This might be the only poem ever written about a donkey jacket! (If anyone knows otherwise, please let me know.) Some of my readers outside the UK may not be familiar with this item of clothing, so I will explain: it is a coat very commonly worn by working men, mainly associated with dockers, miners, roadworkers, railworkers etc., and at one time a ‘fashion’ item worn by ‘skinheads’.
It was invented by George Key of Rugeley in Staffordshire for the navvies working on the Manchester Ship Canal, and given its name because it was used by men operating the ‘donkey engines’. It has an added association for me in that I grew up not far from this canal, and sometimes used to cycle down there. I’ve had mine for 35 years, and this poem is to celebrate the long life of this coat.
It’s a wrap up warm from the wind
kind of a coat,
threadbare at the collar and cuffs
and one button ripped off but tough
kind of a coat.
To my kids it was a joke of a coat:
‘it’s made from the skin of a donkey,
that’s why it’s called a donkey jacket’
kind of a joke;
or ‘it was made by a blind black bloke from Stoke
who loved donkeys’ kind of a joke.
Shoulder patches of black PVC worn and cracked
after thirty-odd years of hard graft,
wind and rain.
Pockets of deep comfort,
capacious enough for kittens,
(I once took two gingers for a walk,
one peeping from each pocket,
safe and warm in wide-eyed wonder),
now full of bits of straw and baler twine,
a fence staple or two, a plant label,
dust and detritus of a working rural life.
Bought in the Army and Navy store,
stuff for the working class outdoor
kind of a man.
Did my dad ever wear it when
tinkering with tappets,
adjusting the carburettor
or checking for spark in distributor cap,
and other mysteries of the 1960s
Memories are hazy and incomplete now,
but I like to think that he did.
It’s a comforting kind of a coat.
Winter nights I wear it, collar up,
walking the dog around the fields,
the crisp frost reflecting moonlight,
Cassiopeia and Orion looking down,
seeing out my days.
© David Urwin 2016