Saturday, December 29, 2007

My favourite Christmas present

alligator handbag I think the best presents are often the ones that cost the least, but are given with most love. This year my mother handed down my Grandmother’s brown alligator handbag from the 1950s, after having had it furbished up for me.

Granny was a true English eccentric: a classic Nancy Mitford-esque bolter, on husband number three by the time I was a child. She was a famous beauty with exceptional taste, and indulged it at every turn: jewellery, luggage, clothes, lovers, foreign travel. The only thing she didn't indulge were her three children, who were brought up by her first husband and by her parents, when they weren't at boarding school (from the age of five.) She spent her way through the family fortune in the manner of sand through fingers until there was nothing left but memories and a wardrobe of exotica.

However, she & my mother were reconciled throughout our childhood and we adored her: she was the mistress of the grand, sweeping gesture as she floated around in kaftans, dangling necklaces, chestnut wigs and diamanté sunglasses, heavily bejewelled fingers firmly clasped around a rattling glass of Johnny Walker, often with a fluffy cat or small dog in tow.

She lived on a narrow boat on the Broads and, for a while, ran a guest house by the seaside on the Norfolk Coast. She ended her days in a small flat on the Costa Blanca with husband number three and his fine set of white moustaches, although I think in her head they were still living back in the glory days when he was a Second World War Squadron Leader with an OBE to match, and she was the ravishing belle of the ball.

When she died, we flew over to Spain and packed up her life. This bag came back with us then. I think my mother had mixed feelings; it represented the money her mother didn't stint on spending on luxuries rather than on her children.

So, my Mama had it reconditioned by Mr Urbanska in Edinburgh when she was on a business trip with my father earlier this year. They completely renovated it, mended the clasp, replaced the worn strap and spruced up the suede interior. It is as good as new, & I adore it. And I love that it has now been carried by three generations of my family.

PS Extremely thought-provoking article here from The Times on the growing clothing mountain, & wearing your parents' hand me downs