The most prized purchase I’ve ever made has been a trench coat. Let me explain.
The first 40 years of my life was spent in communist Czechoslovakia. During those times, us common folk weren’t able to buy what we really wanted or needed. We would buy things that were available, and even those things were few and far between.
Rent and food were cheap and we were never hungry. But apart from that, the quality of goods was terrible, expensive and subject to waiting lists, if at all obtainable. Everything was owned by the state. Private property was prohibited. Our wages were spent on bad stuff, or scrupulously saved to acquire a car or a summer house – the only exceptions to the private property ban.
And so it happened that my dreams about the better things in life found their shape in the form of a trench coat. I dreamt about having a coat like the one my Mum’s Swedish friend Ingeborg wore when she visited. Prince Charles and James Bond both used similar coats: waterproof wool gabardine, chequer inside, bone buttons, solid pockets, and shoulder straps. It originally had been developed from the English battle coat and to me, was the ultimate in upper class elegance.
I caught a glimpse of my dream coat for the first time in Amsterdam, a few months after the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989. The sight of it made my heart leap. It promptly sank when I checked the price – it cost two months’ salary! But, I wanted it and if there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s saving money.
A year later, I proudly left the very same shop with a huge brown paper bag tucked under my arm, my dreams of better times realised. I was HAPPY. This item of clothing had become a symbol; the freedom of choice that had been so elusive and so longed for.
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