Coats On

‘You need a man.’  I looked M. up and down before I told her, but her want of a man was obvious, and urgent.  ‘Preferably a well-proportioned one.’  M. looked around the shop surreptitiously, as though preparing to sneak up on one, pounce and grab him.  But this was a man-free shop.  The two women behind the counter had heard me; they nodded and agreed.  One of them screwed her face into a pained expression as she looked upon M.  ‘I wonder where we could get you one?’  She sounded both apologetic and annoyed that their level of service didn’t extend to the provision of men.  Meanwhile, the other woman had wandered to the window with the studied nonchalance of someone casing a bank before robbing it.  ‘Quick,’ she called to us, her eyes fixed on her prey, ‘there’s one across the road; he’s perfect.  If you move fast you could nab him.’  M. didn’t need to be told twice.  ‘Yes!  He’s around 6 foot, same height at G. I’m away to bat my eyes at him.’  Out the door she flew, flapping in a man’s coat that was at least ten sizes too big for her.  ‘He is perfect,’ I told the shop assistants as we watched the scene playing out, ‘he’s heaven sent.’  After the briefest of exchange, Mr. Perfect had slipped on the coat, and, without being told, was extending his arms and stretching his back wide to test the fit.  He even did a little dance and turned on the spot as if he’d reached the top of a catwalk.  Then he and M. fell to animated chat.  ‘I dunno what he thinks of the coat,’ said the one who’d found him, ‘but I think he likes her.’  She radiated satisfaction like the matchmaker from Fiddler on the Roof.  We gazed upon them, rapt, as if at a Harold Lloyd silent film.  He was pointing to his ankle, then he ran his hand over his girth and gave a self-deprecating laugh, and eventually (reluctantly, it seemed to me) he took the coat off and handed it back, his arms gesticulating to embellish his cartwheeling conversation.  ‘What do you think they’re talking about?’ I asked.  ‘Dinner this weekend,’ said the Matchmaker without missing a beat – her day had been made.  Smiles, thanks and farewells (but not phone numbers) were exchanged and M. bounded back into the shop.  ‘If Carlsberg did men to be accosted in the street by crazy women asking them to try on a coat, then that’s what they’d look like.’  She pointed back across the street, waved to her new friend, and turned to the assistant, ‘I’ll take it!’ she said.

I quickly learned that not everyone is as apt to try on or to wear a coat as was M.’s approachable stranger.  The following morning, J. left for the 08.10 school bus, stepping into a cool, clear December morning.  ‘Bye!’ he called, hurling his coat back through the front door and onto the stairs, ‘don’t need that.’  ‘Not even a blazer?’ I called after his slender, ill-happed frame; a question mildly dismissed by the back of his hand raised in the air in a – ‘no thank you’, ‘cheerio’, ‘I’m grand’, ‘you’re so old’ – gesture, all rolled into one.  Were children always like this?  Is feeling the cold a sign of age?  As if often the case, these things comes in threes and, within 24 hours I had my third coat encounter with K. (a teenager) as we went shopping for one. Cut from the same cloth as J., K. seldom wears one, so it was no surprise when, ‘no’, ‘no’, ‘no’, was delivered in response to each I selected from the rail.  Eventually, I thought I’d found her a winner, but she threw me an incredulous look to check I wasn’t having the biggest laugh ever (I wasn’t) and said to me in a kind, firm tone, ‘definitely not.’  I backed away.  You can’t win ’em all – one out of three isn’t bad.

It did get me wondering, though, at the younger generation’s reluctance to coat-up at this time of year.  How is it that they are impervious to the cold?  Was I the same?  Did I too hate my coat as a child, or were times stricter then, when ‘you are not going out without a coat’ meant just that?  Coat choices back then were more limited than now (I secretly loved my un-cool navy duffle that I wore to school) but I probably didn’t like many of the other ‘sensible’ coats I was forced to wear.  Most of all, though, I hated to be cold, whereas this generation seem to be wind, rain and ice resistant.  They are a hardy breed.  Or should that be fool-hardy?  Brrrrr.

A Coat, W.B. Yeats

I made my song a coat

Covered with embroideries

Out of old mythologies

From heel to throat;

But the fools caught it,

Wore it in the world’s eyes

As though they’d wrought it.

Song, let them take it

For there’s more enterprise

In walking naked.

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