I cannot imagine the following anecdote ever happening now, (especially when I consider the many superior ‘Yummy Mummies’ I often encounter) but back in the day, one of my own mother’s favourite go-to activities to amuse me (in a pinch) was the privilege of reorganizing her handbag for her.
I know, I know; but I really liked doing it and felt important knowing that I had been entrusted with such an intimate and grown-up task.
Once I had corralled together all the rumpled tissues that were still scented with Chanel No.5 and helped myself to a stick of Wrigley’s spearmint gum, I moved on to the trio of lipsticks found in one of the pockets. The trio seldom varied and obviously, I tried each one (this goes without saying) but I assessed the packaging first, deciding which was the most elegant, the slimmest, the most bejeweled.
The names were also of great import to me and I think I can safely say, that I trace back my fascination for getting just the right name for a colour (something my friends universally tease me about even now, asking what colour their dress is and then saying “Oh, come ON – aren’t you going to say Electric Tomato or Cant-Elope with Me” etc.etc.).
Maybe I should have been in marketing for OPI nail polish – we just don’t know — but I can say with some conviction that it all began with these few lipsticks found in the scented depths of my mum’s purse.
My all-time favourite (since you ask) was Quarter-to-Red; this was the perfect name for a colour that was a soft, velvet, plushy red but certainly nothing so common as Scarlet or Fire-Engine. I untubed and twisted that one over and over, marveling at the beauty of it spiraling upwards each time and somehow never losing its point. It also had a fresh, creamy smell as it glided over my mouth.
There were other less dynamic things in the purse of course (Victory V lozenges come to mind, the curious tombstone shaped cough drops from Northern England with their powdery, probably morphine flavoured dust), pointy sunglasses and always some loose change pooling in the bottom, which I was sometimes allowed to keep for my trouble.
(Is it me or is this starting to sound like something Daisy might have been responsible for, on Downton Abbey … )
Inevitably, there would also be a gold flecked cigarette case with an evil snapping action and I would release the spring opening carefully, to deeply inhale the tobacco smell and admire the whiteness of the symmetrical soldiers lined up tightly beneath their thin elastic harness.
When, I repeat, WHEN, would this happen now! Gadzooks, I cannot believe I am even admitting to all this, but at the time … well, they were definitely weirder times, what can I say.
Finally, I would turn the emptied purse upside down and briskly shake out the lining, making sure it was free of fluff and put everything back in to reveal a slimmer, tighter version of the original.
And my mum was always pleased.