Today I wore my leather biker’s coat bought from the charity shop. It cost a tenner and reveals the state of my weight – if I’m doing okay the zipper goes up and I can breathe, if I’m ‘overladen’ the zipper sticks and it looks like I’ve been poured into a wet-look latex bondage suit.
The word coat stems from Old French and then Latin ‘Cottus’, which originates from the Proto-Indo-European word for woollen clothes. But according to my sources ‘An early use of coat in English is coat of mail ‘Chainmail’, a tunic-like garment of metal rings, usually knee-or-mid-calf-length.’ My mother knitted me a coat, not of metal rings but cream coloured 4ply Shetland yarn. It had a shell pattern and an unreliable collar. I’ve a photograph of me on the top of the Church Tower in St. Albans looking ever so slightly Bohemian. But I’ve mislaid my mother’s precious knitted coat. It’ll be wrapped up somewhere in the bottom of the airing cupboard with a pair of feather angel wings and my great, great Grandmother’s Victorian beaded cape.
Given that I’m a gal who travels light I find coats cumbersome and unwieldy, as long as there’s a couple of pockets for my bus pass, credit card and lipstick I prefer my puffer jacket which the dawter’s ex knocked off 6 years ago. I have a girl friend who buys a new winter coat every year. I’m not sure what her Covid wardrobe looks like but before last winter a trip to the shops to buy a new ensemble happened in the January sales, this year she’s probably wearing 2019’s cast offs.
My Great Aunty Becky would travel from the East End to our house, taking the train to Elstree and Boreham Wood then catch the 358 bus from Shenley Road which stopped outside our house by the big oak tree which was later sawn down so that passengers could alight more safely. My mother and I held each other, and wept, as the majestic beast fell to the ground. So what’s new?
We would greet my aunt who was laden with a string bag filled with gifts; sugared almonds from Marks and Spencers and Danish pastries from Grodzinski’s Bakery in Whitechapel. She had the elegance of an Eastern European mannequin, coiffed and powdered. She would step down from the bus, her Stilettos as shiny as the day she bought them, her silk head scarf in tact and her beaver lamb fur coat open to reveal the brown satin lining. That coat lives in my attic. It’s heavy and has the smell of Yardley’s vintage perfume on the collar. It hangs alongside a faux fur given to me by a Spaniard who took pity on my penury in the 90’s and a long phoney, white fur hooded number that made me look like Jay-LO when we filmed in the snow in Times Square, back in the day.
I have a framed picture of me standing on the side of a road in the middle of a Swedish forest. I’d just fallen in love with the old git and the van we were touring in had just broken down. I’m wearing a brown furry coat over blue jeans and grinning cos I’d just fallen love with the old git remember, and I’m giving a mittened thumbs up to the camera, the Swedish Conifers my backdrop. My Great Aunt would have tutted at my choice of wardrobe, pairing a red plaid scarf with such a coat; faux fur from second hand shops, however, was all the rage in the early Seventies.
But, back now to ‘Harrods’, ten years earlier. 1960. Knightsbridge. My father, swaggering past the entitled shop girls, his back pocket bulging with pound notes, leading his wife and child through Persian carpeted departments. His mission to buy me a school uniform for my new swanky girls school.
The inventory included:
Indoor and outdoor shoes.
Brown knickers with a pocket.
A black regulation swimming costume.
A blue and white checked summer dress.
A brown blazer.
A brown gym slip, and a blue blouse.
A brown Mackintosh suitable for a Parisian prostitute.
Thick regulation tights.
A brown beret.
And an ‘A’ line brown tweed coat, all thick and tweedy.
My father peeled off the money, one sheet at time, by the time he had reached the last note it was clear there weren’t enough funds for the ‘A’ line tweedy number. We left the store carrying the famous green bags filled with my future.
Of course I was a rebel, I didn’t mean to be, but I was, and am still ridiculously anti establishment. Independent girls’ schools had a code.
Beret’s were to be worn at all times, even at the bus stop.
I took mine off.
Ban-the-Bomb badges were to be removed from lapels.
I kept mine on.
No eating outside the school.
I binged on Mars Bars.
In June the whole school of 169 girls, lined up in the gravelled court yard then boarded the hired coach. I mounted the steps only to be barred by the headmistress who told me I would not be joining the rest of the girls since I did not have the required daywear. As punishment I would be left alone. The coach careened off. What was a young loner to do. I walked round the grounds, stepped into a mound of dog shit then promptly walked into the school-house leaving canine fecal matter all over the beeswaxed floor. I was, of course, expelled. That tweedy ‘A’ line coat had cost me the centre court. Years later I was filming at ‘SW19’ and stuck two fingers up at the entire public school system.
I have coats of many colours hanging in the attic: a navy blue leather coat from the 60’s that hung on my father’s stall in Walthamstow market; her sister coat, a lurid green suede affair on the same hanger; a purple corduroy, pink-silk lined creation from Edinburgh which I had nagged the ‘oosbind to buy me for my birthday – sadly, I look like a Tory Councillor from Fife; a thin leather coat with real horn buttons that my father tea-leaved for my mother back in 1946 and a yellow leather Yves St Laurent coat purchased from the ‘Red Cross’ Charity shop on the Kings Road. It cost more than the ground rent for half of Chelsea.
Given my fractured childhood nobody could ever have anticipated my rise to ‘Z’ list celebrity. But after years of blood curdling ladder climbing I arrived at the Beeb. My last film for them was travelling to Iceland to meet a mystic who was single handedly keeping Elvin Homes in tact by rerouting roads so that the elves could live happily ever after.
I was offered a thick Arctic anorak so I could perform in minus 2 degrees. I chose a blue and yellow one which I wore with a black fur hat and pink snow gloves. We travelled around Iceland avoiding the Elvin hillocks and was gifted the keys to Hafnarfjordur, a fishing village. Photos of my celebrity were taken and hung on the walls leading down to Hafnarfjordur’s fish restaurant. Years later, and I do mean years, my ‘son-in-law’ was taking a sabbatical from our eldest daughter. He went to live in Iceland and was taken to dinner in a little fishing village. On his way down to take his table his attention was drawn to the photographs gracing the walls.
‘That’s my fucking’ mother-in-law’ he said forlornly as he retched over his Hakar, the stinky fermented shark so loved by the Icelanders.
That anorak is now on the hat stand in the cellar. I’m persona non grata at the moment – well who wants a 72 year old reporting on Covid, commentating on Boorish, or dispatching information on the decline of the fishing industry thanks to Brexit bungling? Apart from a quick nip to the supermarket once a week I don’t need a coat anymore. A fleece and a Gilet or a Kagul or a Pacamac will suffice. The Corona virus has not only meddled with my mental health its’ prescribed my outdoor wardrobe.
But I leave you with the wonderful words of Sharon Owens.
Dangerous Coats.
Someone clever once said
Women were not allowed pockets
In case they carried leaflets
To spread sedition
Which means unrest
To you & me
A grandiose word
For commonsense
So ladies, start sewing
Dangerous coats
Made of pockets & sedition