open the curtains

and take a look out the window if you want to know what the weather's like

Winter Coat

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All winter it hung on the back of the ironing room door, waiting for it to be cold enough outside to justify wearing it.

Christmas came and I travelled the breadth of the country one day before torrential rain flooded huge tracts of railway lines across the Westcountry making train journeys in either direction impossible.

But still it wasn’t cold enough to need the Winter Coat.

Then in January England turned white. I currently live in Cornwall, which plenty of people would argue that having never been formally amalgamated into England ought not to be considered part of that country. Cornwall, unlike England, did not turn white but wet. Cornish rain (which, for the uninitiated is the Real Thing when it comes to the wet stuff) is not best compatible with three-quarter length cashmere-blend outerwear. So I put my wellies back on and left the Winter Coat on the peg.

*

It was the week before Christmas and the first time I’d ever been Christmas shopping in the snow. It had lain a few days, simultaneously slushing and compacting on Reading town centre’s pavements. We were halfway through Debenhams when we saw her: the unknown woman in a dark green coat that caught the eye of both myself and my mum. And that would probably have been that under other circumstances, a passing glimpse of a coat on a stranger. We finished our rounds of the department store, ordered a birthday present at customer services, made a detour to find the toilets, when ‘look – there’s that woman in that coat again!’. Then we went upstairs and tried to find our way out, ending up mired in ladieswear, only to see within yards of the exit that very same dark green coat on a mannequin next to an entire rackful in one of the concessions.

It seemed like it was meant to be. But they’d sold out of my size, so I left the Winter Coat on the peg.

We slithered back home through the browning snow. I wrapped my Christmas presents. The dark green coat persisted in my head. Twice is coincidence but seeing it three times, the third time for sale? When I’d searched in vain for a replacement coat the previous year and ended up with something much less satisfactory?

It was sold out online. There was just one of that coat left in my size in the entire country. In Southampton. Oh well, I thought, that was that, it obviously wasn’t meant to be after all. My mum on the other hand was more determined, offering to drive fifty miles the following day to get it, and insisting I ring Debenhams in Southampton to make the reservation.

Of course I didn’t. As it turned out it was a good job she didn’t either, as 21st December 2009 plunged the south east of England into a hitherto unheard of snow drift. Had she made the trip she would undoubtedly have been stuck for hours in the freezing cold most likely unable to make it there and or back again. Meanwhile the sales were starting early and my-less-than-satisfactory coat was not quite the thing in the snow. I returned to the Reading store on the day before Christmas Eve to find the last green coat in the next size up waiting for me with a third off the original price.

2009 went out in a freeze, and early 2010 continued much the same. Dogs chased ducks over the iced-up pond at the country park, and a rim of frost grew inches high on the boardwalk fence. I wore the Winter Coat, one size too large, with the collar turned up and two jumpers underneath.

*

This year the already mild winter seemed ready to break in February. It started to warm up. A single creamy narcissus spiked its way up through the gravel in my front garden. Bluey-green fields amidst the duller surrounding countryside turned sulphur yellow almost overnight, fuelling 3-for-2’s on daffodil bunches in supermarkets across Britain. I went out wearing no coat at all.

Then March came in like a lamb only to go out like a lion: savage, loud and biting. Winds veered easterly, whipping up the usually sheltered waters of Falmouth Harbour, gusting along the streets, whistling through the cracks in the casements and blowing seagulls backwards through the sky.

Spring is on hold. I surprised myself at how delighted I was not to receive an Easter Egg this year but a pair of pair of gloves instead. They’re hand knitted and perfectly match the Winter Coat. Although green is the often used to symbolise spring and new life – freshly opened leaves, burgeoning vegetation – this green is the green of ivy, holly leaves, pine branches: the evergreen colour brought into the home at yuletide to remind us that midwinter is the necessary pause before the rejuvenation of the year.

The hard east wind has regressed us momentarily to the season passed, so I wrap myself in winter green and shove my chapped hands deep into my coat pockets. What most people do not get to see is the hidden floral lining in teal, lime and yellow beneath the thick winter green, brief glimpses of which flash bright to the world outside when the hem is caught by the breeze.

Hunched over with my eyes to the ground I see forget-me-nots springing out of the cracks in the pavement.

More on this?

‘Coat’ by Foreward Prize winning poet Jane Duran from her third collection Coastal. You can hear a recording of Duran reading it aloud here.

You may also like: Wintersun

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Author: Merryn

open the curtains and take a look out the window if you want to know what the weather's like

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