Imagine the scene: Nunhead Station, 7.30am on a cold, misty Monday morning. I am wearing the coat. The coat is double breasted, scarlet, ankle length and has earned me the nickname The General from more than one friend. To accessorize, I am wearing a red and brown velvet scarf and a brown angora pill box hat. I am Julie Christie in Dr Zhivago and I look the business.
The train arrives and the doors open on an already crowded carriage where people are studiously ignoring each other as well as they can given that they are close enough to count each others ribs. There is no space for me so I dash along to the next carriage. Here, I find just enough room for my feet. I clamber in and lean slightly forward, because I have to make sure that the doors can close behind me. The door mechanism starts to beep and the doors slide shut. I've done it! I am on the train so I do not have to wait 30 minutes for the next, equally crowded one. I don't have to hold on because it is so full that there is nowhere to fall and anyway, I can just lean back against the doors. Whoops, a bit shaky there, but no problem because something is holding me back.
It is at this point that I realise that my extravagant and deeply loved red coat is trapped in the doors behind me. And not just a rogue corner, but all the way from the hip to the hem. I have suddenly switched from Julie Christie to Buster Keaton. My mind starts racing. I know that these doors do not open at any point between here and up to and including my final destination at Blackfriars. I begin to tug discreetly at my coat, but because there is no room, I can't get any real leverage and so the coat sticks fast. To my mind, I have three options:
The eagle eyed amongst you will notice that there is not an option 4) ask for help. I want to be inconspicuous - well, as inconspicuous as someone dressed like an extra from War and Peace can look. Being seen as someone with an eccentric style of dress is one thing; being seen as someone who can't even board a train without making a complete hash of it is another thing altogether.
So, here I am, still on this train. Just in case drastic action is called for, I have transferred my gloves and tissues from my coat pocket into my handbag. We pull into Blackfriars Station and draw to a halt. People rush off the train and hurl themselves at the ticket barrier. I stand coolly aloof, as if elbowing my way through the hoi polloi is beneath me. When the coast is clear, (and against the clock – the train is due to go the other way any minute), I grab the back of my coat and pull. It moves about an inch, which is promising. I just need to get a bit more leverage, so I plant my feet about a foot apart, take a firm grip with both hands and give it a damn good yank. Voila! Like a hero from a boy’s action story, with one bound I am free. Or to be more exact, with a hefty tug, my coat releases from the doors and I catapult across the carriage and out of the train doors like a shot from cannon.
My tango training (I knew it would come in useful!) allows me to stop the momentum dead and as I do, the doors of the train close behind me, ready for its’ return journey. I take a deep breath and walk purposefully towards the barrier. Aside from a dirty great black mark on the back of my coat, I think I have pulled it off and the words of Gene Kelly in “Singin’ in the Rain” run through my head – “Dignity, always dignity”.
And the life lessons to take away from all this?
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