THE BARD OF BARNSLEY PROVIDES HIS WHIMSICAL LOOK AT YORKSHIRE LIFE
SOMETIME in my late 30s I made a half-hearted attempt to change my image. I felt middle-age approaching in its battered charabanc and I wanted to look young again. At the time my mode of dress was usually jeans with turn-ups and blue sweatshirts over loud Hawaiian shirts and I decided they made me look out of touch. Out of touch with what, I wasn’t sure.
I remember being nervous of looking too different, though. The jeans were comfortable and the sweatshirts were bland in a kind way. People expected me to wear the Hawaiian shirts in the same way they used to expect Johnny Craddock to have a monocle.
Looked at from the distance of years, the fashion solution I came up with seems bizarre and wrong-headed, but at the time it made a kind of cutting-edge sense. Odd as it seems, I decided to change my image by buying a black flat cap. I know: ludicrous, isn’t it? A black flat cap.
I remember buying it. I remember trying it on in the bedroom and thinking I looked okay. I looked younger. I looked streetwise. I posed. I may even have pouted. I tried the black flat cap at various angles: straight/ jaunty/lolling/ironic. I may even (please forgive me) have put it on back to front and thought it looked okay.
I went downstairs with it on. My wife and kids stared at me as though I was an alien or a burglar. I looked behind me in a comedy way, saying “What’s up? Is there somebody behind me? Has somebody come in?” There were tears behind the laughter, though; tears of a capped clown. I went upstairs and took the black flat cap off and flung it on the floor. I may even have stood on it.
But I didn’t chuck it away. I persisted, putting it in my briefcase and wearing it on trains. I would set off for a stroll with the cap in my pocket like a folded shadow and once I was quite a long way down the road I’d whip it out and put it on.
Eventually I began to wear it when the family were around and they sort-of accepted it, to the extent that it’s now become a bit of a kindly reminiscence of the old man’s foibles: “Remember when you used to wear that black flat cap, dad? I wonder what ever happened to that black flat cap? We used to like it!” You fibbers!
Anyway, after a couple of years the black flat cap got put away in a box somewhere, never to be seen again. Or maybe it got put in a bin. Or maybe it got taken to a charity shop.
Until last week, when we were clearing out some boxes to put something somewhere and there it was, sitting at the top of a pile of books like a badly charred Yorkshire pudding. The years melted away and I was a man in his 30s again. I tried it on and my wife tried to restrain a grin and said “It looks a bit small.” But here’s the mystery. Here’s the scary bit of this column: I took the black flat cap down and hung it on a peg to show my grandson Thomas when he came. And the next day there were two flat caps on two pegs. And I can’t explain that. Can you? Cue eerie music…