Author, Scrabbler, Traveler

“Emil, why do you carry a tattered plastic bag around with you?” People ask.

If they paid attention, they would notice how often the bag was changed. That each replacement bag bore the name of some obscure emporium from the far corners of the world. It didn’t bother me whether someone noticed or not. It was a game I played with myself. Would this person notice the bag or not ? How many times did I get it right? How many times did someone notice?

What do you think?

Where did I get the notion? From my mother of course.

Here is another extract from my book Chasing Aphrodite:

His natural, East Indian, mother had spent her life in the outskirts of London inching her way to the summit of the rich and fashionable, without ever quite managing to get there. Her favourite store was Harrods of Knightsbridge. She would peruse the papers for notice of its semi-annual sales. Then, she would charge down to London, jostling her way to the marble-floored food emporium in its basement. Once there, she would disgorge all her saved shillings and ha’pennies to invest in their cheapest product – invariably a salt shaker also on sale. She would then insist on half-a-dozen FREE Harrods bags – forest green and bearing the name of Harrods in tasteful gold lettering with, of course, Her Majesty The Queen’s insignia and the motto Purveyors to the Royal Household since 1910.

 

These bags, which were the real investment, would grace her arm all year round. Mother carried them proudly, like an expensive haute couture accessory she could covet only in her dreams.

A rebel born out of circumstance, I would travel the world, looking for free plastic bags with obscure names from obscure places- a name of a store selling soap and perfume in Limassol, or The Argosy in Manhattan, an antiquarian book store. I would return home conjecturing if anyone would know where that bag came from. Instead, tatty the bag had become from constant wear. Today, I’m sporting a forest green bag with gold lettering from Hatchards of Piccadilly, booksellers since 1797, bearing the royal crests of the Queen, Prince Philip and the prince of Wales.

As my response to the utter dictatorship my mother practised, I would fight everything my mum asked me to do or any opinion she had. Looking back, it’s remarkable how many of her traits I carried with me as I grew older.

She was a news junkie. So am I.

She was highly motivated, sometimes beyond obsession, to succeed in the social and wealth motivated hierarchy of her time.

I am as obsessed in accomplishing my goals, such as my writing.

Growing up under my mum’s regime, two alternatives became clear. Either I rebel or capitulate, becoming a subservient puppet to her every whim. I became a rebel, failing high school and missing university. It took me over 300 lessons before I passed my driver’s test. Even the currency changed in the time it took me to obtain a licence. Mum would buy me the most expensive clothes, well above what was appropriate for my age. From family photos taken from when I was five, I was never without a tie around my neck and wearing bespoke suits. Today, you will only see me in jogging pants or shorts.

But what floors me is how closely I followed her in choosing the right haute couture plastic bag to sport on my arm. I assure you it was subconscious, only coming to the surface as I write.

A year ago, my lifetime independent mother was struck down with dementia. Applying to her lawyers -Beaumont, Church and Proctor – for a copy of her will, they sent me a note of instructions from my mother.

“You will find the original copy of my will in a green Harrod’s bag on a hook behind my bathroom, beneath my dressing gown.”

To the end, Harrods delivered on her wishes.

Having lived in Canada, far longer than in England, I still retain my favourite snacks and drinks from the old country like Lucozade , a golden, fizzy energy drink and Topic, a nutty bar of chocolate and nougat.

One summer day while touring Nicosia in Cyprus, I heard nothing from my teenage boys but,

“Pops, you’re so old fashioned. Move with the times.”

On arriving back home to Pyla , a seaside village, they promptly got off the bus and ran into the Romantic Grocery Store.

By the time I had realized what they had done and chased after them, they had already bought their goodies while I was still catching my breath.

And what had they bought ?

Mini bottles of Lucozade and bars of Topic.

Have you any traits that are those of your parents? Do your children follow any of yours?