So, to recap. A mystery parcel arrives addressed to me, containing a vintage Parka coat in my exact size. The only clues as to its provenance lie in the postcode (a local one) and a hand-written note hidden in the ticket pocket (you know, the tiny one half-way up the arm), stating simply: 'Jonathan, welcome to the Club'. Oh, and an email address...
So, I left it a day or two, then, overcome with curiosity, sat down to write to Parka Club HQ. I remarked that the coat was a perfect fit 'although you probably knew that already, didn't you', and let them know that it was settling in well into its new surroundings ,'in between the black duffel coat and the £30 TK Max suede jacket'. I promised I would be putting the coat on as soon as it was cold enough, and asked them, whoever they might be, to be sure to 'come up and say hello, if they saw me out and about'.
I was trying to sound unperturbed. Loftily amused, even, by the artful impertinence of my mystery benefactors. But in truth the sight of the vintage garment lurking bulkily on the crowded coatrack, its arms stretching right across the narrow corridor so you had to perform a sort of half-slalom to avoid being grabbed by its ghoulishly handless sleeves on your way to the kitchen, was beginning to make me feel a little nervous.
Days passed, and no reply was forthcoming to my mail. I tried the coat on another couple of times, but couldn't quite bring myself to step out into the A6, lest some mystery Parkaclub henchman should step out from the shadows outside of Hennigans and bundle me into the back of a King's minicab, never to be seen again. Then again, not wearing the coat may be taken as a gesture of defiance by the 'cappi di cappi' of this most secretive and strictly heirarchical cabal of jacket-wearers, and one day I may open the door to a quintet of swarthy bruisers in Frank Spencer raincoats armed with a mincing machine; or worse, a horse's head protruding from the top of a donkey jacket. My imagination was starting to run away with me perhaps, just a little bit.
And then, after a week of silence (or should that be 'omerta')- a reply! 'So glad you liked it', it began. 'Hope we didn't freak you out too much.' The missive continued in the same cheery vein. I was assured that I had no further obligations to the club, although if I wanted I could send in a picture of myself in my new garment. And if I really liked it, I might like to 'contribute to its costs'- in return I would earn the right to to enrol a new member. This person, needless to say, would in turn receive their own handsome vintage gabardine courtesy of Parka-club, anonymously delivered via the Royal Mail, with just a handwritten note in the ticket pocket...
.. so what the hell is it all about, then? Well I do still hold out some hope for the man appearing from behind the bushes to whisk me off to become a globe-trotting MI5 agent. And Ma Baker's suggestion that what we are seeing here are the first tentative steps of a worker's revolution has a lot to commend it as well- after all no-one ever overthrew a ruling elite wearing skimpy Marks and Spencers cardigans. But my guess is that this ruse owes more to 21st century capitalism than Cold-war chicanery or historical class warfare.
What I reckon is this; some modern day Mancunian Arthur Daley has found himself lumbered with an Ancoats warehouse full of slightly ragged old Parkas, and hit upon a novel way of getting them shifted- just send them out to random unsuspecting individuals, and, by way of a mysterious note in the ticket pocket, elicit a bit of curiosity. Some of these individuals he will never hear from again, but others will be bitten- and a correspondence will ensue during which the suggestion of- well, we won't call it payment, maybe just a 'contribution to the costs', can be broached. And of course while all this is going on the curious beneficiary of the 'Parka Club's' generosity will be telling everyone they know about the mystery in which they have become embroiled.
And the beauty is it won't stop there. 'Ah, now Parkas' , some of these friends and family may think, 'I wonder where you can buy them nowadays..' Before you know it the stallholders at Manchester's trendy Afflecks Palace will be overrun by a generation-spanning horde of fashion-hunters desperate to get their hands on this winter's must-have item. These merchants will not believe their luck when our friend from Ancoats walks in with an armful of vintage greatcoats, '£5 each for a half-dozen, lads- or I've a vanful outside you can take off my hands for a grand'.
Well I say fair-play to this enterprising character- I like the idea that Manchester has its own real-life backstreet chancer to rival those fictional southern softies Arthur Daley and DelBoy Trotter- but I don't think I will be renewing my subscription to Parka Club- much less sending in a 'contribution towards its costs'. I think what with telling all you lot my mysterious tale I have contributed enough towards the revival of those cumbersome blue greatcoats with the fuzzy silver-trimmed hoods.
I mean, admit it- you all want one now, don't you? Well don't hang about- in a month's time everyone else will be sporting 'Eskimo Chic' (as it will be dubbed by the Sunday supplements), and you won't be able to pick up a Parka for love nor money. You'd better get on the case quick.