Rebecca Tyrrel: Days Like Those

'My brother has mislaid his favourite coat hanger, and we are all struggling to help him in his grief'
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The Independent Online

My side of the family has suffered a bereavement, and since it is a small side of a small family - both my parents were only children, so there isn't a cousin or an aunt in sight - it is one my brother, my mother and I can't afford. It is more my brother Noel's loss than anyone else's - he has mislaid his favourite coat hanger, and we are all struggling to help him in his grief.

It may seem peculiar that anyone not resident in a psychiatric hospital could become so attached to a wooden wardrobe accoutrement, but the hanger means a great deal to him because it is the only surviving souvenir of a trip he took with our late grandmother to a remote part of Wales in 1981, and it bears the name of the hotel they stayed at. Or at least the hotel they thought they had stayed at.

* Our grandmother could be an imperious person. She was given to phrases such as, "Look here, my good man." It was she who made the booking at that Welsh hotel and so petrified, was the man who took the call that he failed to confess that the hotel in question was no longer a hotel at all. He and his boyfriend had bought the property - lock, stock, barrel and also, coat hangers - and turned it into a private love nest.

Even so, my brother and grandmother arrived, and although bemused at being the only "guests", were happy to be waited on for a weekend by two male "proprietors" still too cowed by my grandmother to let on. Only later, when staying with friends nearby, did someone point out to my relatives that the house hadn't been a hotel for years.

* This curious story captures the essence of our grandmother so perfectly that after her death, Noel came to regard the coat hanger, which had the hotel name on it and which he stole on departure, less as an item on which to place a jacket, and more as a treasured memento. And now that important coat hanger has gone.

The only silver lining is that he thinks he knows exactly where it is - in another hotel, a real hotel as far as he is aware, in Oxford - where Noel and his wife Penny, and their baby, Ellie, stayed for a night.

When Penny came to pack the suitcase on departure, noting that the hanger upon which my brother had hung his jacket had the word "hotel" on it, she put it back in the wardrobe.

* "Well, that was the second stupid mistake," said Matthew when I broke the news to him, after he had asked me if I needed a brandy to help with the shock of the loss of coat hanger. "Who in their right mind puts a wooden coat hanger back in a hotel wardrobe without checking that it belongs to an extant hotel and not an ex-hotel in rural Wales that their husband nicked it from a quarter of a century ago?"

And then I asked him what the first mistake might have been. "The first stupid mistake was taking such a beloved family heirloom out of the house. What does Noel imagine the safety deposit box industry exists for, if not for precious coat hangers?"

* Noel has phoned the Oxford hotel. It took them a day to locate the hanger and when they had, they rang back to request his credit card details to cover postage. He said he had high hopes the hanger will be joining us when we meet in a couple of days to celebrate his birthday. For reasons Matthew and I can't quite fathom, he has asked for a deerstalker hat as a present.

* The birthday has come and gone and still there is no sign of the hanger. Noel has phoned the hotel only to be told it is back in the manager's in-tray after being returned by the Post Office. They said it was insufficiently packaged for safe postage. It was then that Noel inferred that Matthew or I, being far closer to Oxford than he, who lives in Dorset, might care to drive there and recover it. I silently passed the phone to Matthew, who listened to the same request, said he wouldn't dare trust himself with such an important mission and asked if it wasn't now time to bring in Interpol.

* Two days later and the coat hanger is still in the in-tray. Noel is becoming almost hysterical and saying it is the only thing of his grandmother's he has. Matthew pointed out that the coat hanger was never our grandmother's and that Noel is a victim of rough justice: he stole the hanger from a hotel, or what he thought was a hotel, and now another hotel has reclaimed it on behalf of the hotel industry.

* There is mixed news today on the coat hanger front. The good news is that the hanger arrived this morning in a huge box, but because of the windy weather the box was blown out of the postman's arms. It was last seen heading in the Bournemouth direction and Noel has gone after it. If anyone sees a tall man in a deerstalker roaming the Dorset countryside like Sherlock Holmes in The Hound of The Baskervilles, perhaps they'd be kind enough to inform the authorities.