Ian Mcmil­lan


Yorkshire Post - YP Magazine - - Front Page -

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…

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