The Story of a Coat

Once upon a time, I bought a coat. Now, clearly, I have purchased lots of coats in my time, but this was a very special coat. I can remember the year, it was 1996, and I can remember that it was from a shop in Norwich – although I can’t remember now which one. I do know that I had gone for a day out with an old friend. We travelled there on the bus – obviously, so we could have wine with lunch – and we rambled around the shops. I needed a winter coat, my old one had fallen apart, and I was looking for something to replace it.

We spent a very pleasant morning window shopping and picking up a few bits and pieces for Christmas, so I’m guessing it must have been this time of year. Our stomachs were beginning to tell us that we needed to feed them, and we were wandering towards our favourite restaurant on St. Benedict’s Street – when I saw the coat.

It was hanging in the window of a small boutique shop. It was long, charcoal grey, with three buttons down the front. It had a dark grey silk lining, and a fur collar. I hesitated outside the shop and my friend looked too, her eyes lighting up when she saw the coat.

HER: Ooh! It’s perfect!

ME:  I’m not sure.

HER: Why not? It’s everything you said you were looking for.

ME:  I’m not sure about the collar? I mean… fake fur?

HER: I bet it’s detachable. Let’s go in and take a look.

ME:  No, we’re on our way to lunch.

HER: It’ll only take a minute.

ME:  You said you were starving?

HER: I can wait. Let’s go in.

ME:  There’s no price. I probably can’t afford it.

HER: Let’s go in and see.

ME:  Umm.

By now I’d run out of excuses, so I followed her in. She was right, the collar was detachable, and there were lovely, classic shaped lapels underneath. There were three tiny buttons on each of the cuffs, and a long split up the back. It was beautifully shaped and cut, and it was gorgeous. BUT. It was £150. Back in 1996 this was a sizeable chunk of dosh to part with for a coat, no matter how lovely. A muttered conversation then ensued, as we were alone in the silent shop and being watched by a snooty looking assistant sitting at the till.

HER: Try it on.

ME:  It’s £150! I can’t afford that!

HER: Try it on. It might look horrible and then the price will be a moot point.

ME:  But…

HER: Try it on!! (hissed so loudly, the assistant raised her eyebrows at us)

ME:  Okay, okay…

I tried it on. It fitted to perfection. It was gorgeous. I loved it. My friend went all gooey – the way women do when another woman tries on something that is so, so, perfect on her it leaves them speechless.

HER: You HAVE to buy that coat.

ME:  I can’t afford it.

HER: Sure, you can afford it. You just can’t afford it. (This makes sense only if you’re a woman)

ME:  No, I mean, I really can’t afford it. I don’t have enough money in my account to pay for it.

HER: When do you get paid?

ME:  Next Tuesday (three days away)

HER: No problem, I’ll lend you the money until then.

ME:  I can’t do that.

HER: Yes, you can.

ME:  No, I can’t.

HER: Sure, you can, and you’re going to. This coat was meant for you. It was waiting for you.

She then turned to the assistant.

HER: We’ll take the coat, and my friend will wear it now. Please can we have a bag to put her old jacket in.

I left the shop wearing the coat and feeling like a million dollars. Suddenly, the cold wintry day I’d been shivering in meant nothing to me. I drew my shoulders back and walked tall, the coat swirling about my ankles – yes, it was that long – and we went to lunch. Our coats were hung on a coat rack inside the restaurant, and all through lunch my eyes kept wandering back to it. Afterwards, when we went to pay and put our coats back on, the jolly waitress who had served us, eyed up the coat with avaricious eyes.

“That is a gorgeous coat,” she said, and my friend beamed with satisfaction and gave me a – I am always right, please don’t doubt me again – look.

That coat lasted and lasted. I wore it, year in, year out, until about 2007. Due to a lovely pair of boots I owned which had sharp buckles on them, I had completely shredded the delicate lining. Sadly, I wondered if I should think about replacing the coat. After all, it had done eleven years, not bad for a coat. But … but … I loved that coat and the actual coat itself still looked as good as the day I bought it. It was just the lining that was ruined.

I took it into our local dry cleaners. They looked at it, oohed about the quality, and agreed it was worth trying to save it, if I could. They gave me the name and telephone number of a local seamstress called Helen. Apparently, Helen was “right handy” at repairs and alterations. I telephoned Helen and took the coat around for her inspection the next day.

Helen looked at it.  It’s a beautiful coat, she said, pure wool, and it’s cut and finished to a very high standard. To buy a coat like that nowadays would be upwards of £250 possibly even more. She measured it, to replace the lining would be £90 as it was such a labour-intensive job. I would have to buy what lining I wanted – she would tell me the type of fabric and how much we needed – and if I wanted to update it with some new buttons, she would happily sew them all on free of charge, again if I supplied them.

