I am often drawn to the eccentric and interesting. Nothing gives me more pleasure than people-watching: I imagine the lives and loves of those in front of me with the barest of clues. There is a local woman who has given me years of fascination and I’ve often thought about her story. Who is she? What is the story of her life? She travails the streets of my neighbourhood encumbered by no less than 10 suitcases at any given moment in time. The suitcases are always carefully housed in supermarket trolleys and she protectively guards them, her most treasured possessions, as she toils through the hours and days that make up her daily life. Always well-groomed with neatly combed hair and perfectly polished shoes, I often wonder where she goes at night. Does she have a home? Is she loved? Is she happy?
WHAT’S IN THE BLOODY SUITCASES?
One day she sat at the bus stop surrounded by her life’s luggage, devouring an innocuous piece of snow-white bread with butter the colour of sunflowers. Her utensil: a fork. It was glorious, resplendent with the most George Costanza and that Snickers Bar overtones. Chuckling away to herself with not a care in the world, she consumed her meal with great gusto. Other days I have seen her wildly irrational, shouting incomprehensibly. She is particularly protective of her suitcases and on those days I smile and nod, but carry on so as not to be hit by her random verbal spray. Bless you, Lady of Luggage, whoever you are.
It seems that the eccentric and interesting are not confined by nationality, generations… or suitcases! The Lady in the Van is the exquisite true story of the feisty Miss Shepherd who for 15 years housed herself and her van on the front yard of author Alan Bennett’s home. She is every bit as deliciously interesting as my Lady of Luggage and Bennett writes with great fondness (if at times exasperation) of his unintended tenant.
This book has been recently turned into a film with Maggie Smith, who I think would do the irreverent Miss Shepard much justice. But do yourself a favour and pick up this little yarn. Its brevity conceals a magnificent charm that is a reader’s absolute delight.