, also in Pall Mall (perhaps the exiled Gordon Campbell, former premier of British Columbia, might help), when a desperate search of a hidden pocket in the suitcase revealed the lost pouch.

Technical notes: All photos Fujifilm X-Pro2 and Fujinon lenses — top product photo: 23mm 1.4, lit with setting sun and fluffed pillow reflector, lower: 10-24mm 4.0
Raymond Parker

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