I’m no traditionalist, people. I’m a big fan of 3D, equal marriage and crisps that boldly go beyond ready salted.
But there are some traditions that shouldn’t be meddled with, come rain or Olympics. Moaning about the weather is the big one. We’re never more ourselves than when shaking a wet fist at a low, grey sky, usually after a bus has just gone past and sprayed our jeans like a giant territorial canine. It brings out the Shakespeare in us, which is why the Scots have as many words for the wet stuff as Inuits do for snow. English, take note. There’s so much more to rain than cats and dogs.
Other traditions that should be kept, in no particular order, are talking politics in the pub, Sunday roasts, the BBC World Service, giving up your seat on the bus and complaining that M&S is out of touch with women. Oh, and pies. I strongly believe in pies. Truly, I don’t understand why afternoon tea, which is basically a 20 quid sandwich obscured by 1950s accessories, has been given all the attention. I hate afternoon tea and all the clichés about gossiping women leaving lipstick prints on bone china.
Anyway, the tradition I am backing today, of no less importance than pies, is handbags. What with the dire weather and the Olympics, the humble handbag doesn’t seem to be getting enough love just now (M&S, it’s probably your fault).
A woman’s handbag is a fine thing. It’s a living, breathing, lint-making, back-breaking time capsule of the modern lady life. It’s the little house you carry on your shoulder. (It’s also roughly as heavy as a little house.) A handbag, as Oscar Wilde and Mary Poppins knew, can contain an entire life. It’s a secret place, a diary in keys and Chapsticks, which is why any woman worth her salt will never say, “It’s in my bag.” No, she will say, “Bring me my bag,” then proceed to stick her head in it (or, if she’s Mary Poppins, her entire arm), and eventually produce whatever is required. If she’s 20 this might be a couple of coppers and some Vaseline. If she’s 30, a good lipstick and a book. If she’s 40, a plaster. And if she’s 50? By this time the handbag has basically become as well-stocked as M&S, so you could pretty much get anything from a scented tissue to a pair of knickers.
I considered all this as I packed a bag for London. “What handbag shall I take,” I mused. I peered inside a few, and it was a revelation (well, to me anyway). Each one contained the same things, like my very own handbag fingerprint. Green Extra chewing gum, a lone AAA, presumed-dead battery (for my dictaphone), a small notebook, a tampon or two, a few pens (one, always, with the top missing that has scribbled all over the bottom of the bag like a naughty child), some loose tobacco, a few inexplicable euros and rupees, lipstick, a shell. Whenever I go to a beach, I pick up a shell and it goes into the bottom of my bag, where it stays forever, jostled around with keys and fluff.
I hadn’t realised quite how much I loved shells until I counted them in my bags. In this age, when memories are digitised, letters e-mailed and love texted, a handbag is a larger-than-life, gloriously messy memory, a relic from the present. Its flotsam and jetsam should be kept close, like a slightly embarrassing childhood friend. That’s how I see my handbag and all its magnificently meaningless contents. It’s also why you’d better keep out.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Monday 20 May 2013
Temperature: 8 C to 21 C
Wind Speed: 9 mph
Wind direction: South
Temperature: 6 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: North west