Tuesday, April 1, 2014

An Adventure of a Retreating Crown a.k.a., Hats

      The time I started to grow conscious of caps (or hats) would have been during my pre-teens when my mum knit my dad and me a bobble hat each. Mine, by request, had blue and black hoops and my dad’s had red and black and they both, obviously, had bobbles on the crown. I had my mum remove mine. I thought my tassel was just a bit too loud. It’s a thing I’ve always had about clothes; I just don’t like them to be loud.
      Don’t get me wrong, I love people who can wear loud clothes and get away with it. I’m just not one of them. I remember I’d been bought a pair of sandals and they were so spanking new, the sole was snow white and, to me, they looked too much like new sandals, so I had my dad put brown boot polish on the white edges to the soles, just so they'd be ‘quieter,’ not so loud and would allow me to sink into the background. I was about six or seven at the time and I often wonder why I would think that way. I mean I haven’t changed a bit really. As an adult I’ve bought clothes and left them in my wardrobe, sometimes even for a couple of years, just so they would age and I’d feel more comfortable wearing them. I recall going to the Royal Albert Hall in London, my favourite venue in the world, for a concert and I remember John Peel was the compere and he had a buckskin, fringed-jacket - as favoured by Native Americans in the movies - draped over his arm. He just wanted to show it to us, the audience. He explained that he hadn’t plucked up the courage to start to wear it, “just yet.” I seem to remember that he brought the said jacket to several concerts, every time unworn, he clearly just wanted us to see that he was still trying to pluck up courage to wear it. So it was comforting to know I wasn't alone.

      But let's get back to the hats. The trouble is finding a hat that suits. Elvis Costello for instance looks absolutely fab in every style of hat. Me, well, not as much, well… not at all really. I do however have to play to the tune of my needs, but we’ll get to that later.

      So how do we start off on this great hat wearing adventure? Well, most likely through being influenced by our fathers, through fashion or by necessity.        
      Following my initial few months with the bobble hat my mum knit for me, I would have gone hatless for a good few years. Then in my early teenage years I would have sheltered under the hood of my trusted, and treasured, duffle-coat. It wouldn’t have been as warm as a hat or a cap – it was a bit of a wind trap really and only helped to compound the bluing of the ears.

      My big movement into hats and caps coincidently seemed to happen around two important points. One, the modern day popularity, not to mention preoccupation, with baseball caps, aka Trucker Cap, and, two, my physical need to shelter my head.

      I’d worn baseball caps for ages but I could never find the perfect model, for me. I mean, I would frequently see great models on TV or in the movies, but the ones that were available to purchase would either be too flat, too tall on the crown, a bad fit, or made from transparently synthetic material. But all the time I was going through the search process, I was gradually finding the need to wear some kind of covering on my head. In the winter I would need a hat, some item to cover the head, with its ever receding hairline, to stop it from getting cold. In the summer I’d need it to stop my crown getting burnt by the sun.

      Then I found a Magic Johnston baseball cap which was all but perfect. It was the correct shape; the crown wasn’t too high; neither was it too low; the logo was subtle; the material was good, classy looking and, it was the perfect fit. In fact the MJ cap was so perfect, so cool, that lots of people, and I do mean lots, started to ask me where I’d purchased it. A few were so impressed they even went as far as seeing if they could buy mine from me. Fewer still offered me not unsubstantial amounts of money for my prized possession, thereby, in a way, putting a price on my head. All of which only served to defeat the object of the exercise, which had been to try to find items of clothing which would be comfortable, but would not draw attention. The Michael Johnston cap, as I have already mentioned was, “all but perfect.” Its only two flaws? One: it was snow-white and white hats do tend to… well go off-white through wear and tear and eventually can become grubby. Two: by the time I went seeking a replacement I discovered they’d discontinued my particular model. Maybe I’d been giving the elevated MJ bad press, or uncool attention, by wearing non-stop, an item he’d endorsed.

      Don’t you just hate it when that happens?

      You know, after searching for years, you eventually find an item of clothing you are totally comfortable with, and then, because it works for you so well, you eventually wear it out, (not as in wearing it outside, but as in wearing it until it literally falls to pieces around you) only to find it’s no longer an item of clothing you can buy, even on the internet. Recently though when I find something I like, if through wearing it I find I really, really, like it - like say for instance, a pair of shoes, or a jacket even, you know, something I’m really comfortable with - I’ll go back and try, if I’m not too late and they’re already sold out, and buy an extra back-up identical item, just in case.

      During my base-ball cap period, the two things I discovered about them were that you (obviously) couldn’t wear them everywhere. For example, it would be a bit unseemly to wear a baseball cap at a funeral, or to a formal black tie event, or similar, don’t you think? They certainly weren’t appropriate, so on those occasions you’d either have to risk getting cold by going bare-headed, or revert to a standby black cloth cap in the style favoured by my father during my childhood – even he set my mother’s woollen black and red hooped bobble aside following a discreet passage of time. The other great thing about the traditional cloth cap is that you can fold it and put it in your pocket. This would always come in handy at the above events. I did toy for a brief time with trying to find a suitable cloth cap, as an everyday item of clothing, even tried the one you wear backwards with the wee kangaroo logo on it, but I never really felt either was for me.                

