If you want to get ahead get a hat, or two, or four, or even more

Who among you has never collected things – from cigarette cards to Pokemon cards; postage stamps to old coins; autographs to train numbers?

You may even have become a collector by accident, or by just not throwing things away when other tastes change.

There are even unconscious collectors.

You buy a book and because you enjoyed reading it you buy other books by the same author. Before long you have a full bookshelf and you have discovered another author who writes on the same subject but with a different angle and you have to buy all those books as well.

Now it is not just a full bookshelf it is a full set of bookshelves with other books on your bedside table and the window ledge.

You could just as easily have borrowed the books from your local library. Mind you libraries limit the time you can keep that book. In some cases it doesn’t matter because you would read the book the same day, or over three days. Some books, however, take longer; and what about when you want to be sure you have the next book in the series in case you finish the current one at midnight and you still aren’t ready to sleep.

As some of you know I collect books. I can actually remember when I did not have enough books to fill a bookcase; nowadays I have more than enough to fill a room lined with bookcases and I would still have to store some of them in the loft.

It was only on our last move that I realised I had another collection – hats.

I don’t know how it started.

As a baby I wore a sun bonnet, I know this because I have seen the pictures. As I grew up I probably had a cowboy hat, I know when I was six I had a Red Indian (sorry native American) outfit with fringed trousers and tabard and a head-dress which had feathers and went half way down my back.

My next piece of headwear was a Cub Scout cap with a green peak and crown decorated with yellow braid, similar to the sporting caps awarded to cricketers or rugby players or similar sporting types, but without the tassel.

Then cap wearing became compulsory when at the age of 11 I went to the local grammar school. Now if there is one thing I object to it is being told I must wear something, or carry something or do something simply because someone with greater authority tells me I have to.

Many was the time I left home and as soon as was out of sight would take the hated cap off my head and roll it up then stuff it in my blazer pocket. If there was a crowd arriving for school at the same time one uncapped boy amid others could get away with it; unfortunately one day there were not enough others to conceal me from the eagle eyes of the headmaster.

My subsequent punishment, six whacks (what idiot calls them strokes when each one came down harder than the others) of the cane, rather than bringing me into line tended to increase my rebellious attitude.

Not all hats were out of bounds. A fellow member of the yacht club, a sailor with the Merchant Marine, had given me one of his old naval caps which I used to wear when manning the club’s rescue boat. I removed its white plastic cover as the limper blue material, over the darker headband and with the black peak looked far more like something Humphry Bogart, or other actors of that period, would have worn.

In the main, however, I shunned hats at work, after all I had a good head of hair to keep my head warm and only in the coldest winter did I actually wear a hat and even then that was only when I was manning a picket line.

Corduroy trilby and dark glasses on the picket line in 1979

That all changed when I went to live in Australia, not just any part of Australia, mind you, but North Queensland where you could fry eggs on the pavement in the summer and where the winter was more like a decent summer in the UK.

Hats out in the hot sun were a necessity and they came in all shapes and sizes. There was the smart settler hat with a wide brim for smart wear; a straw hat when it came to barbecues and days down at the beach; a floppy brimmed camouflage hat for those with an even more casual air; and even a wider brimmed, hard stetson style hat for riding.

The riding hat and my fawn settler hat came back with me to the UK, not that the black stetson saw much wear. The settler hat was closer to a trilby than a cowboy hat and became my normal headwear to keep my head warm in the winter rather than cool. I soon switched to a Panama in the summer.

Back home in Wales but still got the Aussie hat

My hat collection did not end there, however, and over the next decade or so I added a black trilby and a brown one for semi-formal wear.

By the year 2000 my settler hat was becoming somewhat the worse for wear and had to be retired from ‘going out’ use and assigned to gardening duties only.

A couple of years later I visited Russia and had bought a thick, warm, knitted hat to combat the first blast of the Russian winter. I quickly bought a fur hat, sable, of the type often seen on Soviet soldiers where the flaps could be brought down to protect the ears and a back flap kept the neck warm. My wife has not let me wear it in public since I got back from Russia.

There are markets in Moscow and St Petersburg which sold militaria and Soviet badges, flags and other souvenirs, including army and naval headwear and I couldn’t resist buying a former Soviet sailor’s hat with the long black ribbons and an officer’s peaked cap with the high front and broad top. Although original Red Army caps, the grey ones with red piping as seen in Dr Zhivago, are not readily available for sale a reproduction one, made with exactly the same material and in exactly the same way, was cheap enough to tempt me.

Then, about 14 years ago, we returned to Australia for a holiday and to visit family and I took advantage to replace my old Akubra settler’s hat with another, almost identical one which, on return to the UK, became an everyday hat once again.

Man in black, as editor of a family history magazine checking out gravestones

As so often happens constant wear takes its toll on headgear and towards the end of last year I came to the decision that my settler’s hat needed to go into retirement, its predecessor had by now given up the ghost even for gardening, but I would need a replacement.

Fortunately some rather hefty hints meant a brand-new black fedora, with a narrow tan headband, has taken its place with other hats in the hall and Akubra MkII is now a winter gardening hat, the summer hat for the garden is an old straw hat my father had bought in Australia when my parents visited us in the early 1980s.

Altogether it makes quite a collection and does not include a variety of keffiyahs which are normal worn in this country as a scarf but in Arabic countries are really headwear, with or without a black braided cord put on over them to hold them in place.

So I say farewell for now and doff one of my many hats to you.

Published by Robin

I'm a retired journalist who still has stories to tell. This seems to be a good place to tell them.

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