I have long been in search of the perfect handbag. It must be black; have a short and long handle, so that I can carry it down, under my arm, over my shoulder or over my chest; it must not be so big that I carry a load of junk around with me that I will never use, or so small that I can only fit in keys and a lip salve; it must have a small pocket on the outside to hold tissues, phone and lip salve; and it must be made of leather. Blame Carole Duffy: she gave me the perfect handbag way back in 1982 and I reluctantly threw it away in 1996 when both straps cried, We can’t hold on any longerrrrrrr, and lost their grip, tipping the detritus of fourteen years onto the floor, and returning, in their last, brave act, my mother’s Boots’ nail file that I stole from her in 1985 and which I thought I had lost in 1993 – it was inside the torn lining. The Hub had repaired the straps of my bag so many times that he would have had to sew the bag to my shoulder to keep it in service.
The bag that Carole gave me was not new, not black and did not have two sets of straps, but it was perfect. It was made of brown leather and it had a sort of patchwork effect but not like the soft leather, differently-coloured patchwork bags that you buy as a gift for your favourite great-auntie. It was all one colour and a sort of muddy colour at that, but it was perfect for me. I was eighteen and still at school and Carole was nineteen and working and could afford to give away a handbag she no longer used. I had never owned a leather handbag before, just girlie plastic ones, and I was thrilled. The pocket held my lip gloss (I still had young skin then) and my emery board, and the bag was large enough for all the crap that eighteen year old girls never go anywhere without, including Cosmopolitan and whatever book I happened to be reading at the time (no kids, see). I loved it. I took it out to South Africa with me; worked, married, bore two children; came back to the UK; and I would rather have parted with the boys’ father at that point, I think, than my beloved bag. Before you start to think I am being unfair to the poor Hub, at that stage of our lives, having a marriage just like everyone else, we were the living embodiment of the old footballing joke:
Me: You love that <insert anything you like from computer to one smelly shoe to Manchester City> more than me.
The Hub: I love United more than I love you.
Fortunately, the old bag that I discarded was not the Hub and, in fact, it’s possible his desperate attempts to save it, stitching it with every type of cotton, yarn and thread he could get hold of in a vain attempt to sew holes to holes, reminded me of why I loved him in the first place. I won’t go into all that now because we’ve had enough slop for one month and we still have to get through New Year’s Eve tomorrow, but suffice it to say that I’m glad I kept him, and he kept me.
This kind of answers the question of why my dream perfect bag is not at all like my last perfect bag: you can’t improve on perfection, but you can perfect your improvements. Now I’ve made the Hub just how I like him (and it only took me twenty-seven years), I’m not about to replace him.
Though I could be tempted if Brad Pitt would only shave off that ridiculous beard.