My Past Hats

This England - - Harvest Time - JAN WAL­LACE

The first hat I truly re­mem­ber is a sun­bon­net in green and white, what we used to call “bun­ga­low check”. Its ex­is­tence is re­in­forced by an old snap­shot for there I am, at three years old, sit­ting astride my brother’s back.

As I look through the al­bum more hats are re­vealed. There I was in a Sunday school group. I can still feel the rough­ness of my lit­tle straw hat and also the soft vel­vet of its tiny blue for­get-me-nots.

It is sum­mer, Whit­sun­tide. A tra­di­tion in our part of Lan­cashire at this time of year was for church mem­bers, wear­ing new clothes if pos­si­ble, to walk in pro­ces­sion round the par­ish. In front of the var­i­ous groups are huge, dec­o­rated cloth ban­ners de­pict­ing re­li­gious themes and the church’s name.

A brass band leads the way play­ing good old hymns like “On­ward, Chris­tian Sol­diers”. I al­ways longed to carry one of the pretty coloured rib­bons which fanned out from the very top of the poles, but 1 never did.

About this time the danc­ing class I re­luc­tantly at­tended put on a con­cert at the lo­cal Mis­sion Hall. To pre­pare me for this my sis­ter made me sit very still whilst she tried to curl my hair with metal tongs which were put into the fire to heat.

Lit­tlies, like me, sang “Hey, Lit­tle Hen, when, when, when will you lay me an egg for my tea?” Greater tal­ents ca­vorted through “Waltz­ing High In The Clouds”.

I wore no hat on this oc­ca­sion but there I was in the grand fi­nale with a big, red bow perched above my crimped curls.

Then there is the white veil of my Con­fir­ma­tion, held in place with hair clips and lit­tle gold safety pins. It threat­ened through­out the ser­vice to slip off my newly washed hair and dis­grace my par­ents.

Next I had a warm, brown, felt type of bon­net for win­ter, stiff­ened with wire round the brim. I wore this with a very smart coat with a fur fab­ric col­lar. And then the “beany” hat I made for my­self from sage green cor­duroy. It had a rolled brim and I thought it was very chic. Now it looks for all the world like a gi­ant fab­ric fruit gum.

I can vividly re­mem­ber wear­ing this hat go­ing to pan­tomime prac­tices. Those cold nights when we clomped round the stage of the echo­ing church hall as we went through “April Show­ers”, “But­tons And Bows” and “Dark Town Strut­ter’s Ball”.

Off I went to gram­mar school with my far-too-big black velour hat with its reg­u­la­tion blue and red band and school badge. There is a photo of me in a con­trived pose sit­ting in the back gar­den read­ing a copy of “Punch”.

Fur­ther on, I’m in my late teens wear­ing a great favourite – a very so­phis­ti­cated blue and white striped satin boater, a hat much ad­mired by my grand­mother.

A gar­den party in­spired me to make the next piece of head­gear: a huge white pic­ture hat with deep lace waft­ing round its edge. From the photo I look like a skinny ado­les­cent ver­sion of Scar­lett O’hara.

There is a gap in the record un­til the first year of my mar­riage. In those days we had lots of en­ergy and at week­ends used to set off hik­ing.

The next photo is me in the khaki for­age cap with eye­lets at the side. My hair is in dou­bled plaits, and I look like a cross be­tween An­nie Oak­ley and a war cor­re­spon­dent.

Then, later, here’s a mem­ory of happy pic­nic days with our baby son. I’m in a red straw with a tall crown with a flo­ral band. It lasted quite a while for there it is again on pho­tos of me on the P & O liner Hi­malaya bring­ing us to New Zealand in the 1960s. My next hat was a nice, nat­u­ral straw. It had a turquoise band and match­ing

rib­bons hang­ing down the back. My mother said these tails used to be called “fol­low-me-lads”!

I treated my­self to a glossy, red Swiss straw to go with a dove-grey suit I wore when I car­ried our Church’s Mother’s Union ban­ner. A whole ban­ner to my­self, so for­get that longed-for rib­bon of twenty years ear­lier!

The ser­vice was in the old St Mary’s Church, Auck­land be­fore it was moved across the road. As we ban­ner-bear­ers walked se­dately from the hall into the church it be­gan to rain. My lovely hat started to sag over my ears. It was never the same af­ter­wards.

And to­day? Well, I can’t find my faded, good old Kiwi tow­elling sun hat. But I’ve spent so long pot­ter­ing down mem­ory lane that the sun’s gone in. The rain is com­ing and I’ve still got to pick the beans for tea. Now, some­where there’s an old school rain hat. I’m sure I saw it yes­ter­day . . .

If you want to get ahead . . .


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