I made the mistake of clearing out my handbag. It really needed to happen: it was full of crumbs and hankies and unidentifiable bits of rubbish; some coins had got through a hole in the lining and were rattling around inside it; and some child had at some point put some chunky glass beads in there which meant that, while rummaging for keys, my fingers landed on a bead and I thought “oh, yum, feels just like a peanut M & M has somehow got left in my handbag, I’ll eat that”, and I’d only narrowly avoided trying to swallow a small chunk of glass. I’m not sure whether to be more embarrassed by my willingness to eat a sweet of dubious provenance (it’s not uncommon for my handbag to contain actual peanut M & Ms, so I did at least assume they were mine and were recent), or by the fact that this happened a total of three times before I finally decided that I wasn’t really safe to carry glass beads around and I ought to tip my bag out and sort through all the stuff.
So, with my newly un-crumby handbag emptied of junk, I set out for the day, but discovered that I’d removed a lot of really useful things from it. Yes, there was a blue crayon and some old receipts: perfect for a toddler who wants to do some drawing while bored in a queue. Yes, a small bottle of bubble liquid that might have leaked all over my stuff; it was also great that time we had to wait ages for food in a cafe so we took it in turns to blow bubbles and pop them on the table (I decided that nobody could really mind a bit of soapy water landing on a cafe table; and if they did mind then they could hurry up and bring us some food so we didn’t have to resort to bubbles). And all those hankies? Well, I failed to replace them with any fresh ones, with predictably disastrous consequences.
All of which got me thinking about the things I’ve learnt never to go out without. Obviously nappies and snacks and a bottle of water (not only to drink but for emergency wash-downs), and a handy bag or two, the kind that fold into a little pouch to keep in your handbag. I also collect small plastic bags: any time I get a magazine in the post or a weekend newspaper, I save the A4 plastic bags they often come in and stash them in a coat pocket or a bag or the car, because you never know when you’ll need to bag up something unpleasant to carry it home. Spare hairbands, cloth hankies, nappy pins (useful for so much more than nappies), a penknife with tweezers on it. A couple of unexpected small toys are handy to be able to produce in an emergency – finger puppets are particularly brilliant. In the car, I always have a couple of nappies, a packet of babywipes (I rarely use them in normal life, only in the car and on holiday), a collapsible potty, and a number of cot blankets which have substituted for coats, picnic blankets, even an improvised skirt for a child who has weed in all their own clothes.
And then sometimes I get to where I’m going and discover I forgot to put shoes on my toddler before carrying him to the playground, or that my daughter’s at school with no lunch, or I’m in the supermarket without my wallet. On those occasions, at least I have some finger puppets to cheer me up, or at least some clean hankies to sob into.