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A change of ownership


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[Another ‘archived’ observation from several years ago]

‘Are you sure?’ the woman sitting opposite me on the train asked uncertainly, ‘that’s really very kind.’ I assured her: I was sure.

Two months earlier …

On my second successive visit that week to a particular charity shop, the box of unused vintage white men’s handkerchiefs - I’d been on the verge of buying them during my first visit - was still there. Handkerchief aficionados may recognise the brand and style from the 1960s: Tootal ‘Pyramid’, in this case an embroidered blue ‘H’ and a border of three narrow blue and white stripes formed the entirety of their decoration. Originally, the box had contained six handkerchiefs: now there were five, unused in over half a century and sadly yellowed by age. They needed a new life, so I then decided to give them one!

After some protracted laundering [that Rachel in ‘Embroidered handkerchief distraction - the fiction’ would have been proud of], the five handkerchiefs were restored to their original sparklingly brilliant white. Yes, they were relatively plain, but had potential to be dependable everyday ones, more than capable of coping with whatever life threw at them

Two months on …

The tell-tale signs were clearly there that the woman on the train was struggling with her nose: her bag had been frantically and futilely rummaged through, her wet sniffs were becoming more frequent, and she’d resorted, several times, to pinching her nose with the thumb and forefinger of one hand in order to stem the creeping snot. I delved into my bag, dug out one of the now crisply laundered ‘Pyramid’ handkerchiefs and offered it across to my fellow passenger. My attempt to sympathetically acknowledge that she seemed to be struggling, an assurance that the handkerchief was completely clean, and the offer that she was more than welcome to keep it, quickly made up her mind. She took the handkerchief: it became hers

‘I don’t usually come out without anything; I don’t know what’s happened today,’ she shared, square of still fully folded handkerchief now clutched in her hand

Immediately, without taking steps to open it, she put her vintage handkerchief to use. Replicating her earlier nose pinching motion, but this time with her presumably still snotty thumb and forefinger covered by clean cotton, she tentatively pushed the handkerchief against her wet nostrils, appearing not wishing it to become too dirty too quickly. The part of the handkerchief she used initially contained the ‘H’ monogramme; this motion caused a portion of the handkerchief to unfold, haphazardly expanding it from one sixteenth to something approaching a quarter full-sized. For the moment, very carefully used, the handkerchief then took up residence in the woman’s lap, alongside a book she’d been intermittently reading

Her sniffing had been temporarily assuaged but, a few minutes later, the handkerchief was again called into action. Once more, with no particular attempt to unfurl it taking place, the mere agitation of the handkerchief being deployed causing a little more incidental tumbling out of its sharp, lightly starched, folds. This time, and again in the vicinity of the ‘H’, the woman matter-of-factly blew her nose into her handkerchief; although a relatively gentle blow, it resulted in a clearly audible messy gurgle. Again, the handkerchief was returned to her lap; its fabric now reaching a disorganised state: partly still tidily laundered and pristine; simultaneously slightly crumpled and dishevelled. 

Before her train journey ended, one final episode ensued. Now seemingly more familiar with using it, and roughly thrusting one side of the handkerchief firmly up against her nose, the woman then forcefully palmed the full eighteen inches of lovely fabric upwards across her nostrils, presumably to mop up any snot on the brink of escape. In an off-hand manner, the handkerchief was then stuffed into an outside pocket of the woman’s bag; without a further word, she alighted. What happened after that I’ll never know. Did she continue to use her new handkerchief then, appreciative of its value, wash it and subsequently use it day after day? The woman's progressively brusque and casual use of it on the train suggested not: perhaps a likelier end to its decades-long lifetime was that the handkerchief made it no further than the first bin she encountered 


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  • 3 weeks later...

That was a very kind gesture! A handkerchief with such heritage surely deserves to be used with more skill, though - that long upward rub (no offence to anyone who does that, it's adorable!) sounded a little childish.

Was her nose-blowing technique pretty careless as well?

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16 hours ago, Rick said:

That was a very kind gesture! A handkerchief with such heritage surely deserves to be used with more skill, though - that long upward rub (no offence to anyone who does that, it's adorable!) sounded a little childish.

Was her nose-blowing technique pretty careless as well?

To be fair to the woman, I suspect she was using the handkerchief in 'crisis management mode' in ways that she was reasonably comfortable with. Clearly, her nose was full throughout the observation and although the handkerchief gave her the means to empty it, it's possible that for her to have done so effectively would have drawn more attention from other passengers than she would have wished. Who knows, away from the crowds, she may have taken the first available opportunity to indulge in a hugely messy blow. The single observed nose-blow was restrained and did move small amount of snot; I found it interesting though, that it was directed close to, or actually onto, the embroidered monogramme (think I need to start a new posting on that theme!) I appreciate seeing any use of heritage handkerchiefs: far better than them languishing hidden away in the backs of drawers for decades, until they finally get thrown away

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