At earlier points in my life, I've visited an old ladies in hospital, or taken an old lady there, and in every case she would clutch her handbag tight, get anxious if it got misplaced. The handbag was really important.
I have even, on one occasion, needed to check the contents of a handbag belonging to an old lady in hospital, and found in it only a mouldy peach.
But now that I am also becoming an old lady, I understand.
One of our household asked me at breakfast time, "Are you going out?" I wondered why for a moment, then realised it was because I had my handbag nearby. And, no, I wasn't going anywhere — I just needed the things in it, on and off throughout the day in all the different places I might be.
My handbag is smaller than the ones I used to have. When my children were little it had to contain wet-wipes and jelly-babies and a book to look at and a cotton muslin and so on. Then, as life moved on, I needed a bag sizeable enough to contain an A5 writing pad, one pen and a spare, my Filofax, usually speaking notes and a folder relating to whatever I was going to, and a make-up pouch, as well as all the usual handbag things. So I used to have a shopping-bag sized handbag!
Now those days have gone, and I no longer need a large bag.
I like either leather or canvas bags, and of the two options I prefer leather, because I think it looks more suitable at a formal event (but is equally fine for everyday), and is easier to clean.
I prefer to buy bags second-hand, to (albeit minutely) slow down our pervasive problem of mass-production, and to obtain a nice item within budget, and to take my custom to a down-sizing woman at home making a little money. Also, I often change my mind a couple of months after a purchase, and want something different. If I paid £4 for my bag that doesn't matter very much; a very different story if I'd paid £400 or even £40 for it. I bought my current one on eBay for £15.00 in February.
My bag is very dark green. I really love green and red for bag colours, as they surprisingly go with almost everything — I have navy, grey, black, burgundy and green clothes, and I thought the dark green would look nice with any of them. Plus, I think dark green is beautiful.
I dislike a lot of accoutrements on bags — buckles and catches, tassels and tags, chains and zips and metal linking rings. I don't like long dangling straps, or those doubled-over straps that let you vary the length between a shoulder bag and a cross-body style. The muddly appearance irritates me.
I also dislike grab bags — I have to wear my bag on my shoulder. I do like the appearance of grab bags, but my hyper-mobility means my blood tends to pool, and I get very uncomfortable if my hand is down by my side unsupported for any length of time (eg, holding a bag by its handles). If my bag is on my shoulder, I can tuck my thumb round the strap as I'm walking along, which helps my blood do its thing and stops my hands swelling up.
I like to be able to clamp my bag firmly under my arm, for security. I am never easy with those back-packs where the small compartment for your purse, tickets, phone etc, sits on the outside, behind you where you can't see. I think those new backpacks where the access is on the inner side against your back are a wise security improvement — though it makes it harder to get at your stuff. For me, the ideal when travelling is the hands-free combo of a backpack with nothing in it worth stealing, and a small pack (bum bag, fanny pack, money belt, whatever) with my money and tickets, glasses and phone strapped onto my front.
So my current handbag looks like this —
I got those two fold-up nylon shoppers at Sainsbury's, and they are excellent. For one thing they're capacious and take plenty of groceries, but also they have the good strong integral handles, not the thin stitched-on ones that cut into your hands when the bag is full.
I carry two pairs of glasses with me always, everywhere — one for just looking at things and one for inspecting small print on labels carefully.
My bag is the perfect size for me. It slips down beside me in an armchair, and between my pillows and my husband's pillows if I'm sitting on our bed reading or writing. It's unobtrusive and the handle isn't the sort that trips people up if I put it on the floor by my chair. It isn't heavy, its design is simple and classic with no ornamentation, it's well-made and I find it attractive.
In some ways I like the idea of having a backpack for my main bag, but for two things — I don't like the way backpacks are infested with straps like an octopus's tentacles, dangling all over the place, and much of the time I want something small and neat rather than large and capacious. The great thing about a small, slim, flat shoulder bag is that the (also small, slim, flat) shopping bags can sit folded up inside all the while you don't actually need to use them.
So in my bag I carry my two pairs of glasses, the two nylon shoppers, a small coin purse, my phone, my rail card in its handy ticket wallet, my house and car keys, a pen, and my cards (a debit card, a emergency car rescue card for if we break down, my do-not-resuscitate card which also lets my organs be harvested, and my two store loyalty cards).
I find I need to use all these things very frequently (well — not the do-not-resuscitate card so far, but everything else), and hardly ever need anything more. So I keep my handbag by me wherever I am stationed indoors, and take it out with me wherever I go.
I do have one other, a canvas shoulder bag, which is handy for when I'm preaching — I can put my handbag inside it alongside the folder containing my notes and whatever I've brought for bored children to do.
What about you? I bet you have strong preferences for bags as well!