Great Aunty Poppy's Panic Bag

      21/2/2024       Next-->

Rummaging through my handbag last night in vain pursuit of my lipstick, I was the subject of a lot of derisive remarks from the male fraternity ably lead by HEEHOO.

Men hate women's handbags with a passion (except when they are used to keep that same man's car keys, spectacles, wallet etc !!) and my elegant faux leather reticule was being derisively called "The Black Hole of Calcutta"

Great Aunty Poppy was a legend in Rhodesia as it was then. She was called Poppy because she was one of twins and was nearly born in a potty in
the back of an ox wagon near Penhalonga.....

Great Aunty Poppy was well known for many reasons, one being that she and Uncle George lived in the very first "Paper House" on the Gaika Mine
near Que Que. (Forgive me for using the old names, but we are going back quite a few years here !!)

But that's another story and I will keep it for another time.
However one of Aunty Poppy's claims to fame was her amazing "Panic Bag' - a portmanteau of gargantuan proportions, which used to accompany her
everywhere, even to tea with the Queen. !!

In those days one needed a panic bag. Those were the days of the low level bridges in Rhodesia when one could be stuck on the side of a road for days, waiting for the rivers to subside. (We had good rains in those days!)

Those were the days when one's fridge comprised an open cupboard covered in small gauge wire gauze, with water dripping past it !!

As kids we delighted in rummaging trough Aunty Poppy's panic bag, although this treat was closely linked to good behaviour.

I will always remember her beautiful hat pin, the end featuring a magnificent Madagascan pearl, this hat pin was seen in use many times, most often firmly pinned in her hat, worn at all times. It was a somewhat grim
little grey hat with a small brim, to keep her milky white
complexion from being afflicted by the sun, but we did have occasion once to see
it firmly inserted into the bottom of a callous fellow who tried to
steal her precious pocket book.!!

Of course every Grand Dame had an elegant beautifully decorated bottle of smelling salts, and if we were very good, Gavin and I were sometimes allowed a tiny whiff of this heady draught.

In that ridiculous reticule Great Aunty Poppy was known to carry a book of matches, a primus stove, and a 'pitch cresset' which is an olden day version of a torch !!

Of course there were dozens of oils, balms, elixirs and
embrocations used to treat anything from a centipede sting to a woozy throat. There were endless vials and phials that we were not allowed to touch under threat of death, quinine tonic for malaria, tea-tree oil for cuts and abrasions.

If we were very very good we were sometimes allowed a tiny sip of Uncle George's special Mint Julep which was carried always, just in case Uncle George was found suffering from any illness, ailment or
malady .....

Crochet hooks with fine bone handles, knitting needles with mother of pearl tops, a teeny weeny sewing kit with gossamer silk embroidery threads, an engraved silver hip flask with a cut glass drinking vessel
attached by a fine, intricately designed silver chain.

Of course if we caught Aunty Poppy on a very good day she would allow us to open, slowly and carefully, the chamois leather and filigris sliver case which contained Uncle George's monocle, and sometimes we
were even allowed to handle the tiny embossed gold case which carried Aunty Poppys pince nez ...

The portmanteau itself was a work of art, rather large to say the least but crafted from the finest tapestry with handcrafted Moroccan
leather elbows. The family crest was of course intricately tooled onto a leather tag with a silver padlock designed specially to thwart my brother and I !!

And so, to all you men who hate your wife's purses, handbags, clutch bags, valises, call them what you will, just be glad that you were not born 100 years ago, when women were forced to carry their
entire lives around with them.

And of course right at the bottom of that Gladstone Bag, was "the shawl" always hauled out when a little persons eyes became sleepy, and the thumb began to creep into the mouth.

It must have been woven by a fairy it was so soft and so warm, smelling slightly of mothballs mixed with eau de cologne, the smell of which, to this day, evokes wonderful childhood memories of an
amazing Lady.


Last week I wrote about Snake Handler Ahmed Esat and his contribution to the safety of both humans and reptiles in Matabeleland.

The article was resoundingly received and if you would care to assist Ahmed in his snake handling endeavours, in any way, please contact me in the first instance on


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