Handbag horrors.

The last time I told Bigfoot to look in my handbag for something, a mixture of terror and disgust crossed his face.  He passed me my bag, muttering  « Here. You do it ». He was right to be concerned : it’s a bottomless pit containing so much junk that even Ali Baba would pale at the idea of opening it.

This sad state of affairs led me to wonder recently about the poor person who would be obliged to rummage through my handbag for a source of my identity if I was ever run over by a double-decker bus. So out of pure curiosity, I emptied my bag this morning to get an idea. And here’s the verdict. Before anyone finally discovers the passport and driving licence buried beneath the accumulated rubble of my daily activities, he or she will first discover the following exotic sundries:

Three screwed up paper handkerchiefs. A handful of Halloween sweet wrappers. Several supermarket receipts. One plastic toy cow, covered in sand. A foam dart from Rugby-boy’s toy. Two shopping lists. One mobile phone. One pair of sunglasses. Three chapsticks. A pile of visiting cards. An entire family of tampons. A cheque book, two credit cards and my tatty leather purse. A flier for a recently discovered book store. My blood test results and a phone bill that never made it to the domestic goddess filing cabinet. Keys. Lots of them.  Little My’s cardigan. A silk scarf. The envelope containing the cheque for the phone bill, which screams helplessly from the depths of its sarcophagus every time I walk past a letter box. Oh, and the crumbs from the baguette I balance over the top of all the aforementioned junk on the walk home from school every day. A handbag therefore betrays the age and lifestyle of its owner; it is a blueprint of a woman’s very existence.

I never had that handbag that other girls danced around at school discos when I was young. I was a tomboy, so my pockets were big enough for the only things I had to put anywhere: my hands.  I didn’t have much in common with the other lesser-spotted teenaged birds and thus avoided dragging make-up, hairbrush and other Barbie equipment around with me. Yet I was shortly to discover the sinister reality of the working world: career-girl clothes have fake pockets. I couldn’t jam everything into my sensible brown leather briefcase, however hard I tried. I was therefore dragged, kicking and screaming, into the handbag world: the only solution for my keys, money, and papers.

A few years later, I upgraded to a larger, mini rucksack-style model and added the first time mother’s kit to the equation. Baby wipes, a spare nappy, plastic bags, an emergency jar of baby food, a Tommy Tippee and a gum soother joined the phone and filofax in the swelling ranks of « just incase » items inside The Bag. As my family grew, I began to feel an increasing need for a Mary Poppins number which would mysteriously ingurgitate my ever-increasing quantity of rubbish. My brothers-in-law came up trumps last year when they offered me a fabulous carpet-bag tribute to Perfidious Albion with a Union Jack printed on the side. It has a huge appetite and happily swallows absolutely everything I throw inside it.

Beware of the handbag. Despite its innocent appearance, it can get you into serious trouble. Come on, hands up… who else has already come out in a cold sweat at security controls out there?

My all-time best was at a Swiss airport, many years ago. I had flu, and was doped up to the eyeballs with paracetamol in a bid to lower my temperature. I said goodbye to P.F and the children, and queued for the plane that would take me home to Britain for my grandmother’s funeral. In a desperate bid to stem the welling tears, I started rummaging through my bag for my passport. My stomach promptly did a somersault as my fingers traced around the outline of Bigfoot’s black plastic toy pistol, which I had confiscated, then promptly forgotten, the day before.

Dropping it in the bin was out of the question, unless I fancied creating bedlam and checking out the airport police offices instead of attending Grandma’s funeral. I coughed nervously and eyed the electric blue-lashed girl behind the counter, wondering if she was the type to press a panic button and scream hysterically. Feeling like a repentant Ma Baker, the only thing I found to say was « I’m going to take something out of my bag and put it on the counter. Please don’t scream, it’s not a real one ». She looked at it with wide eyes, and said « I’m very sorry, you can’t take weapons on the flight ». No shit, Sherlock. After five minutes of phone calls and grumbling from the huge queue growing behind me, Bigfoot’s gun was taken off to the lost and found desk. And as far as I know, that’s where it still is today…..

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Happy birthday, P.F…

Happy birthday, mon chéri. I’m sorry it didn’t pan out quite as I had planned.

This is what was planned for your birthday: 

Get up early to make you pancakes for breakfast en amoureux. Make delicious cheesecake, buy gifts for kids to offer and luscious, generous bouquet of red roses. Return home. Cook lasagna and prepare fresh salad.

Decorate cheesecake, then Julie-Andrews my way through the house singing Mary Poppins songs as I shake the sheets out of the window and tidy up odds and ends with the help of a few Walt Disney superbirds chirping on the window ledge, flapping around my head and whistling on the end of my finger. Ask willing children to tidy their rooms and set the table, whilst I shower and slip into suitably feminine attire for your arrival from work. Give beautiful bouquet and children’s gifts. Eat fabulous meal, then pack kids off to their rooms so we can have a quiet moment curled up on the sofa reminiscing about the past and dreaming about the future.

Sounds good, huh? Now…..

This is what actually happened on your birthday.

Got up early and had breakfast en amoureux, kissed you goodbye on doorstep (but not Meg Ryan-style on tiptoes, ‘cos I’m almost as tall as you). Hoped the neighbours didn’t see me in my p.j’s. Heard noises reminiscent of volcanic eruptions and found Bigfoot in downstairs bathroom with digestive problems. Discovered that upstairs bathroom was out of service with blocked waste pipes. Condemned access to upstairs bathroom. Called school to tell them Bigfoot wouldn’t be there today. Uncharitably decided to quite literally cut the crap and tell the secretary that he had the runs when she enquired what the matter was. Now she knows for the next time.

