Well I did it - I swapped my 13-year-old son for a Mulberry
It was not for the first time in our 28-year-friendship that Louise
saw me off at a bus stop with a massive suitcase.
I was going to meet another friend, Tony, at Finsbury Park for a
laughing when he saw me lugging the great suitcase behind me, red
in the face, sweating and panting.
“And what’s the luggage allowance again?” he asked.
I was beginning to wish I hadn’t worn the cashmere sweater and
Ugg boots but I quite literally couldn’t fit them in the suitcase. Tony
took the suitcase from me and dragged it to the World’s End pub
we sat down and started sniffing excitedly at it.
“I hope he doesn’t work at the airport.” Tony laughed.
Blinking into the sunlight three large white wines later, I didn’t care
about the extra kilos, I developed a nonchalant attitude. If caught
with the meat and dairy, I would just tell customs I was on the
By the time the tube stopped at Terminal 4, I was dry-mouthed,
head-achy and desperate for the loo. But the suitcase was weighing
me down mentally and physically. I thought I’d just get rid of it first
then go to the Ladies, get some water, buy the handbag and have a
celebratory glass of Pinot Grigio at ‘The Bridge.’
“The luggage allowance is 28 kilos madam. You are 10 kilos
overweight. I will have to charge you 24 Pounds per kilo, I am
afraid. That’s a total of 240 Pounds. What have you got in there?”
A yoghurt maker plus yoghurt sachets, six fillet steaks, three large
packets of cheese, 20 CDs, four HBO box sets, all the Sunday
newspapers and supplements, a large cushion, a packet of 3 amp
fuses (impossible to find in Mumbai) trainers and gym kit (unworn
the whole trip) and any number of packets of bacon, ham and
I didn’t say any of that. I was thinking on my feet.
“Books. I am taking them to India on behalf of a charity” I blurt.
“Actually it’s called Mumbai Connexions. It’s an excellent
organization which raises money for several charities, partly by
selling second hand books.”
He looks at me for a moment. Does he know I am drunk? Can he
smell the bacon?
“Ok, what you can do is remove 10 kilos of books from your
suitcase and carry them as hand luggage, please repack and then
come back to this desk.”
So, half an hour later I am plonked in front of the Mulberry shop
having gone through customs weighed down by the extra 10 kilos of
hand luggage, plus the cushion. I vow to give Mumbai Connexions
a load of books next time I have a clear out.
Instead of going into the shop, I sit and think about Hugh. I call the
housemaster and leave a message on the answer phone. I haven’t
heard anything since dropping him off two days ago.
As we drove to the school in my mother-in-law’s car on that
Monday afternoon, I reached round the back of the passenger seat
and took his hand. He squeezed my fingers for a minute and then let
go of them one by one. My eyes prickled, for the first time since we
first came up with the boarding school plan. It was only now hitting
home that this was ‘it.’ I blinked away my tears silently and turned
round to look at him.
“I can’t believe it’s actually happening” he said.
An hour later I was dropped off at the station and headed off to
London when I realized I had left my camera in his room. I
couldn’t even look at the last snaps I had taken of him all smart in
his black suit and tie.
And so it was I bought the bag. I went for the ‘Bayswater’ as the
assistant thought the ‘Alexa’ might be a bit “young” for me. Ta
very much, b-yatch. Sitting on the plane before takeoff, I tried the
housemaster again and miraculously got though. He called Hugh to
“Hey love, how’s it going? I’ve been thinking of you.”
“It’s great, brilliant, I love it but can you get off the phone because
we’re watching a rugby match on the telly and my hot chocolate
will be getting cold.”
And then I flew back to Mumbai alone.
A week later and I’ve still heard nothing. No emails, no texts,
nothing. It’s funny but walking through Shopper’s Stop in Malad
today I was confronted by a ten foot image of my son looking down
at me from a giant advertising poster. Some months ago he did an
ad campaign for Ruff Clothing’s A/W collection. He is not the
modeling type but wanted the money for an X-box game. I looked
up and felt my heart swell with pride and sadness. Tears were
rolling down my cheeks as a security guard approached me. Where
would I begin to tell him why I was standing in the middle of the
shop staring at a kid’s clothing poster crying my heart out? Do I tell
him that 13 years ago, I had a baby who grew up to be a lovely boy
who now lives 4000 miles away from me yet is standing here, ten
foot tall in a department store in Mumbai? That would be too much
“Hey” I smile “that’s my boy!” and then I walk away.