      The other thing I discovered about baseball caps was that, when you really got down to it, they are a young person’s fashion accessory. Eventually I start to think that it was beginning to look a tad unbecoming for a person of my age to be living permanently under the peak of a baseball cap and so, reluctantly at first, I started to look for a replacement.

      Now with hats there really is such a multitude of choices out there: the traditional English business man’s Bowler Hat, aka a Derby Hat; the cheeky Pork Pie Hat; the wet-weather Sou’westers - talking of which I’ve just remembered a photograph of myself, all of four years old and kitted out in my wellies, raincoat and Sou’wester, this would obviously have predated the woollen bobble hat, my mum knit for me, but I have no consciousness of it, only the fleeting memory of that photograph in my mother collection; the Boater; the exotic Panama; the Beanie or the very similar you-too Toboggan Cap;  the race track, Trilby; the not exclusively French, Beret; the anyone for yodelling, Tyrolean Hat; the anyone for tennis Sunvisor, aka the Eyeshade; the anyone for playing scary monsters, Homburg Hat; the Top Hat, now mostly seen only on door men in posh hotels; Sherlock Holmes’ favourite, the Deerstalker; the Leopardskin Pillbox Hat, which was very visually included in a Dylan lyric, allegedly after he witnessed Jackie Kennedy wearing said fashion accessory; the impractical Brakeman’s Cap; the expensive Poor Boy’s Cap; the Cricket Cap, aka Schoolboy’s Cap, the same style that one would receive as a commemorative model, should one ever be lucky enough to play football for one’s country and be ‘capped’; the happily near extinct, Gatsby Cap, also known as the Newsboy Cap; Tommy Cooper’s favourite, the Fez; the conical, that’s not comical, but conical, Nòn Lá; the brain-boiling, Cossack Hat; the dual purpose Ushanka; a Skipper’s Cap, as popularised mid-sixties by a very young Bob Dylan and aped shortly thereafter by The Beatles' John Lennon; an Airman’s Leather Hat, with or without goggles; a Brakeman’s Hat; a Stetson Cowboy Hat, which was also handy for fetching water to your horse, hence the Ten Gallon Hat nickname; the Truckers Cap, aka the aforementioned baseball hat and, last but not least, H the classy Fedora Hat.

      I’ve always been a fan of the Fedora, the hat recently re-popularised by Leonard Cohen. I’d never been able to work up the courage to try one though. So I experimented a wee bit with that style for a while. Once again I went through the process of discovering that some were too high; too low; too tight; had too narrow a brim; had too wide a brim; too hot in the summer or even too cold in the winter. The major problem I had with them thought was that sometimes, just sometimes mind you, they looked fine from the front, but from the side they can look like someone had plopped a miniature armchair upside down on your head. My experiments led me to discover that it was better to have different models for summer and winter. In the summer it’s best to favour the lighter “straw” and consequently naturally aired version of Mr Cohen’s preference, while in the winter I settled on the traditional heavier version. Again you’ll really only get one summer out of alternating two “straw” fedoras, whereas the solid felt, winter model - but again it’s good to alternate a couple - will last you a good few winters if you take good care of them.

      Recently I’ve even discovered what could very easily become my regular winter hat. Again, like all my favourite hats, it’s one that was discovered for me by my wife, Catherine. This particular model is made by Christys’ of London and, as they’ve been around since 1773, I don’t think they’ll be going out of business or discontinuing my favourite model any day soon). It’s called a Travel Trilby, that’s a Travel Trilby, not a Travelling Wilbury. For me, it’s the perfect shape, easy to wear, fits well, with a wee bit, just a wee bit, of a wider brim and is a brown green in colour. It looks like it might be the model favoured by the race track fraternity (but not quite). Another major plus from my point of view is that it’s easily trained into my preferred, most comfortable, shape. However even after all of that, it’s biggest ace-in-one, or USP, and it’s one in the eye to all airport security staff who seem to take great pleasure in giving my hats an extra punch for good measure to make sure they were low enough to go into the X-Ray machines, is that no matter the battering delivered to the Travel Trilby, you can very easily remould it back to your perfect shape in seconds. Christys’ claim you can even roll it up to stuff it in your suitcase and it will spring back into the preferred shape the second it’s been released. I’m just three months into my relationship with my new hat and so I don’t have the confidence or courage to  attempt the rolling–up test with mine just yet, but through time I’m sure…

      I do know it’s been a long search from the bobble-less, bobble hat my mum knit for me (and my dad) all those years ago, but I do have a feeling that, where I rest my (new Christy’s of London) Hat (on my head) will be its home for a long time to come.  

      And now the bit before I go. After finishing work on The Lonesome Heart Is Angry I've been ODing on DVDs mainly the first 4 series of Parenthood - just incredible. Also watched Michael Connelly's Bosch, with Titus Welliver perfect as Harry Bosch. The pilot was 10 outta 10 and the amazing news is it's just been commissioned for a full series! There is a justice in the world after all.