Originally published in Lancashire magazine
The first time we saw granny, auntie Margaret and mum together in the American cast-off fur coats, that granny had brought back from America in 1950, my father named them The Three Stooges. He ached so much from laughing that he made them promise never to appear simultaneously in the coats ever again.
Granny’s was either a Siberian squirrel or beaver, I cannot remember which, and was supposed to look and feel like thick velvet. In truth it had a serious case of mange.
Mum’s was brown skunk with frightened shiny fur that stood out at right angles. But Auntie Margaret’s was the worst of the lot, being Persian lamb in an unfetching shade of grey, reminiscent of a dead and dirty sheep.
Of a Saturday night, after several King’s Ales, Auntie Margaret would sway in the centre of our lounge, under the deceased ewe, doing her party pieces. She was particularly fond of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and in a sober state she could quote reams of his stuff. But after a session in the pub the lines of The Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan would become intertwined through her alcoholic blur and we would beg her to stop. Coleridge, freewheeling on his opium, would have loved her rendering.
Me on the left with “The Three Stooges” – Auntie Margaret, Granny with baby Melanie on her knee and Mum 1961
Mother adored the skunk. She’d have worn it the year round (if not to bed) if dad hadn’t put his foot down. Every time she got out of the car at one of our favourite cafés a piece of the fur would have come adrift and dad would have to get out a standby tube of glue and seruptitiously stick it back. She was so in love with the coat she flatly refused to accept that it was dying on its feet.
Not unexpectedly the coat’s demise happened one violently-windy Sunday in front of the smart Brown Leaves restaurant at Copster. We had set off across the car park like four fugitives from a Lowry painting, valiantly leaning into a gale force wind, when it happened all of a sudden. There was this loud vibrating noise like washing flapping on a line at double speed. A huge chunk of Mum’s coat was attempting to abandon ship and fluttering so alarmingly that she looked remarkably like Batman in full flight. To make matters worse an audience was gathering in the café window. We reversed back to the car as fast as we could and never darkened the doors of Brown Leaves again.
Mum’s fur coat fetish never really went away but finally, and unknown to anyone, she had arranged to borrow a garment from Mrs Jones her rich employer. It was a mink marmot coat, referred to by my father – the classic mispronouncer that he was – as a mink Marmite. I believe that at the time such a fur would have cost the equivalent of the terraced house in which we lived, which gives some clout to the degree of euphoria into which I suspect mother slipped once she had donned the thing.
Mrs Jones was considerably taller than mum, rendering the coat not only floor length but as if with train both back and front. Her disastrous traipse down the entire length of the aisle was the source of considerable mirth for many years to come. I never really forgave her for stealing my bridal thunder but the consensus of opinion was that it had been worthwhile if only because it put an end to her fur addiction.