Up Front by Emma Hart


The British Are Coming

I was in Ophthalmology the other day having an armload of blood tests taken by a very nice woman. She seemed pleased to deal with somebody who was at ease with the process. ("See the tiny scar over the vein on my right arm? That's where you go in. We call it the Blood Door.") She was chatty and helpful and good at what she did. ("Your name looks familiar, have you been in before?") She didn't once comment on my novelty cartoon pupils. Then it was time to go back out into a Christchurch winter ("I won't make you wait here while I write all these up, you go."), so I put on my coat.

Tubes of my blood were momentarily forgotten. "Oh my god, what a beautiful coat!"

It's not the first time I've heard that. My winter coat is, by several miles of daylight, the most complimented thing I have. If you added together all the aesthetic praise I've received for my cat, my games cabinet and my breasts, it still wouldn't come close.

I bought the coat with the first paycheque (by which I mean 'PayPal transfer') I got for writing something. I spent days worth of hours dragging my partner around shops looking for the perfect winter coat. It had to be wool, three-quarter length and single-breasted, a good fit, and most importantly of all, not black.

Seriously, it’s not black. Not even a little bit. My winter coat is scarlet. Like Captain Scarlet or Miss Scarlet or The Scarlet Pimpernel, but a coat. It stands out against the staid gray background of Christchurch in winter like self-expression at a Deb Ball.

It's not my Perfect Coat. That's a tailored Victorian-style purple frock coat. I didn't buy that because it doesn't exist. One day I will be rich, and cause it to exist. Try-hard Goths everywhere will weep with gratitude and use my picture as a screen-saver. In fact, I might well commission my own fashion label, called "Fuck It, It Fits Me". Fuck It will make DD-cup push-up bras, because why the hell wouldn't you? If anyone knows a structural engineer who'll need a job in about 2018, let me know.

In the meantime, though, I have my scarlet coat. Every time I have to go out in a freezing southerly on a day where the sun is just a distant lighter patch of sullen gray, my coat makes me feel better. "Hey!" it says. "Look at me! I'm bright fucking red!" Alright, so I'll never be able to wear it to an All Blacks game, but I can live with that.

My coat seems to make other people happy too. I've lost count of the number of times someone has reacted to the sight of it with delighted surprise. Sometimes it even seems to eclipse any other impression I might make. I was once in a position to help out one of my partner's workmates, and he was trying to remind the guy in question that he'd met me once, a couple of years before. "Oh yeah," he finally said, "I remember her. She was… red."

I even sometimes wonder if my coat is magic. Apart from the time I tore down the entire hem with the heels of my faux-lace-up faux-Victorian boots, it's never so much as dropped a loose thread or shed a button. It never gets dirty even when I take it off, stuff it in a corner and forget about it. And if I should happen to spend a night standing in a smoggy smoker's courtyard making a pack of cigarettes mysteriously disappear using only fire and my mouth, you know how it smells the next day? Faintly of wool. I suspect witch-craft.

In general, I hate clothes shopping with a fiery passion. Any time I find something I'd actually be prepared to wear I do a furtive commando run to the checkout before it turns out to be some kind of nasty trick. I've come to the only logical conclusion, which is that wearable clothes are hidden in shops at random by magic fairies. I'd like to take a moment to thank whichever fairy it was who hid my coat in that Classic Clothing outlet store in Hornby. I wasn't expecting that.

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