A little known fact about me: I once spent an entire school year, Year Ten to be precise, sporting Martin Fowler from Eastenders' jacket (here's Martin's face when he first saw the offending item) The reason it's a little known fact is because I've done everything in my power since then to suppress it. But perhaps now is the time to finally face my coaty demons and then zip it for good.
Obviously it wasn't his jacket; logistically that just wouldn't have worked. For a start there'd have been no easy way of transporting a much-used BBC prop from a fictional East London borough direct to Yorkshire and back each day. But it was an exact replica, and for that reason I came to loathe an inanimate fabric and its fabricated owner with a far greater passion than I'd ever reserved for a real person; even when that person was Dave Newmarch, who'd once, in front of the whole school, thrown my bag into a nine-foot tall holly bush, inconceivably landscaped right beside the playing field, before unhesitatingly shoving me in to retrieve it.
It wasn't so much the coat itself I hated. For a start, I'd owned it long before Martin Fowler had ever set his fictional eyes upon it, and for a little while its unremarkable green and blue design had provided the supremely self-conscious (and equally supremely spotty) fourteen-year-old me with the perfect social camouflage. Nope, what really got under my acned skin was the unshakable horror that an undesirable association with a slightly crappy celebrity might dent my carefully curated anonymity, distancing me ever further from the one thing I wanted to achieve at school: to cop a feel of boob. Oh, and to be cool. OK, the two things I wanted to achieve at school.
To be fair, as far as being considered cool was concerned, things hadn't exactly got off to a great start even before the calamitous jacket incident. I was notable for being distinctly average when it came to sports, looks and self-confidence, entirely lacking when it came to speaking to girls and just plain weird where hobbies were concerned (philately/antiquing/gangster rap). But despite these significant setbacks, I still viewed Martin Fowler's unprovoked appropriation of my style as an end of days cataclysm: one week I was the kid with the unassuming outerwear and blackheads, the next there was my jacket, draped mockingly around the shoulders of Walford's enfant terrible for all to see.
Aghast, I kept interactions with my classmates to a minimum (an event most of the girls unsurprisingly failed to notice) and became convinced that in the eyes of my peers I'd gone from a relatively untainted nobody to an ersatz soap character at the drop of a costume department's hat. Or coat at least, I'm not sure Martin Fowler ever wore a hat. Regardless, Dave Newmarch would, I was sure, have a field day. Or a holly-bush-by-the-field day. Or...ok, I'll stop now. The point was, my already minimal credibility had taken what I considered to be an insurmountable knock, and my mother's strict one-coat-a-year policy meant I had to grin and wear it.
And wear it I did, come rain or shine (although mostly rain as it was more of an autumn/winter garment). Predictably, no one batted an eyelid. There were no wisecracks, no name-calling, not even any return visits to the holly bush. Perhaps nobody watched Eastenders as fastisiously as I did, or more likely they were far too preoccupied with whether they'd positioned their must-have Umbro backpack at exactly the right angle, or popped their Adidas Poppers just so. Whatever the case, the jacket and my fragile confidence survived, intact and unmocked. And that, my friends, was that.
So what lessons have we learnt from all of this? That ultimately people are too bothered about themselves to worry much about you? That Martin Fowler wasn't the poorly dressed pariah I'd imagined? That I watched far too much Eastenders? Perhaps it's all of these. But as a post script, I should mention that it's Martin Fowler and his coat that have been partially to blame for the clothes I find myself wearing today. Without this minor outerwear victory, I might never have experimented with pea coats, greatcoats, morning coats and clothes that weren't coats at all. I even began talking to girls once my acne started to clear. Admittedly, it took another couple of years before they talked back, but hey, it was a start. So I suppose in hindsight I owe Martin Fowler's jacket an apology - turns out it took an anorak to transform an anorak.
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