In 1973, someone in your family left a coat at a station. Ever since then, your family have been wearing all sorts of coats – Tyrolean Lodens, leather jackets from Milan, Fjällräven all-weather jackets – but there’s a thread of conversation about getting that coat back that makes its way into every family gathering. That coat was special, it should never have been left at the station, and some in the family long to have it back.
Eventually, the talk about the coat spurs you into action. You go into the left luggage office at the station where the coat was left, and ask the attendant behind the counter if there’s a coat there that someone left a long time ago. You’re really quite excited about getting your hands on this coat – family lore says it’s a real Burberry trenchcoat, almost new. Female members of the family rhapsodise about how the coat smelt ever so slightly of Floris Lily of the Valley, and your great-aunt is convinced there was a Liberty silk square in the pocket. The men in the family remember how incredibly weatherproof the coat was – never let in a drop, even in the worst weather.
The attendant looks at you slightly oddly, and says that yes, there is a very old coat in the storage area. He goes away and after several minutes reappears holding something beige, rather at arms’ length. He passes the crumpled bundle over to you and you shake it out. It is indeed a trenchcoat but not a Burberry, it’s a cheap imitation, the wrong shade of beige and rather grimy, and the check lining looks all wrong. When you shake it, it releases an aroma which instantly reminds you what pubs used to smell like. Stale beer, cigarette smoke, and doggy carpet, with a barely detectable base note of men’s lavatories.
With slight reluctance, you put your arms through the sleeves and shrug the coat onto your shoulders. You can see your reflection in the glass door of the left luggage office. The coat really doesn’t fit properly – the shoulders are too narrow, the arms are too short. Maybe you’re bigger than the original owner? You put your hands into the pockets to see if your great-aunt was right about the silk square. That at least would be a compensation. There’s nothing in the left-hand pocket. In the right, a couple of pieces of screwed-up paper, which turn out to be pound notes.
You turn back to the counter to tell the attendant that actually, you’re not sure that this coat is the one you had been told about. But he’s disappeared, and so has your cosy Loden, which fitted you so well; and your chic Italian leather jacket; and your Fjällräven rain jacket. You remember with a sinking heart that your car keys, your travel card, your mobile were all in the pockets of your other coats.
You look around to see if there’s anyone you can complain to, but there’s nobody in sight on the station concourse except for a man in a Telemark sweater, disappearing rapidly as he runs, two steps at a time, up the escalator. You’re left alone, with nothing in your pockets but a nasty smelly old raincoat, which you strongly suspect will not be waterproof, and two crumpled pound notes, which ceased long ago to be legal tender.