I went to our local haberdashery and gave them Helen’s note. They very helpfully took me to where the choices of suitable lining materials were piled up in big bolts, like rolls of carpet, and left me to have a browse – telling me to give Maureen a call when I’d chosen and she’d cut off the amount I needed.

It was such a hard decision. All concerned had agreed that this coat had years of life left in it, so the lining had to be in a colour that I’d be happy with in ten, twenty, or even thirty years, time. Should I go for a grey again? Hmm, no, I fancied a changed. Mustard? I liked it – but wasn’t sure. Hot pink? Gorgeous, and certainly eye-catching, but I felt it would date the coat. Scarlet? I lingered for a long time at the red end of the spectrum. I love red, I always have done, so was very tempted by the thought of a devilish red lining inside such a classic and stylishly simple coat.

Then, I saw it. And it was perfect. I was a dark, slightly iridescent green. It was the green of a male Mallard duck’s head. It was classy and timeless. It was the one.

Maureen was summoned. Approving of my choice, she called the other ladies to come and “take a look”. I think it was a quiet day in the shop. Once they all trooped up and voiced their approval, Maureen carefully cut off the required amount and wrapped it in rustling tissue paper sealed with tape.

Then I went to choose the buttons. Again, a big decision. I always think the devil is in the detail, and it’s those little touches such as buttons that can lift an ordinary piece of clothing and make it extraordinary.

Eventually, I found some dull silver twisted buttons that I really liked. The bonus was they came in two sizes, so I could have the small buttons on the cuffs, match the three big buttons down the front. Gleefully, I took my spoils around to Helen’s. She stroked the lining and smiled, so I took that to be a sign of her approval.

It took her about three weeks to do the work, and I can still remember how excited I was when I went to pick the coat up. It was so beautiful. Restored to its former glory, and given a new lease of life, I fell in love with it all over again as I put it on so Helen could check it fell right.

“It’s a lovely coat,” was all she said. And she was right. It IS a lovely coat.

Fast forward another thirteen years and the coat is still going strong. Looking brand new, the lining is intact and the buttons still sturdy. But I’ve changed. With age I’ve thickened a bit around the middle. The coat still fits, but it doesn’t hang, and fall true on my frame, the way it used to, so I don’t wear it that much anymore. Besides, my life has narrowed down to occasions that don’t much call for the wearing of a full-length classic coat, and I tend to wear my green hooded jacket instead.

As the coat neared its 25-year anniversary, it was spending most of its life hanging on a coat hook, which was a shame. A coat like that needs – deserves – to be worn and loved.

Last week, Miss F and I had a chat about clothes. She has been trying to find her “look” for the past year and told me she finally realised what it was.

ME:  What is it then? What look have you settled on?

HER: Dark Academia.

ME:  Umm … okay?

HER: Right, think the 1930’s … chunky ankle boots; thick woollen tights; neat, short, pleated skirts.

ME:  Okay.

HER: Muted neutral colours; knitwear; plaid trousers; checked blazers. Blacks, greys, and tweed.

ME:  Right, got you.

HER: Think old libraries; books; academia; quills; old stately homes. Long coats…

ME:  Long coats?

HER: Yes, long grey, or black coats that swirl around your ankles.

ME: What about my long coat? It’s really too small for me now, do you want to…

HER: No.

ME: I was only suggesting you try it on. Good quality coats are expensive.

HER: I’m so much taller than you, it won’t be long enough.

ME:  I think it will be, it was really a bit too long on me.

HER: No, honestly Mum, thanks for the offer, but it wouldn’t work.

ME:  Okay, it was just a suggestion.

The subject was dropped, and I thought no more of it, until yesterday morning, when, on a whim, Miss F brought the coat through into the lounge where I was sitting.

HER: Look, I’ll show you … you think this coat will fit me, well, look …

She pulled the coat on. It settled onto her shoulders, the length fell to her ankles, and the cut shaped itself snugly around her. She looked at me, looked down at the coat, then back up at me. Her hand smoothed down the lapel and brushed gently over the deep hip pockets.

I saw ownership of the coat pass from me to her.

ME:  That looks … bloody fabulous. I think the coat is now yours.

HER: Really?

ME:  Really. Go and look in the mirror.

She went and looked. She did up the buttons. She undid the buttons. She put her hands in the pockets and swirled in front of the mirror. She peered over her shoulder at herself.

HER: The only thing I’m not sure of is the buttons.

ME:  We can easily put new buttons on – that I can manage to do.

HER: Just plain black plastic ones, will be fine.

ME:  No, you can’t put ordinary buttons on this coat. Let me think about it.

I went onto Etsy – I have recently discovered Etsy and love it with a passion, the few Christmas presents I am buying this year have mostly come from there, and it’s nice to think I’m helping individual sellers.

I searched through buttons, then found a lot of thirty assorted 1920 vintage black glass and fabric buttons. I called down Miss F and showed them to her,

HER: They’re so gorgeous, but it’s £30 – so a £1 per button.

