Thursday, 28 April 2011

One of my earliest memories is of an object. A small, old, three-legged wooden stool which had at some point, years prior to my memory, been painted a shade of pastel blue which was then cracked and peeling. When I think of this stool, and its chipped paint,  I also think of the associated senses surrounding it: the warm, slightly sweet smell of fresh hay, the faint background noises of a light breeze carrying the sounds of a multitude of animals, and the taste of strong milky tea and hard, but crumbling, rock cakes.
This is the memory of my early childhood; the few years I spent, on alternate weekends, living on a dairy farm with my dad and grandparents.  These years, as I reflect on them, are a smorgasbord of, probably idealised, tableaux. Being woken in the semi-dark of dawn to help birth a calf (yes, that actually happened).  Falling through an unseen crevice in the maze-like hay barn which was my playground. Collecting eggs from the various nests surrounding our lake. Trying hard to climb over the iron railings of the milking shed which, at the time, seemed scarily imposing in comparison to my miniature, child's frame.
The one constant throughout these memories is a particular item of clothing: a jacket in a warm khaki shade of dark green, oversized on my small shoulders, with gold poppers down the front which I loved to click open and shut, much to the annoyance of my dad and brother.
Yes, I am talking about the Barbour wax jacket.
In my mind the Barbour is a nostalgic relic of a long since passed rural childhood. I never had my own, as I always used to throw on my dad's or my grandpa's as I ran out the door at 6am and simultaneously pulled on my mud stained wellies. A Barbour jacket was a practical item, utilitarian, a necessary piece of clothing for life on the farm where you were likely to get splattered by rain, mud, excrement and other substances. Everyone I encountered in those years (be they young, old, male or female) had their own variant of the wax jacket- always weathered, worn, soft and scarred after years of use. These were jackets that were like a second skin. They were homely and comforting.
The new breed of city slick 'on-trend' Barbour jackets is a strange modern hybrid which both confounds and amuses me. I recall seeing a girl in my class at Uni turn up to a seminar in the now ubiquitous navy, quilted version. I hadn't seen a Barbour for years, as long gone were the days of weekend visits and farm life. Seeing the jacket in this new urban environment was jarring and strange. I marvelled in the way the girl had styled it- throwing it on over dark jeggings, ankle boots and a tight cotton top. So sleek. So clean. Where was the mud?? At the time I brushed off the sight as a one-time experiment which looked strangely nice with the girl's sharp short bob. I never anticipated that such staple of country life would soon be seen on every other person on the morning commute.
It seems that the outbreak of Barbours happened almost over night. Suddenly, out of nowhere, quilted jackets, and the traditional khaki wax versions, were being worn over suits, over dresses, on the tube, at work and in bars. Barbours are now, dare I say it, cool. They are fashionable. There is even a limited edition flyweight beadnell jacket with Liberty print lining!
I'm not sure how this happened or how long it will last, but all I can conclude is that I suddenly feel like a little girl again; like I want to head outside and grab my dad's old Barbour- too big and heavy on my shoulders- from the coat rack as I leave. A little piece of nostalgia to keep me warm and be part of the crowd once more- not on the farm, but in the city...with the grown ups.

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