I don’t recall exactly when or where we got the funny bag. It was most likely at the seaside markets in St Kilda in the winter of 1996. What I do know is how it became known as the funny bag and who named it thus.
The bag in question is one of those handcrafted numbers you often find at markets. Variously called heat packs or wheat bags they are about the size of a kilo bag of rice, and contain about a kilo of barley or wheat often sewn into particularly unattractive offcuts of fabric (Ours was brown corduroy). Indeed I suspect some of them do contain rice. Some of the fanciest ones may contain lavender so they smell nice when heated. It’s been so long I can’t recall if ours ever did.
Anyway for us newcomers to Melbourne the winter of 1996 was quite cold, and we had a small baby in tow. We bought the bag for our young daughter to heat up prior to bedtime and place in her cot to warm it up before we put her to bed. A couple of minutes in the microwave and it was piping hot, too hot in fact for a baby straightaway of course as the safety instructions clearly told us. But great for prewarming the bed. The bag of course also found use in dealing with my wife’s occasional back pain. And over the years, it warmed the bed for another two children. Our eldest had named the bag the funny bag as a young child due to its magical properties of making bedtime an attractive option. The name has stuck ever since with her and us.
After moving to Brisbane it saw less use but occasional peak demand in winter required the purchase of a second bag, which confusingly was also christened the funny bag. It was mostly purple corduroy. This second one has a Velcro seal that occasionally comes a bit undone and reveals it’s by now very dark brown grainy contents of uncertain species. Certainly they both in later years produced a lovely warm malty smell in the kitchen when heated.
In recent years the funny bags have been doing heavy duty service summer and winter supporting me during my long illness. Constant leg pain and added back spasms and hand and feet cramps have been a constant issue for me. My nightly ritual consists of heating both bags and taking them to bed to help with the pain along with my medication. Some nights they’re superfluous but I do it anyway to save me from having to do the painful (and cold) walk to the kitchen if I start to cramp up when I lie down.
Sadly however the original funny bag finally broke a month ago. The brown corduroy having finally been worn through in several spots, it was beyond repair. After a few mornings of waking up with hard dark brown grains in the bed it was time to bid a sad farewell. It should be noted that somewhere in those long lost safety instructions there was probably something about a maximum lifetime of these things.
Indeed as I write these words I vaguely recall stories in the press of the things catching fire. Indeed these wheat bags have caught fire, resulting in house fires and a fatality in 2011. Or that may have been This usually results from people nuking them too long. Anyway we probably should have replaced them years ago but we didn’t.
So the original brown funny bag was thrown out and a replacement was sought. Sadly the pressing need for a replacement and my inability to walk far through crowded markets didn’t allow for the purchase of the perfectly unfashionable corduroy craft replacement. Instead, two modern heat/cold packs were purchased from the pharmacy. These newfangled plasticky dual purpose things are flat and filled with some sort of squishy gel. And half the side is covered in safety instructions, warning of imminent napalm consequences should it be overheated. But worst of all it just doesn’t feel as comfortable as the remaining purple fabric wheaty bag.
Sigh. I have become an old person. Things were better in brown corduroy. Farewell funny bag. You were a comfort in cold times and in times of pain
Updates: 15/6/2016 added the link to the Choice article where a wheat bag actually caused a fatality