PC 207 I’ll eat my hat! **

My good friend Jonathan lives in the glorious little village of Bratton, tucked under the northern slopes of Salisbury plain in Wiltshire, and is gradually getting back to full health having suffered from Long Covid for 9 months. The latest round of Tier 2 restrictions that came into effect this week preclude him having a planned small supper party indoors but not put off, he was trying out his garden brazier to see whether (up to 6) people could gather around that one evening – in December??

For some reason we got talking about hats and the ubiquitous ‘flat cap’ so loved of the military and those who indulge in country pursuits. Jonathan messaged later to say he felt ‘a postcard’ coming on! So what follows was prompted by our chat, our ‘chewing the fat’!

My flat cap; sadly no longer, but here in 1976 on a Northern Ireland tour as PRO

Not being sexist but this PC is exclusively about male headgear, as I know something about this and little about female attire for the head.

My military service ensures I have some experience with many different forms of headgear; the Service Dress hat, the ceremonial Forage Cap, berets, the helmet and the Cap Comforter, a knitted hat that you could pull down around your neck if you needed to.

When the army was called upon to deploy troops to Northern Ireland in 1969, ‘in aid to the civil power’, regiments were initially welcomed by the catholic community as they would surely act as a buffer with the protestant one. Most troops wore their regimental beret – a softer look or so it was believed. Sadly it didn’t take long before the hail of bricks and bottles directed a more sensible alternative in the form of the helmet!

On a break on exercise in Germany, wearing my Royal Artillery cap-badged beret, with a glass of red wine and a cheroot.

The service beret was a comfortable form of headgear; the civilian equivalent is the beret so loved by our neighbours across the Channel. Mine, made by Kangol, I use occasionally; when not in use, it keeps Fredrick happy.

When I left the army in 1985 my father, with whom I had little contact, sent me his bowler hat in the mistaken belief that anyone who worked in London would need one. Fortunately that wasn’t the case but in the early part of the C20th every male wore a hat!

The success of the radio series The Archers, when it first aired in 1951 ‘an everyday story of country folk’ which morphed into ‘a contemporary drama in a rural setting’ and still broadcast today, led to television soaps like Coronation Street, Emmerdale, East Enders, Neighbours and Crossroads developing a huge following. For a decade from 1975 one of Crossroads’ characters was a chap called Beeny Hawkins who was not the sharpest pencil in the case. His trademark piece of clothing was a woolly hat.

After the 1982 Falklands War the military garrison was naturally strengthened and relationships with the small civilian population became paramount. Our armed forces are known for their wit and humour, often at someone’s expense. One morning the garrison commander asked his staff at their weekly meeting why the soldiers referred to the islanders as Beenys. Once his staff had educated him as to the character in the Crossroads TV soap, he asked that this habit stopped as it was disrespectful. A fortnight later he congratulated his staff; apparently the soldiers no longer referred to the locals as Beenys. “But why” he asked, “are they now referring to them as Stills?” “Still Beenys Sir!” came a quick retort.  

We have experienced a number of ‘firsts’ since settling in Hove in 2012, but one that has stayed quite prominently in my memory – someone wearing a hat at dinner! When you don’t know people that well, as hosts it’s our role to make them feel comfortable, and not necessarily comment on individual idiosyncrasies!! The couple came, we took their coats and scarves, introduced them to the others and got them a drink. The black flat cap stayed on; it stayed on throughout dinner and was still there as the owner departed. Does he have a huge scar on his skull or a birthmark he’s not happy about, is he bald or does he suffer from a cold bonce? We will never know but he certainly felt comfortable wearing a hat having his salmon and roasted vegetables …… and that’s OK!

I own a yellow cap in the style of a baseball one, although have never played the game. What I do not understand are those who wear it with the peak at the back! Maybe someone could explain this trend?

Dog walking requires the right clothing for any weather; when my Labrador Tom arrived in 2002 I realised my wardrobe required some extra gear. I am not one for an umbrella so, during a break in a coaching session in the Institute of Directors, went across Pall Mall to Farlows, a ‘Huntin’, Shootin’ & Fishin’ emporium. I came away with an Aigle jacket and a wide-brimmed hat that was, when first purchased, vaguely waterproof. It’s been through the washing machine a few times so probably has lost some of the rain-proofing but has developed some character; well, I think it has!

After the first six weeks of our Officer Training at Sandhurst in October 1965, we cadets were allowed to venture into Camberley, the local town. In a sign of how rigid and formal our training was, our civilian clothes, our mufti, had to include a Trilby hat, made of course by Herbert Johnson. If we were seen in town without one all hell broke out!!

Fortunately I still have a full head of hair but those who are follicly challenged used to believe that 40% of body heat was lost through the top of the head – so wore a hat. We now know it was a myth and that the head suffers no more heat loss than any other part of the body.

So, thanks to Jonathan for an idea for a postcard; always fun to look at something like a hat!

Richard 4th December 2020

** ‘I’ll eat my hat’ a phrase suggesting an event is extremely unlikely to happen so offering to do something silly.

A sun hat finds another use

A place for hats – a rack!

A fun hat after James Dennison’s 2018 wedding

Another use for ex-army stuff

One thought on “PC 207 I’ll eat my hat! **

  1. Excellent As was Cedric’s book.  Suggest to me another good read…. A’s tests; 2 out of 3 all good, colonoscopy next Sun. Eddie 


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