ME:  That’s okay, it’s part of your Christmas present, and they’re vintage and fabulous.

HER: But £30? For buttons?!

ME:  Trust me, it’s worth paying for unique things. It’s the detailing that people will notice.

HER: I don’t need thirty.

ME:  You might need buttons for other things you buy, to make them personal to you.

HER: If you’re sure.

ME:  I am sure. Now you will have a coat that nobody else can buy anywhere, and it will be yours and will reflect your personality. Be different.

So, the buttons were ordered. They are coming next week. Then together we will pick out the ones that are suitable for the coat and I will replace my twisted silver buttons – which were right for me in 2007 – with retro 1920’s ones – which are right for my daughter now, and the coat will pass down to her, and I actually love that.

Precious little gets handed down anymore, certainly not articles of clothing. I love the fact that my coat is getting a new lease of life. It will be going to university. It will have a stimulating and enjoyable life again – rather than festering away on a coat rack. It will keep my daughter warm and dry – being wool, it’s waterproof – and it will be like a little bit of me is going with her. I know, I know, it’s daft, and sentimental, neither of which are things I normally am, but it’s how I feel.

And the moral of the story, if there is one, is that if you buy cheap, you buy twice. Good quality costs, but most of the time it will be the most cost-effective choice in the long run. It’s like the wonderful author, Terry Pratchett, once explained in one of his novels.

A good quality pair of boots cost $50, but his character couldn’t afford that so had to buy the boots that cost $10. The cheaper boots were okay, for one winter, but then would let the water in and would never keep his feet warm. But, because he could never save up enough money to buy the better-quality boots, he just had to keep on buying the cheap ones, year after year. But the thing was, the $50 boots would last forever, so the rich man who could afford to buy them would not have to buy another pair for years, whereas the poor man would spend literally hundreds of dollars buying boots – yet would always have wet feet.

Now there seriously is a moral in that, and I think it’s always try to buy good quality. It’s like I always say to my customers – if you’re going to spend your money on anything, make it a mattress or shoe leather. Because if you’re not in one, you’re in the other – maybe I should now add a coat to that list.

In other news, this week has been one of organised panic as launch day for Black Ice crept closer and the list of last-minute things to do grew longer. Regular readers will know that the last five launches have been anything but smooth, with Amazon losing my listing, putting up the wrong paperback, taking ten days to list the eBook with the paperback, and even last time disabling the entire search engine function on the US Amazon site. Cheers Amazon, I know that one wasn’t aimed specifically at me, but boy, did it feel personal.

But this time – touch wood – everything seems to be going smoothly. For the first time I have put the eBook up for pre-order. I did this as I received so many requests from people keen to ensure that their copy is delivered at midnight on launch day – Monday 30th November. I have a feeling that the paperback is also up for sale already, three days early, but hey, better than ten days late, so thanks Amazon. If you are tempted to pre-order a copy for yourself, or even order a paperback, there is a handy universal link on the books page of this blog, which will take you directly to the listing for Black Ice on your local Amazon site from wherever you are in the world. I know, bit clever that, isn’t it?

Launch day is Monday, so that will be a busy, full-on day, where I basically jump around all my social media platforms promoting, pushing, and thanking people for their support.

It will be mental, and hectic, and exhausting, and wonderful, and that feeling as you watch the book climb the rankings is unbelievable. The highest I ever got was with Chaining Daisy – it reached the top ten in its category and peaked at #5 in hot new releases. But it was in a tiny category, so it stood a better chance.

Black Ice is sitting in the fantasy fairytales and myths category and I have no idea how big a category that is. Still, you never know, fingers crossed for high enough rankings to make Amazon sit up and take notice of it, because then they will start promoting and pushing the book themselves. Every sale makes a difference and can push the book up ten slots or more in the rankings. It is so ridiculous, and it’s all a numbers game, but it would be nice to see this book do well. I have poured my heart into this novel. It would be wonderful to have it rewarded with a respectable sales figure.

Then next Friday I am back to work. I’ve been given a tough shift for my first week back and will be working all weekend, so I’m unsure if I’ll have time to write a blog next week. But I promise I will do my best to get a few words down – even if it’s just to let you know how launch day went.

Take care of yourself, and if you are leaving lockdown then please remember that the virus hasn’t gone away – it’s still there, just as contagious as ever – so please stay apart and stay safe.

Julia Blake

2 thoughts on “The Story of a Coat

  1. That was a fabulous “Tale of the Coat.” It is a gem of a story …. a little fable. You could do a collection of these from your life: Julia’s Fables. Just loved it and felt SO satisfied that your daughter is wearing it. It made me happy too!

    Congratulations on Black Ice! As you know I have it. What a gorgeous book. The concept is stupendous and of course I will review.

    Have a good week!

    Liked by 1 person

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