Formal overcoats, frozen chickens, and rosé

Apparently we are drinking more rosé, instead of buying wine-boxes – there was a long article in The Guardian about what kinds of corners people are cutting because of the recession and because of deflation (I understand the perils of deflation, I think, but it is quite odd to be in a situation in which the enemy is not inflation, which is the spectre which was used to terrorise us by successive oppositions in the seventies and eighties – surely the upside is that prices stay the same and our pay doesn’t go up? I know that’s simplistic, but when inflation spirals upwards, prices go up and our pay doesn’t keep up with the prices – no wonder I couldn’t cope with Economics A level).

But why rosé? Are we saying that rosé is less costly, and that we prefer bottles? Are we admitting that a wine-box is a clever way of drinking too much without actually letting other people see it? And what is happening to the sale of wine-boxes which contain rosé? Hmmm.

The other thing that isn’t selling is frozen chickens. I don’t get that, either. People are apparently going to the supermarket rotisserie and buying the hot ones. But a frozen chicken is surely cheaper (I’m not bothering about the ethics of what kind of chicken it is acceptable to eat here, that’s a different debate), isn’t it? And you cook it yourself, preferably after defrosting. Are we saying that people are not using their ovens, to save electricity? It all seems a bit weird to me.

But the oddest item on the list is ‘formal overcoats’. What a great phrase that is. Imagine a household in which the family inspects the bills, and says, ‘You know what, we could cut back a bit on the formal overcoats.’ I suppose by this, they mean, ‘overcoats’. What an ‘informal overcoat’ is, is a bit of a teaser. ‘I am wearing a casual overcoat today.’ Eh? Or is the thing that we’re prepared to shiver a bit, or that we already have a coat, and we are going to leave it a little bit longer before lashing out on another? Or is that we are all wearing anoraks instead?

Having a coat – a ‘formal overcoat’, I suppose – was one of life’s tedious essentials when I was little, and wearing a coat is still a sort of routine (the most common line in ‘Coronation Street’ is ‘I’ll get my coat’, and I assume it’s a ‘formal’ one that’s being referred to). The big trend in the late sixties was to wear a short coat (Joe Kagan got rich on the Gannex and Dannimac), and perhaps that caused the makers of coats a bit of hardship then, since the demand for fabric presumably went down. A coat wasn’t a purchase you could be entrusted to make by yourself, of course. In fact, when it came to the business of Buying A Coat, my mother refused to take part, and delegated the buisness to my father. So when I was about fourteen – of coat-wearing age, but not coat-purchasing age – he rather grimly took me to the centre of Sunderland to a department store called Blackett’s.

My father’s idea of shopping (I know I am drifting from the point, but I can’t actually understand all these changes in shopping habits, pun not intended) was a bit like mine – go in, get the thing, pay, come out. He wasn’t, however, necessarily to be trusted on the style front. I remember being frog-marched into the shop and shown a rack. My father said, ‘That one, that one, or that one.’ Even a choice of three was a bit surprising, given that my father was involved. I chose something that bore a dangerous resemblance to a milkman’s coat, and he sighed, and paid.

I even remember getting home and his looking at my mother and at me and at the coat with a sort of strange disdain, as if to say ‘I have been shopping. The job is done. I wash my hands of the affair.’

I am afraid you are going to hear more from me on the subject of coats.


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