Wednesday 12 December 2018

A good coat is a great thing

As she reflects on great coats she has lost, Rita Ann Higgins realises that while the small losses are many, the big ones are harder to nail down

Rita Ann Higgins. Picture By David Conachy
Rita Ann Higgins. Picture By David Conachy

We get attached to coats and things. Once, on my way to America, I must have left my coat on the flight. I hadn't noticed until I got to my accommodation - and not even then, but when I went to go out. It was freezing, so I had no option but to go into the first shop I saw and buy a coat. I bought a very light Puffa-type coat. I loved the coat because it was so light and warm; it was so soft, it could double as a pillow, and I knew it would come in very handy leaning against that cold window on the GoBus when I was heading back to Galway. When the coat was rolled up, you slid it into this pouch, and that was your roll pillow.

I was always boasting about the coat. People would say, "Are you not freezing in that light coat?" Then I would launch into a big boast. The last time I boasted about it was to Gerald and Dorothea Dawe, at a Yeats thing in The National Concert Hall some months back. They were well impressed, I could tell.

The next day, I either left it in the back of a taxi, or on a seat in Heuston, when I bent down to tie my lace. I don't tie a good knot, and I've spent a lot of my life buckled over, making the effort. I never get any better at tying shoelaces, but I won't let it defeat me.

Recently, I did a reading at Thoor Ballylee, AKA at Yeats Tower. I was reading with Jennifer Johnston. I inherit a lot of Lelia Doolan's friends, as I have no friends of my own. I have been meeting Jennifer on and off for years, and getting to know her bit by bit on every encounter. Nearly all our encounters are Lelia-linked.

I didn't expect any money for this gig at Thoor Ballylee, because it was a fundraiser. Lelia, who organised the reading, stuffed something into my pocket. This happened as I was leaving her cottage, hours after the event. Six of us were after having a lovely meal of lamb curry on a bed of mashed potato and cabbage. It was delicious. Maureen Clancy brought dessert - caramelised pineapple slices, dusted with cinnamon. You could further embellish the desert with yoghurt and/or cream.

It might surprise some to know that I am not a great mixer, and this was about the second dinner thing I was at in my whole life. I really enjoyed it. My social life is me going to the pictures on my own. I always buy a packet of M&Ms and a cup of tea, and am the happiest person in the cinema.

Because I got money I was not expecting for the reading, I said to myself, "I'll buy myself a jacket in TK Maxx". I did. A lovely light purple one. I call it The Tower Jacket. I love it. It's turned into my second skin. I'm so afraid I'll lose it, I wear it in bed with the runners Himself put a good knot in. A knot that will keep.

I had another lovely black-and-white coat years ago, when I sold encyclopaedias. I lost that as well; I still think of it. I was 17 when I lost that coat. It was lovely on me, but not so comfortable. Nowadays, I go in more for creature comforts: the pillow for leaning against the bus window.

I worked in a second-hand clothes shop once, a few shops away from Kennys Book shop on Quay Street. It was called Second Hand, oddly enough. We sold a lot of coats. Later, when I started to write, I wrote a poem called The Benevolent Coat Saver in Black about a memory relating to the shop.

I can rattle off the small losses, and there were many. The bigger losses are harder to nail down. They queue-jump and they chime at the back of the throat. They rarely reach whisper. They never reach howl.

The Benevolent Coat Saver in Black

(for Angela Small)

In the doorway of our shop this ebon nun

declared it, 'Something to save my good coat.

The size doesn't matter but the colour, yes,

it must be a dark shade of black.

This seems adequate, but yellow,

it won't match the colour of my faith.

My faith is black as black as a crow,

I'm saving my good coat. Did I mention?

This, a bit smockish, too wide,

much room for secrets, not allowed.'

'It suits you grand,

blends in darkly with your glance,

It's yours for a prayer, will you have it?'

'No it's the wrong colour black.'

'You have a merciful back to save your good coat,

will you save mine as well?'

From 'Goddess on the Mervue Bus', Salmon Publishing, 1986.

Sunday Indo Life Magazine

Life Newsletter

Our digest of the week's juiciest lifestyle titbits.

Editors Choice

Also in Life