Sidey’s weekend theme is “the hat”…
It was the hat of hats.
It was Ladies’ Day at Ascot, and this time young Lady Brigadier-Smythe (her grandad had played in the football match in No-Man’s Land on Christmas day 1914) was determined to win the Best Dressed Lady award.
Last year she had turned up in a flowing dress, immaculate gloves and shoes the beauty of which were matched only by the pain they caused to wear them, and her hat had let her down.
She had laboured under the misapprehension that a hat is to protect a lady from the worst of rain or sun, and so had come in a sensible wide brimmed affair, like a flying saucer but with a bow at the front.
But other ladies knew that hats were, on this one day at any rate, literally one’s crowning glory. One had worn a wire coat-hanger curled into the shape of a question mark. One had worn a hat made entirely from chicken-bones (and to Lady B-S’s delight had been attacked by a cat). One had worn what appeared to be a cat.
The winner had worn a hat in the shape of Copenhagen’s Little Mermaid, bare bosom and all. She knew that the competition was judged by men.
Lady B-S stepped from her taxi and walked to the bar where she had arranged to meet her three lifelong (she was 23) friends. Their names were Tabitha, Portia and Constance, but what passed for wit in a girls’ private boarding school had given them the nicknames Catty, Vroom and Prunes.
Her own name was Fleur.
“Hello, Bloomers,” said Vroom. “Nice hat.” The other two nodded in agreement.
Considering the efforts of these three this was high praise indeed. Vroom wore a hat in the shape of Noah’s Ark, with toy giraffes and elephants peering out of the little windows. Prunes had gone for Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, complete with vase. Catty had chosen Carmen Miranda’s famous fruit-hat but hers included not just the hat, but also the head of Carmen Miranda wearing it.
Fleur’s own hat was in a league of its own, though. She had, as I’ve said, wanted the hat of hats and suddenly she realised that was exactly what she should make. Her hat was every famous hat from film and literature all clipped together. There was Sherlock Holmes’ deerstalker, Indiana Jones’s fedora, Davy Crockett’s coonskin cap. There was Daisy Buchanan’s summer hat, Harry Potter’s sorting hat and Robin Hood’s whatever-you-call-that-hat hat.
She looked totally ridiculous, which is why she was going to win.
The four wandered ostentatiously around the winner’s enclosure, as did all the other ladies, eager to be noticed. They were so busy trying to spot who might be the judges that they did not notice that the sky was growing darker and darker.
Suddenly the skies opened in sheets of stinging torrential rain.
The effect was catastrophic. Vroom’s Ark filled rapidly with water (with open windows it was always going to, I don’t now how we have any animals at all) and slid sideways off her head. The sunflowers’ bowl filled with water too, getting heavier as it did so and causing Prunes’ stiletto heels to sink into the grass like tent pegs, leaving her pinned to ground which true racegoers would now describe as “Good to Soft”.
Catty’s hat now looked like the guy in The Scream wearing a squid.
They were not the only ones struggling. Question-mark girl from last year, now with her coat-hanger bent into a map of the Solar System, was struck by lightning, undoing four hours of painstaking hair-straightening. A lady who’d come in a hat made from spaghetti now looked like the Medusa.
As Fleur stood transfixed in horror, a man ran up to her holding out a banknote.
“I’ll give you fifty pounds for one of your hats,” he said.
Wordlessly Fleur unclipped Popeye Doyle’s pork-pie hat and handed it to her. A woman approached with a similar offer.
Fleur had never considered a career in retail millinery (indeed, she had never considered a career at all) but over the next twenty minutes she cleared her stock. Captain Hook’s hat went for forty pounds. The Mad Hatter’s hat, despite having an actual price tag on it, fetched over twenty-nine pounds more than its advertised ten shillings and sixpence. The hat worn by Ilsa during the final scenes of Casablanca went for one hundred pounds after Fleur told the buyer that it was the actual hat from the actual film, since she was a fast learner.
All this time the royal procession of carriages had been passing by, the occupants waving bravely at the dwindling crowd. Suddenly a man called from one of the carriages.
“I say,” he said, “could I buy a hat too?”
She squelched over to the railing and the man handed her his card. “One doesn’t of course carry money on occasions such as this,” he said, “but one is willing to pay sixty pounds, plus one would like to take you to dinner.”
She wrote her phone number on the “10/6” label and handed it to him along with her last remaining hat, the kerchief worn by Mama as she settled her brain for a long winter’s nap on The Night Before Christmas. He put it on, winked at her, and his carriage resumed its journey along the racetack.
Fleur looked at his card. He was the Duke of some county so small it didn’t even have a cricket team and he was about four-hundred and thirty-third in line to the throne, but who cared, he was royalty.
She stood in the pouring rain with a huge smile on her face. She hadn’t won the Best Dressed Lady prize (a gorgeous girl with a stunning figure had won it, the rain had rendered her dress clinging and almost see-through, and as I’ve said the judges were men), her make-up now made her look like Alice Cooper and her hat now consisted solely of the wide brim, making her look like the Patron Saint of Really Big Halos, but she was six hundred pounds better off and had a date with a Duke.
It really had been the hat of hats.