The Handbag and the Pliers
I recall our first wedding anniversary as if it were yesterday. We ran a pub at the time and we both got out of bed to them smell of coffee emanating from the coffee maker which was on a timer and spluttered to life every morning at 9am. The radio clicked on and Fat Larry’s band sang ‘Zoom’. It was 1981.
I never thought we would last a year of marriage. No one did, in fact the favourite bet had been 6 months. We were so mismatched, one person really quiet and easily annoyed the other (me) loud and rambunctious.
I knew he would be my boyfriend from the minute we met, he mentioned on an early meeting that he wanted to travel and from that moment I set out to bewitch him into my way of thinking.
Any boy that wanted to escape Scotland was ok by me.
I couldn’t believe I met someone who saw beyond, babies, factory work, religious bigotry and football. My idea of hell was to settle down in a wee council house, raise some kids and spend my life making steak pie and soup whilst being a member of the local bingo. It was his idea of hell also.
Yet, still we didn’t match. He didn’t like socialising, he mistrusted people in general, hated families, despite being one of seven sons with an overbearing father who was named locally a ‘Gangster’ and he disliked having to work in the pub his father gave us to run.
It seemed all our plans to run away to see the world were put on hold, to appease his dad. We conformed, we became publicans, we served booze that we didn’t drink, we breathed in smoke that we didn’t want and we listened to enough shit from drunken wife beaters to make any normal person prefer a slow death rather than carrying on.
But carry on we did.
So that morning of our wedding anniversary we requested a night off to go into town and have dinner in a city restaurant. I was excited, we never got to eat dinner together in almost a year as the pub was so short staffed, and we worked the shifts between us.
One ate dinner and the other tended the bar until it was swap over time. Either one of us ate would regularly eat slightly cold food.
I pressed my burgundy skirt that matched my jacket, a crisp white blouse was laid out and I found a wee handbag that was given to me by my sister. I never up until that point used a handbag. I had no need.
I never carried cash or keys and I never owned any make up!
I was twenty years old and had never been shown or had any interest in make up.
I didn’t come from people who used make up, my mum never had any in her life and my sister married young and left home when I was 14 years old, so I hadn’t been introduced to it.
I remember sitting in the bedroom wondering what to put in that handbag and I came up with an idea. I lifted a pair of heavy red rubber-handled pliers made of dense stainless steel and shoved them into the black satin lining of the bag just to weigh it down a bit. It felt better with a bit of weight in it.
Later that night husband and I headed off on the bus into town. It was a short ride as we lived near the city centre and we walked to the restaurant. It was lovely just to sit down and eat Indian food in peace, both of us getting warm food at the same time.
“Where did you get that wee handbag?” husband asked as I lifted it politely to go to the bathroom, they way other women did.
“My sister gave me it” I answered.
He looked puzzled and said “What do you have in it?”
I leaned over in and whispered “I didn’t have anything to put it in, so look”
I held the bag open and he saw the big pliers in the bag. He laughed out loud and said “Are you going to take the fittings off the toilet pan and bring them back to the pub?”
“I should do that actually as our toilet pan in the pub is broken” I laughed back.
I went into the fancy toilets of the Indian restaurant and stared at pliers in my handbag and wondered if there were other women in the world who carried tools in their bag because they didn’t own stuff to put there. I couldn’t ever imagine what I would ever need a handbag for in my future, who needs to carry stuff around with them? Pockets were good for loose change and keys.
Little did I know that in my future I would own a huge bag collection and ultimately end up carrying my entire life in bags as I travelled around the world, needing so much stuff, like my IPod, passport, credit cards, painkillers, tampons, pen and notebook all at my fingertips! How naïve I really was back then.
That night was lovely, we enjoyed the dinner and spoke about how after one year of marriage it was still ok and we should try to see if we could last another year.
“I promise Janey, one day we will get away from here and travel, I don’t know how or when but we will get there” he whispered as we stood in the cold September night as the rain slashed side ways into our faces.
Well we stayed in that marriage and that pub for another fifteen years before fate dealt us a hand to escape. My father in law died in 1994 and the family turned on each other to the point where we felt we were running blindly into an abyss. We had to make a life changing decision. We would simply go.
We didn’t know where we would end up, what job we should be doing or even where we would stay. With having an eight year old daughter in tow now the adventure was a lot scarier and riskier than we anticipated.
But we did it, we never once looked back. We left our pub and flat, got a house and I became a stand up comic and writer.
Slowly of course, not overnight. Though sometimes when comedy seemed too hard or to politically difficult to break into with me being a woman and in her 30s, my husband never once told me to give in. He reckoned after 15 years of doing his preferred job I should carry on with my preferred career, no mater how difficult it seemed to be.
So today we are 27 years married, and tonight we are going to my favourite top restaurant. I will carry a handbag, but leave behind the pliers; I will pay for the meal, as I prefer to do that. We will eat nice food and wonder yet again why we are still together (this is something we do quite often, as we are still mismatched). We don’t have answers, we can only keep wondering. It may take us another ten years of wondering, but that will be ok, I suppose.
If not… I can always shove heavy pliers into my handbag and hit him hard on the head, ok not the romantic ending you wanted dear reader, but…it’s my life and I get to choose!_
Zoom was the song which was playing when my husband first asked me to dance, while in a drunken stupor in the disco. He sung, very flat into my ear, and at that point I thought. This is the one. You just know don’t you?