Maybe it’s a generation thing but I am not, nor never have been, a natty dresser. Quality yes, fashion no. Indeed, for many years I aspired to the anonymous dress style of a deputy bank manager. Nowadays, if I do wear something fashionable, it is almost certainly a gift from someone in touch – usually my wife. Then there is a matter of making sure the clothes go together. I know things should match, but frequently I just forget. I am simply not that interested, a situation not helped by my disinterest in mirrors. Looking at myself is something I do very rarely.
There is one further characteristic of my dress code I should share: when I get into a particular type of outfit I am reluctant to change. Thus, my winter clothes will be worn until June and the summer ones until December. Accordingly, my outside wear for these last few weeks has included a thick woollen jacket, trousers over thermal long-johns, a thick long-sleeved woolly cardigan, two pairs of socks, a woollen scarf and, to top it all off, a tall woolly hat, a present from Canada. All are dark grey or blue in colour, so, when walking to the local shops or travelling by bus or train, I will have looked like some large, sombre, amorphous blob.
Indoors, there can be a little more variety. On Christmas day it wouldn’t be unusual if I carved the turkey wearing a red hat with white rim and pompom and red socks with a Father Christmas motif. This year the seasonal hat display was rather more flamboyant than usual – in addition to the pirate hat on my head, there was on display a fez, a sou’wester, and various witch-like silver and gold pointed cones. It is odd how, in our society, hats mean fun. But I digress, this story relates to my outside attire.
For the first time in years I have been in London throughout the Christmas period and, as we have no car, I have done a lot of wandering; mainly shopping and visiting. In all this, one thing has impressed me enormously: Londoners have seemed much happier than I ever remembered. Never before have I received so many twinkly grins and expressions of warmth. Children, grown ups and older people alike have had a smile for me as I have trudged the pavements or climbed up and down stairs. Smiles, like laughter, are contagious, so despite a certain amount of sadness on my part, I have been smiling back and feeling the better for it.
Just recently, on New Year’s Eve to be precise, I left home early to visit someone who had been hospitalised following a bad accident. As I got into the lift at the railway station there were already two women inside. It transpired that they were workmates who had just finished a 12-hour night-shift at an old people’s home. Both of the women looked tired and drawn but, as the lift set off, one of them looked up, saw my face, smiled and then started laughing. I asked her what was so funny but she couldn’t say, she was too busy trying to suppress her laughter. The giggling fit then got the better of her and because she was holding her tummy she couldn’t even point to what she found so amusing; that she did with her eyes.
I turned to her friend for an explanation. She was more in control and better able to tell me.
“It’s your hat. My friend creased up when she saw its very odd and comical shape. And I feel much the same.”
I looked in the mirror on the lift wall, and for the first time saw on my head a cross between a Phrygian cap and Smurf hat with its tip leaning way out to one side like an elephant’s trunk. Here was a real mismatch; while I looked glum, on my head was a quasi-pantomime hat fit for a clown!
Now everything was explained. There had actually been no general feeling of happiness amongst Londoners, just a bubble of pleasure that had accompanied me for weeks, engendered by my very comical Canadian headgear.
Such is the therapeutic value of hats. Now, I wonder if some nattily dressed person of my age could have given such pleasure?