When I arrive back in London from Ireland with punk rockers, Neck, for the second time in as many weeks, I pop to Camden, which I appreciate for its non-judging embrace of my wardrobe needs; the market is handy for cheap cotton t-shirts, and there is stereotypical rock attire aplenty. Today I am intent on buying a black, floor-length leather coat to quiet the persistent niggle that I’ll be much, much happier (and cooler) when I have one. I try several shops in search of The Coat, and, as is my wont, end up back where I started buying the first one I saw. I fall for the tobacco-y smooth talking of a portly Italian who appears to know a lot about leather, and am bowled over when he proves the garment is made from real lambs by confidently waving the flame of a cigarette lighter near one of the sleeves. An expert haggler, I talk the guy down to £400 from almost exactly that figure, whip out my credit card, conceal my wonder that it works after the beating it just took on tour, and stride home tall, draped gloriously in far too much coat.

I wear it to a gig that evening in Acton, by a blues band featuring Leigh, whom I’ve just spent three weeks on tour with. Marion, Neck’s incredible fiddle player, is also there and greets me by acknowledging my new purchase and saying that in late August, such as it is, the weather’s too warm for my coat. Although I agree, Marion is wrong, for it is – as it will ever be – precisely the ideal temperature for it. What Marion fails to realise is that the coat is perfect – it goes splendidly with my trilby. Over the next few months (and subsequent years) I slump majestically as I walk in my regal attire, stumbling on stairs and snagging the hem on brambles, hedges, bushes, fences and gateposts, and shutting it in (my) car doors. To counter this, I develop a protective gait that works hardly at all but which succeeds in making passers by appear nervous.

During that winter’s run of the anti-pantomime Christmas show, Little Shop of Horrors, I tear the right breast of the coat widely on the door of the Upstairs at the Gatehouse theatre when exiting in haste to meet my brother who – in traditional legendarily supportive fashion – is coming to London especially to see the show, even though he dislikes musical theatre and has yet to make his mind up about me since that time we were kids and I moved aside at the top of the stairs when he ran hard towards me and I watched him tumble loudly to the bottom and amazingly recover with no physical injury. In my haste to leave the theatre I catch the billowing cloak on the tapered end of the push bar of the fire door at the bottom of the playhouse’s front stairs. I feel it catch, hear the rip, and enter instantly into a period of disappointment and self-loathing that lasts the best part of a year, even past the successful near-invisible mend that I secure for a reasonable price at the hand of a tailor on Gloucester Road.

My mum says she likes the coat. Liz, representing the mainstream, asserts that it would be okay as a costume, but can’t believe that I wear it not in jest. Gavin, in my band, threatens repeatedly to cut it in half to make it ‘the right length’. Atar states plainly that he’d very much like to burn it. Liz’s best friend, Jen, ever the diplomat, tells me it’s cool, but I later come to understand from my wife’s brutal teaching that, when anyone says to me that they ‘like that shirt/hat/full-length leather coat’, what they actually mean is that they notice I’m wearing something upon which they cannot help but remark, so say that they like it, which they most certainly do not. Even the German family who live in Switzerland and who we’ve been friends with for years fail to hide their dismay that I openly wear it not only in theory but also in practice.

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After Liz and I marry, we move, eventually, to the other side of the North Circular Road. I drive less to work, ride my bike more, and stop going out in the evenings (except to play drums). As such the coat enters a period of decline. I start to consider whether I might have outgrown it. I wonder if – as years ago happened with my awesome red leisure suit that even my mum thought I shouldn’t wear to friends’ birthday parties – maybe its moment is up. It hangs solemnly like a cassock on the back of the music room door, waiting for me to revive our communion. I wear it occasionally, usually feeling regret, tinged with the fear that I’ll be beaten up, or, worse, that I’ll be spotted stepping out by Atar or my wife. I even consider that I might throw it out, but I can’t face up to that yet.

One day, one November, a colleague – the editor of a major international music magazine – makes good on her acceptance of my invitation to give a guest lecture to one of my classes. One of the many things I respect about Gemma is that, somewhat beguilingly, she publishes balanced reviews of events in which I do not necessarily toe the industry standard practice line of saying that everyone and everything are fantastic. During the class we to and we fro, and I recount for students how I met our guest on the set of a television commercial for which we were hired to help sell the new Sony Walkman (which instantly bombed as iPod sales soared globally). I describe how I lied to the producers about attending a particular music college, and Gemma explains how our working together is a perfect example of successful networking – individuals should always try to stand out. It transpires she remembered me, for years, solely as the guy who wore the unnecessarily long, black coat.

And that is it – vindication. After the mockery, the uncertainty, the shame, the impracticality, and the relentless pressure from everyone but my mum never more to wear my favourite robe, I now know that my epic black family of lambs’ skins fire proof blanket and go-to garment, my (sans Technicolor) dreamcoat is the reason I keep receiving tickets and passes to prestigious musical events like the London Drum Show this coming weekend (Gemma has even secured a free pass for my toddler daughter, whose name, too, will be on the door). So shove that in your pipes and smoke it, EVERYONE I HAVE EVER MET – my coat ROCKS and I have a published, in-depth interview with ‘The World’s Global Drumming Ambassador’, Dom Famularo, and tickets to a U2 concert to show for it. I begin in that moment to marvel at what I’ve no doubt is the untold story of my coat’s infinite other successes. It probably brought peace to Northern Ireland, and engineered Corbyn’s socialist revival.

One thing is for certain – it’s back. I’m back. In black.

 

me in my coat

 

 

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