Tuesday, 5 January 2016

The killer coat

I have done some stupid things in my time. I sold a north London flat that would now be worth over £1 million and stayed out of the property market so long that I can now barely afford to buy a studio flat.( I had moved in with a boyfriend, of course, and hadn’t thought to keep my flat and rent it out, or invest in another property. *bangs head*)

Yes, I am the sort of person who ambles through life with head in clouds. A lifelong non-driver, I sit in the passenger seat in my own little bubble, so that when my partner says, “An unmarked navy blue police BMW. Impressive!”, I reply, “What BMW?” and he says, “The one that just whizzed past with blue lights flashing, you can’t have missed it,” and I answer, “Err… I was looking at tree over there.”

People despair of me, they really do. They despair of the blank look I give them in reply to a question, caused by the fact that right at that moment, an idea for a song had popped into my head, complete with the first two lines of the melody and I was frantically trying to stamp it on my memory for later. They despair of the way I always seem to misjudge what clothes to wear for any outing, so that when everyone else is sensibly dressed, I am wearing a patchwork hippy velvet coat and purple boots, and when they have a sparkly party frock on, I appear in jeans and a jumper with a furry raccoon on the front.

None of my financial or clothing misjudgements had actually been life-threatening… Well, not until December 15th, 2015, that is, when I made the biggest sartorial mistake of my life.

At least eight years ago, I bought a plain, rather boring, thigh-length black coat from a charity shop. It cost about a fiver. It had a furry collar, no hood, deep, hand-thrusting pockets and the back was elasticated at the waist, which was just as well, as it had baggy armpits and would have swamped me otherwise. It also had a half belt, attached at either side, which was a bit of a painus in the anus, as I never knew whether to knot it at the front, which was a nuisance every time I wanted to unzip the jacket, or tie it at the back, a la French trenchcoat, whereupon it always came undone, being a slippery fabric.

Unbecoming through it was, it turned out to be the most useful coat I have ever worn. It was only very slightly padded, but it turned out to be windproof, rainproof and season-proof. I wore it from January to December. It was the coat I always reached for on the coat rack whenever I was dashing out and the weather looked a bit dodgy. It was reliable, my stand-by. But… it was never flattering. In fact, I thought I looked a bit bag-lady-ish in it. And so, when I found a smart-looking, figure-hugging, black padded coat – Maine, from Debenhams – with detachable hood in another charity shop, price £7.95, I bought it.

I took my old favourite off the coat hook and laid it on the bed in the spare room. It was a hell of a wrench to part with it. I would go to put it in the charity bag, then take it out again, feeling a strong tug of attachment to it. In the end, telling myself sternly, ‘It’s only a coat,’ I thrust it into the bag, but not before wishing it well and hoping it would find a new owner who would get as much wear out of it as I had.

On December 15th, I had a concert and dinner date in Soho. I was staying the night with my friend in Camden Town and doing the annual present swap, so I left my overnight bag and headed for the bus stop to meet my other friend. Now, my Camden friend lives a good 12-15 minute walk from the nearest transport and I was halfway there when the heavens opened. It didn’t merely rain, it battered down, it emptied the North Sea on my head, it monsooned. And the rain went straight through my new coat and soaked me to the skin. I was also wearing silver and black Skechers trainers that weren’t remotely waterproof so my feet were soaked, too. I squelched onto the bus, slopped out at Tottenham Court Rd, couldn’t find Dean Street as it was all boarded off due to Crossrail works, plodded, shivering, all the way to Oxford Circus and back, and eventually texted my friend who was already waiting at the music venue and told me how to get there.

Three damp hours later, it was time to head home. I decided to get a cab but, on a rainy night in London, there wasn’t one to be seen, so I got a bus and walked a wet mile back to my friend’s. She made up the sofa bed and gave me a sleeping bag and went to bed herself. I got in and soon realised that, in my chilled state, I needed more covering than a thin cotton sleeping bag. But I didn’t want to wake her and ask for a blanket, so, guess what this idiot did? Put my damp coat over the sleeping bag and eventually drifted off.

The next evening, I could feel a cold coming on. By the 17th, I had laryngitis, a sinus infection, a chest infection and felt so sick I gave up eating. By the 21st, I was on a drip in hospital with a temperature of 39.9C (104F), dehydration and suspected pneumonia.

I’m much better now, thank you for asking. But I have kicked myself black and clue for parting with my old coat and have already given the new one, the one that did nothing to protect me from the elements, back to the charity shop. In fact, as soon as I was well enough, I was in there, hoping to buy back my old coat, but it had gone.

If you see a size 14 vintage M&S coat, made of a shiny black fabric with a half belt, a grey furry collar and a silver lining, grab it for me, please. I would give anything to have it back. If I had worn it that night, I know I would never have caught the chill that led to me catching the vile viruses that nearly carried me off.

I also know now that not every coat has a silver lining!