“Oh bugger.” I stopped in my tracks, causing the guy behind to bump into me.

“Sorry,” he grunted, looking murderous: the commuter’s use of apology as an epithet.

“My fault entirely,” I returned, confusing him by a complete lack of aggression. This is not within the rules for commuters, so he stalked off, muttering about bloody women, but in all fairness it was my fault. Halfway down the ramp, I had suddenly realised that I wasn’t wearing my hat and must have on the train. Early as it was, there were six minutes before the train pulled out. That meant that if I ran – proper pegged it – then I could probably get back and grab it. And so off I dashed.

Running through Waterloo at 7am with three bulky bags full of stuff I don’t really need: sometimes it’s clearly going to be that sort of day from the start. But that is most days: 0440 alarm, which is about as joyful as it sounds for someone who is naturally nocturnal, 6am train, and if the builders get onto the quiet coach and talk loudly about football and the Sun all the way to Waterloo, good luck trying to snooze. I was tired and really soundly asleep on the train so it was taking me a while to surface. Dashing about like an Olympic bag lady was definitely waking me up though.

Was this an over-reaction? Probably, but my hat is one of my favourite things, a dubious-looking and highly disreputable tweed flat cap I bought from my brother’s shop at great expense. Thing is, apparently I have a peculiarly-shaped head. Most hats I have ever attempted to wear have parted company with me quite quickly, the woollen ones shimmying upwards till they can leap free and take refuge in a convenient puddle, the more shaped felt ones balancing lightly atop my pate until the merest breath of air allows them to take wing and flee, bouncing away at speed.

This one, my disreputable flat cap does neither. It’s persistent. It stays put, even in high wind. It’s warm and waterproof, and it keeps rain and sun off your face. It’s not pretty and it’s far from fashionable but it does the job, and does it well where other more decorative hats really can’t compete. This hat has my Official Seal of Approval.

Now, some people can get away with that sort of thing and look stylish. Me? Nah. I perfected the bag lady look in my twenties and am maturing into it comfortably. Besides, it doesn’t make sense. Top tip: people don’t look closely at people they see all the time. Your brain fills in the blanks of what it expects to see. It’s kind of like the way your computer caches pages on the internet so it can load them more quickly.

How you look all the time is what people get used to and then *they don’t see it any more.* You are you, and unless they stop to think about it or you’re really different from everyone around you, they don’t even notice, so if you’re not in a high-powered job and you’re putting in the effort for anyone but you, that’s a waste.

Me, I work in what is traditionally a blokes’ industry so provided I look presentable at posh meetings they haven’t really got a clue. Sadly I haven’t yet managed to persuade them that my usual combats are okay, but y’know, aspirations. I’m not one for girly clothes as a general rule – they’re restrictive, have no pockets and require a surprisingly large amount of attention to make sure your skirt doesn’t drape in something if it’s long or ride up indecently if it’s short – but the odd occasion when I do stride in in a skirt suit, heels, and god forbid, makeup, hair up and earrings, I get twenty five different sets of heckles along the line of “Tin hats on, lads! Someone’s gonna get their arse whupped today,” because they all know that this means I have reached Defcon 5 on the scale of supplier interactions and it is not going to go well for somebody. Warpaint!

This works for me, because it means my base level is no effort at all but when I put the effort in, everybody notices. I used to have a friend who would not answer the door without at least foundation and mascara on, and normally spent 2h of a morning putting on makeup and styling her hair. She always looked perfect, but nobody really registered it, and the one time when she did venture out without makeup everyone said she looked ill; she didn’t, but because “normal” for her was highly defined and perfect, you really noticed the difference. She was deeply disgusted the one time we went to a party, and I spent fifteen minutes putting on a modicum of makeup badly, and then two hours being complimented on it.

So I have three basic styles of dress: Baglady for everyday, Mary Poppins Is Displeased for meetings with errant suppliers and Victorian Splendour for occasions involving ball dresses (now all too few, alas but I really don’t have the energy in any case). My flat cap, I need not say, goes best with the first of these.

So, having now sprinted all the wayback up the ramp, dodged the commuters on the concourse, managed not to thwack an eight year old in the face with my bags, ducked through the cattlegates with the perfect timing of the regular commuter, and dashed along the platform, I stopped to ask the cleaners if they had seen my hat. I was a little aware that there was approximately three minutes 50 seconds left on the clock before the train left, and so when they said they were not sure, I continued my headlong and rather luggage-laden sprint along platform to the carriage where I normally sit, and then dashed along the windows, looking into the seat where I had been sleeping on the journey in.

There was a man sitting on the opposite side of the train, and and he got very twitchy indeed as I was clearly staring pointedly in his direction. I scanned the luggage racks, the seats, and the floor – no sign of my hat. There was now two minutes 10 seconds before the train left, and in a mad fit of optimism, I leapt up on the train, tracked all my bags along the aisle and checked on the floor. My hat still had failed to magically appear anywhere I had already looked, and so with precipitate speed, I bundled my way back to the door and fell out of it onto the platform just as the whistle went. The doors beeped and closed, the lights went out, and the train moved off.

The location of my hat was currently a mystery, but it certainly wasn’t with me, which was a bummer.

I checked with the cleaners to see where the last property would go if it was found (and became slightly lost property), and made my way off to work, not well pleased.

At work, I had that sort of day too, full of people asking stupid questions and not listening to the answers and then asking the same stupid questions again. The computer failed, the printer jammed, and for some reason every toilet within two floors of where we were was closed for cleaning at any given point in the day when we sallied forth on an expedition to the loo. It was all very unsatisfactory. At the end of the day, I left London with great relief, and grumbled about the loss of my hat to my long-suffering husband. He heard me out, making very little comment throughout, and then said

“Oh dear, that’s a pity. Are you taking the dog out now?”

“Yes, of course I am.” I was not terribly impressed by his lack of understanding, to be honest – right up until the moment he gestured passed me to the usual hook in the hallway upon which my flat cap was hanging and had been all day.

“If you want your hat, it’s there.”

SIGH.

I’d been sprinting around one of London’s busiest train stations in rush-hour with baggage in search of this bloody hat, and I’d never even taken it out of the house!

I had to laugh. All that fuss for nothing! That poor bloke in the train who thought I was staring at him had probably been paranoid for ages after. Certainly, I’d been grumpy all day, and all the while the hat was safely on its peg….!

Which all made me think about happy endings.

In real life, sometimes the best possible outcome is not necessarily when some mad miracle fixes things, but more when something disappointing actually didn’t happen in the first place. I have my hat back, safe and sound rather than on the way to someone far-off corner of the country, and was very pleased to see it.

Just you try that in fiction though! Readers would flay you alive!

There is a marked disparity in what real life does and what you can get away with in fiction that can be quite vexatious as a writer. You are limited to what is perceived as “likely”. I saw it referred to as the “Tiffany Syndrome” after a writer who was lambasted by readers for having a character in mediaeval times who was named Tiffany, which as any fule kno is clearly a modern name.

Only it isn’t. Apparently it’s a good mediaeval name which just hasn’t had much usage till recently…. it’s annoying and amusing in equal parts but also a tad problematic as perceptions change pretty quickly so in ten years time, what “any fule kno” won’t nec include the modernity of the name Tiffany..

There is probably a deep and meaningful theological conclusion to be drawn from this, but I’ll leave you to come up with your own philosophical musings on this point.

But in any case, my hat and I have come back into conjunction and so I am well pleased. It’s still not called Tiffany though.

🙂

All the best:

JAC.

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