The jacket was banned in Dublin days. “You look like a farmer heading to the mart.” While this did not feel an uncomplimentary comment, it seemed a reason to bar the wearing of the checked-patterned fawn-coloured jacket with its bright yellow lining when going to the city centre. Out of favour, it disappeared from view after the move from Dublin. Only when looking for a jacket this evening did lifting a brown Donegal tweed jacket from the back of the wardrobe reveal the unmistakable vivid colour of the lining that had prompted such frowns. Without anyone to express disapproval, the jacket was brought into the light of day. It looked nothing like anything anyone would wear to a mart; it seemed eminently suitable for attending evensong in a country cathedral.
Returning to the house after Cranmer’s finest liturgy was complete, and hanging up the jacket, two slips of paper fell from an inside pocket. Stubs from boarding cards for Kenya Airways flights, Nairobi to Kigali on 24th June 2009 and Kigali to Nairobi on 3rd July – the jacket had been to Rwanda.
If the jacket could have recalled its experiences, it would have remembered the Marcus Brody-like incompetence of its wearer. It would have remembered the confusion surrounding the date of the outward flight, resulting in its wearer arriving a day after the rest of the party. It would have remembered how both a mobile phone and an envelope with €300 in cash had been left lying back on a desk in Dublin. It would have remembered the stifling heat of Nairobi Airport and the greenness of the hills surrounding Kigali. It would have remembered poverty in Burundi that was so extreme it made Rwanda look a wealthy country. It would have remembered food-poisoning so severe that a journey had to be made to a Kigali clinic for tests and medication. It would have remembered the wonderful hospitality and generosity of the Rwandan people. It would have remembered that there was no suggestion of looking like a farmer going to the mart, instead the jacket combined with a wide-brimmed hat, worn as a protection against the equatorial sun, brought the nickname “Ponsonby-Jones.” Ponsonby-Jones became shortened to “P.J.,” an appellation that still persists among some friends.
The summer of 2009 now seems a long time ago in a galaxy far away. There have been four return visits to Rwanda since then, but none have captured the intensity of those days. And no jacket has inspired similar comment.