Just a paper bag, brown, crumpled, ripped in places, tired and well used, scrunched tightly together at the top, creating a neck in which to hold the seemingly innocuous sac. Placed carefully on the bedside table, a breeze from the window behind brushed past; a brief rustling of wrapping awoke me from a light afternoon nap. Suddenly I looked up, making sure the bag was still in-situ, moving my hand, touching, tapping, stroking it; a sigh of relief, it was safe, unmoved, untouched, safely by my side!
A red glow filtered calmly through the window, dancing majestically off the wardrobe doors, illuminating the newly installed Star Wars wallpaper on the left hand side of the room. My eyes slowly opened, focusing on C3PO, whose golden glow shone flamboyant red, the room illuminated with colour. Eyes averted, the paper bag lit up, like a fire burning bright, slowly awaking me from my slumber. It was time to rise, and get ready to go to Nanny’s house, a short walk away. I stretched upwards, firmly above my head, unceremoniously dropping my left arm, crashing down onto the bed below, accidentally knocking the bag to the floor. Panic ensued as I feverishly, frantically tried to find it; finally located lodged between the bed and the bedside table, trapped upside down, contents spilling over the floor!
I jumped down onto the carpet, running my hand under the divan, urgently determined to find my most ‘precious things.’ Heirlooms, treasures that meant everything, items I took with me wherever I went, stored safely in my brown paper bag, were now tumbling all over the floor! My cheek pressed firmly against the felt base of the bed, I tried to push my arm further, deeper into the dark, moving it, right to left, flicking out whatever was inside. A half eaten packet of Opal Fruits, an unopened tube of spangles, some Black Jacks I had been saving for later and my tiny orange cat, no bigger than my thumb, part of my farmyard, usually stored in the airing cupboard in the hall.
Mum shouted upstairs .’What’s all the noise? What are you doing? We are going out in a minute, hurry up and come downstairs!’
‘I’ll be their, stop going on, I’m just getting my things!’ I replied, still searching furiously for the contents of the bag.
Finally, out popped a Parker Pen, that Aunt Susan had given me for Christmas and a Wade Whimsie Giraffe, that I always had with me, despite falling over in the street with it a few weeks before, cutting open my finger as I fell. Earless, chipped and scuffed the little china animal was a special friend, someone to talk to when there was no one and my first purchase from the Post Office, with some Birthday money from Nan.
Some string, old shiny Quality Street wrappers, a handful of marbles, two conkers and a pair of blue woollen mittens held together with string, completed the collection. Quickly I put them back into the carrier and cautiously made my way downstairs, holding tightly onto the banister, not wanting a repeat performance.
I held onto the bag even more tightly than usual, as we walked into Nan’s, pressing it hard into my hip. Even when Mum took off my duffle coat, I wouldn’t let go, the pouch passing up my sleeve, following my arm. As Mum pulled the coat over my head, I spied Nan from the corner of my eye, chuckling ever so slightly - ‘A handbag, he always has a handbag, that’s our boy, the boy with the bag!’
Nan always said she knew I was gay, because of the 'minaudière' I carried, it was a kind of family joke. Of course it has nothing to do with my sexuality, but it is a memory of a childhood I would relive again tomorrow. My Nan is no longer here, the bag and contents long since gone, but the memories are still burning strong, recollections important, special, so clear! Cherished moments stored tightly, the real reason all of us belong!
Laying on the bed face down, my legs were bent at the knees, kicking the air, excitedly, as I flicked through the pages of Mum’s catalogue. As far back as I can remember Mother had always bought all our Christmas and Birthday presents from the thousand page book that sat in the corner of the sitting room. Mum had asked me what I wanted for Christmas; immediately I headed for ‘Freemans’ to satisfy my curiosity. At eight years old, the book felt as heavy as me, as I grabbed the corner of the binding, dragging it from its home under an occasional table next to the settee. Puffing and panting, sweat pouring from my brow, I managed to get the catalogue up to my bedroom, crawling on my knees, throwing it loudly on the staircase, one step at a time. ‘Do it quietly!’ I heard Mum shout from the kitchen ‘….and don’t fall down the stairs!’
Mail order or home shopping was all the rage at the time. In the late 1970s, families didn’t have an endless supply of credit and money to buy presents or luxury items. Mum and Dad were typical of most; the only debt they had was the installments owed to the catalogue company each month, spreading the cost of Christmas and other family occasions over the course of the year. Growing up as a child this ‘book of wondrous things,’ was a big part of my life. Rather like the internet of today, it was packed with gifts and clothes I couldn’t afford and provided an escape into a materialistic World of inanimate objects and frivolous spending!
I became aware of my sexuality, thanks to the ‘big book,’ always turning first to the men’s underwear section towards the back. While Mum and Dad slept soundly at night, I would gingerly walk down stairs, not making a sound, procuring the catalogue. Sitting away from the door, hiding from anyone who could perchance walk by, I crouched down at the side of Dads favourite chair, knees up to my chin, shivering from the chill of the night. Barely able to see, just the street lamp outside illuminating the glossy pages, I licked my thumb and forefinger, quickly flicking through, constantly alert, looking around, hoping no one was stood behind. Men standing tall in various masculine poses, legs wide apart, sporting 1970s Y fronts and occasional briefs, their bodies on display triggering emotions and feelings normally kept in check. As a young lad this was my first taste of the male physique and despite my lack of real understanding, I was aware that I was different from my peers!
‘Freemans’ offered a glimpse into decadence; designer clothes nestled perfectly with plush furniture and objects that had no use, apart from their ability to look gorgeous placed on a shelf. Even at eight years old, I was making a home, pretending to live in a large sprawling mansion, country cottage or London town house; luxury fixtures and fittings and everything in its place. At the end of each season, I would take Mothers catalogue and spend hours sat upstairs, cutting out my 'favourite things,' sticking them down on paper, creating a montage of my ideal archetypal dwelling. I was a home maker then as I am today and always had a love of delineation, expressing the flamboyant side of my personality, creating a dream to aspire too.
1970s Britain was indeed a colourful place. As a child I discovered much about me, my personality and changing tastes. Through the pages of Mum's shopping directory, reading between the lines, there were links to my future, firmly illustrated at a momentous time; self exploration and an understanding of ones self all part of my childhood agenda, encompassed in a book. ‘Freemans’ offered a sense of belonging and discovery, precipitating my journey into adulthood. A catalogue was just a shop without a high street, but it was more than that: a snapshot in time, an era that no longer exists, a blueprint for the modern age and the commencement of a new chapter. Society in 1979 was a far cry from 2018, seen so vividly in colour, consumerism on display. A little bit of escapism during a period of economic stagnation at the end of a difficult childhood, culminated in the eventual sense of achievement, I finally feel today. Sat here remembering the trading Bible that firmly punctuated my life, has once again manifested memories, that in reality have no price!
47 year old Author, Columnist and Blogger.