On Uncanny Hats

Many years ago, Peter Blegvad posed some questions about hats. To the best of my knowledge, nearly four decades on he has not answered a single one of them. I do not doubt that he has many other calls on his attention, but quite frankly my patience is at an end. I have therefore resolved to seek answers to the questions off my own bat. Whether my answers be right or wrong, I will at least have addressed them, and thus put to bed certain niggling vexations which have been bothering me ever since I first heard those questions, sung by Dagmar Krause, in 1975. Those of you who have no idea what I am talking about should listen to the questions before proceeding:

♪♪♪ Some Questions About Hats ♪♪♪

The first question is “Can one wear uncanny hats?” For a long time I sat at my escritoire pondering this, smoking the odd gasper and glugging a cup of tea. I had a pencil and a blank sheet of paper, just in case. Eventually it dawned on me – as I am sure it has already dawned on you, dear reader – that I was unlikely to come up with an answer to the question while sitting indoors. No, I would have to go out and about, prancing the boulevards, on the lookout for hat-wearing persons. What a bother! I went to take a nap instead.

When I woke up, I returned to my escritoire, my cigarettes, and a fresh cup of piping hot tea, and considered if I might address one of the other questions, one which would allow me to stay put. I dismissed the idea, because I tend to take a very methodical approach to hat question matters, and it seemed important to answer them in the precise order in which they had been posed. Dobson has a pamphlet about this kind of thing, the title of which escapes me, but I have read it several times, and taken its lessons to heart. There was nothing for it, then, but to put on my stylish Italian Hoity Toity Boots, and sally forth into the streets. Before doing so, I thought it prudent to look up the dictionary definition of “uncanny”. I told you I was methodical. The OED gives a number of definitions, some Obs., but the one I felt sure Peter Blegvad had in mind all those years ago was 4.b., that is “Partaking of a supernatural character; mysterious, weird, uncomfortably strange or unfamiliar”. I did not look up the definition of “hat”, because I am not an idiot. I know a hat when I see one, thank you very much.

As I strode out, under an overcast sky threatening rain, I chewed over that definition in my mind. For a hat to be truly uncanny, I reasoned, it would have to meet all the terms given in the OED. It would not be sufficient for a hat to be merely “uncomfortably strange”, for example. As I knew all too well, there were parts of town where strange and uncomfortable hats were ten a penny. Those parts of town I tended to avoid, in the main. A further requirement was that the hat had to be atop somebody’s head, being worn, in order to provide an answer to the question. Otherwise I could save a lot of time and energy by prancing straight to the nearest milliner’s and casting my eye over the window display. I had my work cut out. I headed for an important boulevard, one with plenty of benches upon which pedestrians could rest their weary limbs, chose one to sit upon, and sat, and watched the passing throng.

The first thing that struck me was the extraordinary number of people who wore no hat at all. This in itself seemed uncanny. I myself was sporting a little Tyrolean number, with a feather in it. It is old and battered and has certain unseemly stains under the brim, but it is a good hat, in my opinion. But it is neither mysterious nor weird nor uncomfortably strange, and it is most certainly not unfamiliar, to me at least. It may possibly partake of a supernatural character, given that I acquired it from an unnervingly elvish Tyrolean hatter, with a little pointy beard, dressed all in green, like a character from a frightening fairy story. He was uncanny, sure enough, but his hats were not.

I sat on the bench on the boulevard for half an hour before spotting my first hat. It was worn by a cadaverous lolloping fellow who seemed to have stepped out of an earlier century. He was hefting a carrier bag crammed with angular somethings, who knows what?, and his boots, or possibly his bones, creaked as he lolloped. His hat, however, was disappointingly unremarkable, a Trilby I think, in better condition than my own hat. I felt a sudden urge to attack him, to knock the hat flying off his head, into the gutter, there to stamp on it, in a rage, but I stopped myself. I shut my eyes and counted to two hundred and fifty, which I find is the number required to quell my seething. When I opened my eyes the fellow was out of sight and it had begun to rain.

Now I am not a man for umbrellas. I do not own one and never have. I have my Tyrolean hat to protect the top of my head, and I am insouciant in drizzle. This, however, was a cloudburst, a downpour, and if I stayed where I was my clothing would be sopping wet, however dry the top of my head might remain. I rushed to find shelter in the doorway of a butcher’s. From my new vantage point I hoped to spot more hat-wearers, persons perhaps who eschewed their hats in rainless weather, but now plopped them atop their heads. Where they might be carrying their hats in the meantime was not a matter I wished to think about. As it was, the rain brought no noticeable increase in the hat-wearing population out and about on the boulevard. Instead there appeared a flurry of those cursed umbrellas.

I was beginning to feel cold and miserable and brain-jangled, and I could smell sausages. I turned and went into the butcher’s and bought a half dozen bangers. Did you know there are as many as four hundred and seventy different varieties of sausage available in this country? I can’t remember what kind I bought from this boulevard butcher, whose hat, by the way, was a fairly typical butcher’s hat, and thus not in the least bit uncanny.

Peckish, I returned home in the downpour. On the way I passed several people wearing hats, more than I could have expected, and though one or two were weird – the hats, that is, not the persons wearing them, at least as far as I was aware, not knowing them from Adam – and some hats looked uncomfortably strange, and they were all, to me, unfamiliar, none were mysterious, and none looked, in the time I had to study them, as if they partook of a supernatural character. In short, I did not see a single uncanny hat, and I must have been out of doors for at least an hour all told.

Later, slurping tea and munching my sausages, I reflected that I would have to go out again the next day, to keep my eyes peeled for persons wearing hats, perhaps in a different location. And I began to understand why, almost forty years since he had posed some questions about hats, Peter Blegvad had failed to answer them. I was trying to answer just one, and it was proving no easy matter. How many more days was I going to have to spend sprawled on benches or huddled in the doorways of butcher’s shops, prey to the temptation of sausages? Answering all the questions would be a Sisyphean task. It was clearly time for me to take another nap. And so, sausages digested, to bed.

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