Over the Overcoat

Having recently heard a story about the loss of a favourite coat, prompted a memory of a raincoat.

People have coats if lucky. Coats for winter weather, wet weather, sunny weather. Coats are significant. Coats bestow status sometimes. Coats keep us warm and dry. Coats shade us from the wind and the sun’s rays.

The raincoat was a nice coat too. It was a black gaberdine. Previously it had belonged to an elder sibling. That sibling having grown out of the coat, the coat was passed on for the next sibling to grow into. It was a ploy of our parents – double breasted coats with buttonholes and buttons on each face. Not reversible but gender neutral.

So saving money. Cloth was precious.

Coats in the 1950s and 1960s were important anyway. Climbing up the rickety iron staircase to the first floor of the Irk Mill, we bought new raincoats. Of course, everybody had a plastic “mac” but plastic macs flapped in the wind. Plastic macs were difficult to put on – you would be eccentric to wear a plastic mac if it was not already raining. In the rain the buttons were too large for the buttonholes and the buttonholes ripped. We lost our macs. Probably deliberately. Plastic macs were handy items de rigueur of the old-style seaside holiday.

These Irk Mill coats were different. Blue; smelling of the dyer’s art – sweet smelling of size; single breasted. Queuing there with all the other people and becoming the living embodiment of that poem by R. S. Thomas.

Nothwithstanding the sulphurous pong from the Tonge Dyeing Company’s factory nearby, the “weaver to wearer” experience soon became reality.

But that coat got small.

It was at least personal property from start to finish. Property that had a very special feeling. It was rained on. It got sweets matted in the pocket. Its cuffs became bloody (from a nosebleed). The pockets contained bus tickets (both Ultimate and Setright). Nobody else had such a coat.

Then the pocket went through. That was that. Then the lining ripped. Then it was too small. There was nothing else for it.

Inherit or do without.

So the new secondhand gaberdine coat with the tartan lining was on for the first time. Walking back to school it still feels like somebody else’s coat. Thus too, the sounds that the coat make are different. It does not “wheek” like the sleeves of the blue raincoat did.

But there is something special. For running back to school after lunch, money is heard jangling in the pockets!

Stop. And the money is silent.

Go.

Run. The money is heard.

Again.

But where is the money?

Even more so, this money is the sound of two threepenny bits. That means something good from the shop on the way home.

There is a hole in the left pocket. The money has dropped through the hole. But the lining is vast and the whole coat is lined. The threepenny bits can be anywhere.

Coat off. Search. Push the hole in the pocket which suddenly rips and becomes hand-sized. Hand through; down, feel; round; feel. No good. A coat cannot be taken off in the street and given the equivalent of a bodysearch by an eight year old.

That is not done.

The days go on that week. And the next. The going to school. The awareness of the money. The silence. The impossibility of finding it. And no, this is not a “sharing” thing. The coat has changed ownership and finders keepers and all that by the way.

Defeated by the sound and the lining, the coat gets worn and after a fortnight, the money therein is forgotten. Scissors would have easily given the perpertrator of the vandalistic act, away.

But now it is warmer and so coats are hung up to wait for their next outing.

A sudden shower of rain one lunchtime prompts the need once more for the gaberdine. But immediately, there is the money again. This time, it is for capture. It will not escape!

But oh;

oh,

Oh!

The two threepenny bits show themselves immediately and unbelievably. They do not fall out of the lining and down a grid either. No. That is not possible anyway because they are sewn to the coat. And they are the spare buttons rattling together.

And laughter comes. In the street. There is nobody there to see but laughter comes.

And from then until the coat is too small, the buttons rattle. And the rattling buttons now give a sixpenny escape every day. Not two real threepenny bits to spend but two imaginary threepenny bits that would never be spent.

Everlasting threepenny bits that pay for make-believe bus rides, or purchase fantastic chocolate, or just reassure that the imagination is stronger – even more so when shared.

A sustaining potential made imaginary manifest.

What could possibly be more satisfactory?

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