I am a bag lady. I cannot resist them. So when I passed a shop with the most beautiful handbag I’d seen for a while, I couldn’t stop myself going in to check the price. It was elegantly flat, not the sort of handbag that I could cram with the wallet that holds all my cards and cash, my photographs that always go with me, and lurking receipts; the other wallet with my cheque books, the small half-empty bottle of Chanel no 5, my spare specs, my lipstick case, my little notebook and diary, my fold-up hairbrush brought back from Holland by a friend, my sparse makeup case, and a pen. It was a soft apricot coloured leather and shrieked class.
It was half price in a sale and was still three or four times as much as I’d normally pay for a nice handbag – if I needed one. And there-in lies the rub. I have a number of handbags which, each time I bought them were intended to be the last handbag I ever bought, as they were such good quality and so timeless in design that they’d never date, I convinced myself!
At the bottom of the pile is a very good and hardly used classic tan handbag which I definitely thought would, as my husband is prone to saying – see me out. Hardly used, actually, because superseded by an elegant slim-line dark brown leather handbag… then there’s the exquisite twenties black snakeskin pochette which I often use in the evening, fought for at an auction, and the thirties brown snakeskin clutch discovered in an op-shop, perfect for my brown winter clothes. The Burberry, found for a song in a sale, always sparks up my winter blacks worn with a cream silk scarf as well, and a very nice boxy black satin evening handbag given me by my daughter is also well-used.
And then there’s the very beautiful black handbag in the softest leather with wide plaited handles, giving it a subtle appearance of haute couture… a wedding anniversary gift after my husband had watched me lusting after it. The large cream leather Dorothy- shaped bag is perfect for summer, and for my landmark 70th birthday I bought the really big red leather handbag which looks so good with black, though I don’t wear it with my red shoes as it looks too dated and matched if I do that. For travelling – wonderful on planes when I want to disguise just how much hand luggage I have – is the huge black tote bag, which has eased many frantic last minute packs and panics. And last year my daughter brought me back from Istanbul (not Constantinople as Danny Kaye would say) the handbag I always use now. It says it’s Prada, and I don’t dare to insult her or hurt her by asking whether it’s real, or a clever beautiful fake. Either way, it’s stood the test of time and looks hardly used.
So do I really need another handbag? The inner dialogue went on for several days… you don’t need another. You could get rid of all the ones you hardly use. It’s too expensive. But I have my little nest egg saved for these extravagances. In a world of conspicuous consumption, and desperate poverty you should not be buying something you don’t need at huge expense. But it’s half price, and I’ll never have the opportunity to have anything half as beautiful, precious, or valuable ever again. That is the most snobbish and shallow thing to even think. But it would go with all my blacks, and with all my browns, and so many other things. I could wear it to lunch on Friday and it would just make my boring old trousers and top look so much more elegant ….Get over it! This inner battle tormented many waking moments, and even broke in on my sleep as I turned over. Sometimes I would wake up quite clear in my mind that I did Not need another handbag, and then the siren voices began again with all the same persuasions.
The sale lasted for another week, and I could pick up the bag when I went back to the big smoke to deliver my grandson’s 22nd birthday present. By yesterday I still hadn’t made a decision, leaving it to fate and a last minute gut feeling. I drove into town with the present and a birthday card, and since the grandson’s parents were away, I thought I’d spoil him with all his favourite cakes I used to treat him and the others with when they were little. So parking the car outside the delectable cake-shop, I chose a selection of cream dough-nuts, choc slices, iced tarts, chocolate éclairs and the rest.
Swinging out with the big box of goodies in my hands, I came on a traffic warden bending over my little car, which was in a free parking space. “Don’t worry”. I beamed at him, “I’m just going.” He looked bleakly at me. “I’m not giving you a parking ticket. I’m giving you an infringement notice”. Walking blindly to my fate, I was unfazed. “What’s an infringement notice?” I blithely inquired. He pointed to the notice on the windscreen, which I have to say, I never bother to look at. “Your warrant of fitness is overdue. It’s a $200 fine.” And he walked off.
No words came to my lips. No point in saying but they must have forgotten to remind me at the garage like they always do. Conscious that there was no-one to blame but myself I glared at his back as he carried on peering officiously into the windscreens of other cars. A wave of hate swept through me as I thought of his pinched face, cold grey eyes, and pursed prim mouth. And then I thought of all the negative energy and hostility and anger he must attract all day, and I wondered how it was for him and for his family when he went home every night bringing that miasma of misery with him. My anger towards him died, but I was still sore. I tried to remember not to sweat the small stuff, and also to remember that this was one of the things I couldn’t change, so to let it go…I clung to the words I’d read in a small book on Epictetus which I’d found on a second hand book stall two days before… which amounted to not fussing about the stuff you have no control over… but.. but – it didn’t give me as much serenity as I hoped for.
Why couldn’t ‘they’ give us a week’s warning or something, I thought bitterly to myself. And then I remembered Socrates As he waited in prison to receive the poisoned hemlock for the crime trumped up against him of corrupting the youth of Athens with his ideas, his friends offered to bribe the guards, and help him escape to another city and avoid death. But Socrates refused – saying that if he did so, he would break his social contract with his city, which he had no desire to do, therefore he would abide by their rules. My resentment faded. Yes, I’d flouted the rules of my society by my carelessness or irresponsibility.
Chastened I delivered the birthday goodies, and drove straight home. The handbag seemed irrelevant now. Not only had I squandered half the money needed for it, but it didn’t seem to matter anymore. Isak Dineson, who had plenty of trials in her life, wrote that all sorrows can be borne if you put them in a story or tell a story about them. She was right… not just the handbag, but the infringement notice are no longer significant… it’s now emotion recollected in tranquillity, to quote Wordsworth. And this morning I was at the garage at 8am to comply with the rules of my society!
Food for Threadbare Gourmets
The roasted almond and lentil loaf has had a few takers, so here’s the recipe, not as simple as most of my cooking… wash and boil until soft half a cup of dried lentils. I’ve used red lentils and puy lentils, and they are both good. While the lentils are cooking, gently toast in a frying pan without any fat, a cup of ground almonds. When lightly browned, set aside. Heat a table spoon of oil and gently fry a finely chopped onion, a stalk of chopped celery and a grated carrot with all the moisture squeezed out of it, plus a teaspoon of dried thyme, sage and finely chopped rosemary. When soft, remove from the heat and stir in the toasted almonds, cooked lentils, four slices of bread crumbled into breadcrumbs, quarter of a cup of tomato sauce, one tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce, and one of balsamic vinegar. Salt and pepper. Mix it all together with an egg and press firmly into a loaf tin lined with well-greased cooking paper long enough to overhang the edges. Bake in an oven 180 degrees for forty-five minutes.
I actually think it tastes best the next day either cold or lightly heated. Cut it in thick slices and serve with the rich gravy from the last post. This is enough for six, and makes a meal served with new potatoes and green beans or asparagus, which is plentiful here in the Antipodes at the moment.
Food for Thought
Suffering occurs from trying to control what is uncontrollable, or from neglecting what is within our power. As part of the universal city that is the universe, it is our duty to care for all our fellow men. Those who follow these precepts will achieve happiness and peace of mind.
Translation of Epictetus’ words. Epictetus AD 55- 135, was an ancient Greek, Stoic philosopher who thought we should live our beliefs. Born a slave, he became a Greek sage. Born in Turkey, taught in Rome, banished to Greece.