Went shopping, returned home, and realised that lasagna is probably better when it has meat in it. Desperately sought the Nadine de Rothschild/Martha Stewart hybrid waiting to take over somewhere in my inner self, but couldn’t remember where I’d put her (a little like your umbrella. But that’s another story). Opened WordPress site, then resurfaced in real world what felt like five minutes of reading and writing later, except it was actually midday. Pulled on bad-girl-WordPress-addict hair shirt, ate quickly and commenced cheesecake battle. Urgent phone call from neighbour: drove neighbour to garage. Returned. Waved cheerfully to Gargamel out of a sadistic desire to make him reciprocate. He didn’t. You live and learn.

Donned 1940’s perfect housewife pinny and finished cheesecake without dropping any hair in it or dropping it on floor. Informed dog and cat that they would have to learn to open the fridge door if they hoped to eat it before you got home. Looked at clock, screamed. Abandoned huge pile of washing up in sink.

Ran upstairs, ripped off pinny, dragged on blue Super Mario-style dungarees. Spent half an hour attempting to unblock toilet with the aid of a plunger, snake and threatening behaviour. Congratulated self on wide range of bilingual swearwords and imagery around the theme of human dejections, noted this as good subject for unusual WordPress post.  Abandoned plumbing as bad idea, changed clothes, scrubbed hands with green side of sponge and huge quantities of bleach.

Went to school to pick up daughter, leaving a more chirpy Bigfoot loafing on the sofa after a day-long hibernation in bed. Drove to Aldi, bought meat for lasagna, and clapped eyes on last bunch of red roses wilting pathetically at the check-out, cringed. Pelted home. Commandeered help of all three kids to chop onions, hoover the floor, and clear up the Vesuvius of clean laundry on my bed.

Climbed ladder in lane behind house, atttempted in vain to unblock the sewage pipe, singing Gloria Gaynor’s “I will survive” under my breath whilst Bigfoot held the ladder. Explained to wide-eyed and perplexed retired neighbour why I was up a ladder behind my house with sewage dripping off my elbow.

Gave up, returned inside. Changed, scrubbed hands and arms again. Finished lasagna and put it in the oven. Turned around to discover forgotten mountain of washing-up from the Great Cheesecake Battle. Washed up, and ripped off pinny to greet you as you returned from a hard day at work, smelling delicately of bleach, bolognese sauce and blocked sewers. Bigfoot proudly presented you with your fabulous gift: vividly-coloured undies to “put some colour in your knicker drawer”.

I hope you enjoyed your evening, mon amour…… Though I say it myself, the lasagna and cheesecake eaten in front of the TV were excellent, even if they didn’t really make up for the clogged up drains.

I love you for so many reasons. We make a great team, and we still laugh ourselves stupid together on a daily basis. But today, I particularly love you for putting up with me the way I am, drowning in a teacup in situations that most other women sail through.  I will never be a Wonderwoman, but hell, at least I’m having fun trying.

Aphrodite

Aphrodite of Cnidus.Munich.

Walking down the town high street one day, my mother spotted a shop dummy leaning drunkenly against the wall. Her perfect proportions and bald head were glistening in the rain (I am of course talking about the dummy here, not my mum).

She had a sullen pout on her face. This did not surprised me given the fact that she was devoid of arms, which had perhaps been stolen overnight by drunken pub-goers on their way home. Yet our armless, harmless heroine remained aloof and apparently unconcerned about being stark naked in front of all the passing cars, staring placidly across the road at the newsagent’s window.

Mum has always had an eye for something original, so I was not unduly surprised to see her hoist the dummy under her arm and continue walking down the street, impervious to comments by passers-by about the pair of perfectly shaped, cellulite-free legs sticking out behind her.

From that day on, Aphrodite reigned magnanimously over our courtyard. Jauntily propped up in the corner amid the plants, she was our Greek statue par excellence. None of my friends had anything like it; she was a refreshing alternative to the politically correct pottery hedgehogs decorating their parents’ gardens.

Aphrodite wearing her sensible grey wig and jewellery.

According to our mood, the weather or the occasion, Aphrodite the fit, slick chick was kitted out with wigs, hats, glasses, jewellery or scarves bought in local jumble sales. On sunny days she was a hippy Woodstock throwback sporting a straw hat and sunglasses, with strings of colourful beads dangling over her perfect, pert bosom.  On stormy days she was our version of Ellen Ripley, stoically facing the alien Cornish elements with her wigless head. We occasionally scraped the seagull droppings off her, although they did add a certain je ne sais quoi to her look.

Aphrodite stayed with us until my parents sold the granite and brick house we’d grown up in. She had suffered the persistent assaults of weather and time over the years, and finally got the thumbs-down for the removals van. Our courtyard goddess was stripped of her divine rank and accessories and relegated to her earlier status of roadside rubbish. I felt guilty to see her propped against the wall in the street once again, like an ageing hooker who’d got too old for the game. Holding her chin high, her glazed eyes fixed on the horizon, she pouted as she awaited the binmen.

When my kids roll their eyeballs at my odd behaviour, I tell them how grateful I am to have a mum who showed me that it’s ok, and even preferable to do your own thing and not follow the crowd, as you’ve only got one life to live and it’s yours, with no trial period.  So, I tell them, go ahead and do it your own way: The important thing is to be yourself.