The strange story of the handbag that seems to love me every bit as much as I love it.
Love at first sight
I knew I had to have it as soon as I saw it. The bag was large, black, made from the softest leather I’d ever seen and gleamed so much it was almost navy-blue, like the sheen of spilt oil. As a piece of design, it was a triumph too: two simple rectangles of leather and a long strap that went right across the bag, one third down, with the open top flopping in either direction as it pleased.
The bag wasn’t cheap, but it wasn't outrageously expensive either. I knew it would prove its value over time. Sure enough, it turned out to be right for almost every occasion. In fact, it was the most 'me' bag I'd ever owned and was soon it an integral part of everyday life.
Love and loss
A couple of years later, the unthinkable happened. My beloved bag was stolen. It was a rainy afternoon just before Christmas 2008; I remember clearly because my dad had died only a few weeks before. I left the bag in the car. I was only going to be a minute. Because of the rain, I didn't look back to see the car lights flash to say the doors had locked as I pressed the remote key. Occasionally it didn't work. This was one of those occasions.
As anyone who's been through grief knows, you’re pretty skinless for a while. Even small arrows can pierce deep. The theft really brought me down. I mourned not only the bag, but one of its contents too: a pair of Chanel sunglasses. I never usually care about or own such items, but I'd bought them for my dad's funeral - a kind of homage to my sharp-suited, immaculately-turned-out father. It’s amazing what thieves take when they steal objects.
Afterwards, I tried my hardest to replace the bag, but the shop no longer stocked it. I even tracked down the manufacturer, who was perfectly sympathetic, but no help; they’d moved on to newer models and weren't for going backwards. I ended up buying a series of cheaper, vaguely similar bags, but it was never the same. I also bought another pair of expensive sunglasses - Tom Ford this time. Six months later they were stolen in Greece. I got the message.
The second time around
A year later, something amazing happened. A man from the village phoned. He’d been helping an old lady clear her back garden and there, right at the back under some brambles, he’d found a bag and, inside it, a purse with a few cards in. One of them had my name on. The bag was coming home!
It gave me faith somehow. It seemed to say lost things did find their way back sometimes and that it was always worth hoping. Ridiculously, on some level, it felt like it was something to do with my dad still looking out for me. In reality, the bag was a wreck; the leather mottled with damp and stiff as card. It was stupid to think I could ever use it again.
‘Leave it with me’ my husband said, his resolve firing up as mine ran out. He tracked down a special wax bikers use to restore their leathers after they’ve been in the rain and polished the bag for days and days, working in the gloop from the unpromising-looking tub. Eventually, when he handed the bag back, it really gleamed. And there was something else - it wasn't just mine now, but it represented his love too. Maybe even a bit of my dad's.
Taking things for granted
Like lots of things you use every day, you take them for granted. I frequently overfilled the now-invincible bag, until eventually the strap began to tear. I re-patched it and made do, until, four years or so into its second life, the hardness began to creep back into the leather - and this time it couldn’t be stopped. I had to face it. Its time was up!
The love of friends
Around this time, a friend told me about the amazing leather bag she’d made for her own dad. She’d bought a special sewing machine with the kind of heavy-duty needles you need to sew leather. It felt like fate. Maybe my old bag could be copied and made anew I wondered as she told me about it? But how to ask? She and her partner had just moved to Germany, to a new house with their two older boys and a new baby son. Her life was so full already!
Of course, when I finally did get round to asking, she made it seem no problem, like real friends do. I tried to get her to name a price, but she just said she’d see. Finally, one day, Bag Mark II arrived out of the blue (well, Germany). It was beautiful, with that gorgeous smell of new leather I’d forgotten about. My friend said she didn’t want any money and I was to consider it a gift for my birthday. When I’d stopped feeling guilty, I allowed the generosity of the gesture to sink in.
I made sure I paid back this time by wearing the new version with much more care, always keeping a pack-away bag inside for extra shopping, so as not to strain the handle. Soon, it didn’t feel like a different bag at all. The two had simply become one.
The love of strangers
The new bag did have a small imperfection. Instead of bouncing comfortably off my hip, it nestled against the upper thigh - not really handbag territory. I hadn’t been clear enough with my measurements and whilst the original had a buckled strap and therefore a bit of strap overlap, the new version had no buckle. The strap was just too long. Sometimes I tied a knot in it to shorten it, but it started to feel wrong to possess something so lovely and allow the imperfection to endure. I looked around for local menders to alter it and eventually found a man with the right needles and expertise, but, he said rather pointedly that he was a designer and made his own bags, rather than mending other people’s. Eventually, because he was kind, he said I should phone on the day if I was passing. If he was there, he’d see what he could do.
So, one day I called and he was there and he shortened the handle in ten minutes flat. Then, he refused to charge for it, saying I should give the money instead to the next homeless person I saw. The bag was up to its old tricks it seemed.
It took me quite a few weeks to fulfil the promise. Finally,as I was walking to a business meeting one day in London with a workmate, I saw a homeless guy sitting on the pavement with a cardboard sign in front of him. I opened my bag and purse and pulled out a £20 note.