My Great-Grandma died when she was 96, so I have distinct memories of her. A small, slender woman with wavy, fair hair and an eagle eye, she always wore a coat with a fur collar, and usually a hat and gloves. And she always had a handbag.
This handbag was a thing of wonder. In smooth black leather, it had rigid sides and a catch that could take your finger off if you weren’t careful. It also weighed about 5lbs when empty – two tonnes when full.
I was reminded of her when I saw a picture of Our Own Dear Queen recently, also with a handbag. In fact she is never without a handbag, and rumour has it she uses it to send messages to her aides (looped over left arm – I am talking to a dullard; hanging from fingertips – my feet ache, fetch the car etc). What she keeps inside is also a mystery, although I like to go with a linen hankie, half a bottle of gin, dog treats and a snub-nosed revolver.
The contents of Gran’s bag were not a mystery. She was a good sport and would let my mother root through it. With the help of her, and my aunt, I have compiled a list of what Gran used to keep in her handbag – and it is quite a bit more than the Queen.
- Coin purse
- Note case
- Tape measure (for checking the sizes of clothes in shops)
- Address book
- Half a bottle of brandy (“in case”)
- Eau de Cologne
- Peter Stuyvesant cigarettes – in a silver case
- Lighter (never matches)
- Manicure set
- Emergency jewellery purse (she would carry a couple of gold rings and a change of earrings, you know, in case the weather changed and didn’t match her jewellery)
- Snuff (yes, snuff – this is a woman who was born in the 19th Century)
- Little Imps (devilishly unpleasant cough sweet things)
- Alka Seltzer (after the brandy and Little Imps, probably)
- Needle and thread (for emergencies, like sewing up her ruptured arm after carrying the bag, presumably)
- Powder compact
- Smelling salts
No room for a revolver – though all she would have to do is wallop a would-be assassin with the bag and he would go down as if felled by a cannonball.