8 Apr


I have always had a penchant for a good hat.

My most spectacular purchase was from a lovely speciality hat shop in Madrid. I was travelling with the Senior and U16 rugby teams of the Royal Grammar School, Newcastle upon Tyne for a tour of Spain in 1999 and we were due to meet a local club for festivities and ritual blood letting. I felt I could do with a bonnet to inspire my young charges (a rather talented U 16 squad). There in the window of La Favorita, Plaza Major, in the centre of the main display window was a magnificent Borsalino, Fedora. “I’m going in,” I decided “and if it fits I’m having it, stuff the cost”.

For those of you that know, Borsalino, is the name of the finest hat maker in Italy. Humphrey Bogart, George Raft, Errol Flynn all sported the brand at rakish angles in many famous films. It is the hat of peacocks, mountebanks and gangsters. It is my kind of hat.

Well I went in and asked in poor Spanish if I might try on the magnificent head piece. The young senorita obliged by fishing it out of the window and handing it to me with a flourish. I was wearing a rather natty linen two piece suit, and as the hat settled, nay caressed my head, I was in sartorial heaven. The senorita beamed at my reflection in the mirror. “Yo lo llevaré (I’ll take it)!” I pronounced. I paid  with a flourish reflecting on the fact that I had just blown a month’s salary on a mere hat. Profligate.

The next day at half time during a rather one sided rugby match I was busy fielding moans from the U 16 players who were losing heavily against a very hirsute and manly opposition:

“Sir, it’s just not fair, they’ve got 17 players on the pitch!”

“They’re MEN sir!”

“Sir, the ref is totally biased and keeps giving his side penalties”

“Sir, we’re going to lose”

….and so on, and so forth.

I nodded sagely in my new hat and said “What do you notice about the ref lads?”

“He’s biased!”, “he’s blind!”…..

“Come on lads, be specific”

“He’s a fat bastard sir!” said Matthew Thomas – the hooker

“Correct ‘Hom. What do we know about fat bastards?”

‘Hom, “They don’t like running about sir!”

“Brilliant, so what you are going to do is ‘exhaust the ref’. Make sure you move the ball around the field and play as far away from him as you can, even if it means running backwards. When he is completely knackered, then you can play rugby. I’ll have a wee chat with him about rule interpretation right now”

“Yes Sir!” they all chimed

I strolled over to the club chairman (an ex-patriot Englishman) and asked if it would be ‘ok’ to meet the ref. He areed and we sauntered over to the centre spot in full view, but out of earshot of the partisan crowd (who jeered my hat). I asked the chairman to translate for us:

Me “Could you ask Bluto here if he is clinically blind or just a fat cheating bastard?”

Chairman – colouring up slightly, addressed the ref. “Por favor, etc, etc, blah blah blah ???”

Bluto, and I translate “Tell this fucker to take his hat off my pitch and go and play with the fairies”

Me “Well Senor Fat Boy, if you don’t start refereeing the match properly – Voy a pulverizar a usted. Entender? (I’m going to pulverize you, understand?)

Bluto….laughs. Chairman laughs nervously. I slap Bluto on the back. Hard. I walk off.

The lads used the new strategy to good effect before scoring 8 tries in the second half and thrashing the opposition.

I now know that I was probably having one of my manic mood swings during this period. Something which gave me quite an edge as a teacher, but marred my private life with profound periods of depression. Spending stupid amounts of money was another clue.

Hatters often went mad in the 19th century due to the constant exposure to Mercury salts used in curing the fine pelts used to make fine hats. They developed mood swings, and a behaved as if afflicted by the manic depression I live with.

Nevertheless, I’m sure it was the Borsalino, that inspired me and the lads on the day. Like the Mad Hatter in Lewis Carrol’s ‘Alice in Wonderland, I was able to steal (half) time. In the story The Hatter was punished by being perpetually forced to live at 6.00 pm at a tea party. Coincidentally I now inhabit a perpetual tea party with my wife Clare, having opened a Tea Shop called Tea with Percie in Sheffield. 557 Abbeydale Road, S7 1TR tel: 0114 327 0020

Mind you, I reckon I can rock a boater too


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: