It was something me and my sister would imagine happening to us, whenever one of us was grappling with some important decision about our future. 'Don't worry', we would say. 'One of these days a man will step out from behind a bush and say- Here, I've been watching you and I'm impressed. Now put these clothes on and come with me'.
We imagined that we would then be whisked away and led off to become globe-trotting supersleuths or some exciting destiny of that sort. Well it sure beat pondering whether to fill in an application form for that teaching job in Oldham-but of course it never happened, and as our twenties gave way to our thirties it seemed that the mystery man was never going to step out from behind the bush. And then today, he did.
Well OK, he never actually stepped out from behind a bush. But if anything, today's events were even more mysterious than that. I got home from work to find Charlotte pointing at a large brown parcel stuffed into the baby's pram in the hall. 'The postman woke me up this morning making a right racket', she said. 'He left that for you'.
At first I wasn't even that curious- I had been expecting a pair of shoes and a shirt that I had left at my mam's house a month ago. But a look at the postmark told me the package had come not from Blaydon-on-Tyne but from south Manchester- just down the road in M13, in fact. I tore open the package to reveal, not any clothes I recognised, but some kind of coat, expertly folded into a cylindrical shape, with the hood tucked away inside the body. On unravelling it turned out to be a classic-cut blue Parka, just like the ones we used to wear in junior school, except a lot bigger. I tried it on. It could have been made for me- it was an exact fit.
Now if you remember about Parka coats they have lots of pockets. Having ascertained that there was no message inside of the packaging, I started to rummage about in them. There was none. I put a call through to my mam and dad. My mam works in a library and sometimes sends me books I might be interested in. My dad is heavily into the weather reports on Ceefax. I imagined between them they might have seen some freak snowstorm set for Lancashire and decided to send me something to keep the chill off. The postcode thing must be to do with a mix-up at the sorting office, or something.
'Have you been sending me stuff in the post?', I asked my mam.
'Aye- I just posted those shoes of yours, ten minutes ago'.
'What about a coat? Somebody's just sent me a coat in the post'
'Somebody's just sent you a goat in the post?'
'Not a goat- a coat!'
'Oh, I've not sent you any coat. And I've not sent you any goat either, for that matter'.
It was then that I remembered the secret pocket on Parka coats- you know, the little one half-way up the left arm. You would keep your bus ticket there, or maybe your one-penny blackjack chews. I rummaged inside, and sure enough a tiny piece of paper floated out onto the floor. I picked it up. There was a short message. Like my name and address on the package it was hand-written. Neat, young person's handwriting, in pencil. Nothing threatening about it- but still I was quivering a bit as I read:
'Jonathan- welcome to the club!'. And underneath, an email address- 'Parka-club at something-or-other dot com'.
'And that's all it said- Welcome to the club?'
'That's right- what do you make of that, then?'
There was a mass shaking of heads. None of the five-a-side football fellers had ever heard of such a turn of events, which was a dissapointment- some of them are a bit younger than me and i imagined they would explain that sending handsome retro gabardines anonymously through the mails was just the kind of crazy caper the youth of today was getting up to and there was nothing to concern myself about. But no- they were as mystified as me, and some of them looked as if they thought I was making the whole thing up.
Well I'm not. But I am rather bemused. What sort of mysterious club have I been signed up for here? And what is the etiquette for new members? A short note of thanks to the email address from the ticket pocket, perhaps? I've got a vintage black duffle coat I picked up in more straightforward circumstances last winter- should I be dispatching it first-class to some unsuspecting person out of my address book? Will I be getting any more notes from the club secretary? A quarterly newsletter? An invitation to the Christmas ball? Or maybe we will be all putting our parkas on and scootering down to Brighton to take on the Teddy Boys in a mass beach brawl, 1960s-style. Is this really any kind of club for a respectable thirtysomething year old office worker to be joining? And where do I get a scooter from, anyway?
I don't know- perhaps one of you lot can tell me what this is all about. Because I know it sounds ridiculous, but I'm really not making any of this stuff up (apart from the bit about the goat. I did make up the goat stuff, but all the coat stuff is true, I promise). So- do let me know if you know of any madcap schemes out there whereby unsuspecting civilians are being sent bulky but expertly folded greatcoats under plain cover. Oh, and if my mystery benefactor is reading- thank you! It really is a lovely Parka-just my size- and as soon as the weather is cold enough I will be walking the streets of south Manchester in it. And I will be waiting for you, stepping out from behind that bush of yours:
'I've been watching you, and I'm impressed. Now leave that coat on and come this way'.
What took you so long, mystery man? I was beginning to think you were never coming, to lead me off to some new exciting destiny.