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For the past six months or so, I had been looking for a new hat.
I had a general idea, rather than a shape in mind.It was the sort of hat a farmer would wear, though not any old farmer, more an urbane and educated farmer with an interest in classical music and only a cursory knowledge of animal husbandry.
It would be a farmer’s hat, but not the sort of hat he would wear on the farm, rather the sort he would wear to town.
He would not be going to town to do banking, however, nor would he be travelling to the stock and station agent or seeing his accountant or visiting an ailing friend in hospital or conducting an affair with a saucy member of the local apple and pear board.
He would be in town for an activity like bowls.He would be in town for an activity like bowls, but he would not take that activity completely seriously.
Rather, he would play with a hint of irony and wear a sardonic expression on his face as the bowls cut an arc across the hissing lawns of some quaint country bowling club.
The hat would need to reflect all of that.
After Christmas I woke up in Invercargill.
There were some hats in the department stores of the south.
There were some hats, but they were not quite right.
Some had hat bands on them with cheerful stripes, the sort of hat bands that made one look like a down-at-heel travelling turf salesman or an itinerant trouser agent.
Other hats came in colours like blue or green, colours that make the wearer look like the sort that locks badgers in his basement, collects the hair of Shortland Street actors and weaves it into braids he attaches to the knees of his pants.
They were not acceptable.
I tried to explain to the shop assistant what I wanted, but her face went an angry sort of blank and her ears turned red.
I tried to explain how bowls could be played ironically, but the shop assistant began to weep, other customers began to stare and a small child started crying.
I made it to the lifts through the darkening crowd, pressed a button marked "Dunedin", and found myself in Princes St.
I stumbled into the sort of fashionable young person’s shop where the owner has raven black hair cut to a brutally short fringe, a ’50s frock and hipster tattoos.In the corner a naked man was playing the oboe beautifully.
I felt at home.
There was a jukebox and antique lamps and half-mannequins in feather boas, and there was headwear.
There were cheese cutters and peaked caps with red stars, berets and boaters and bowlers and historic cricket caps and other hats so unusual they could not be described using conventional language.
They were not quite right, and despite a range of sizes, none seemed to fit.
As the apparent inevitability of the moment began to weigh heavy on my consciousness, the beat of the music increased in tempo and started to echo through the florid alleys of my mind, as the curtains rippled in a sinister way and an oil slick formed and eddied across the floor and the room began to fill with a pungent yet strangely calming smoke.
My eyes grew heavy and my lips they could not speak.I tried to get up but I could not find my feet.
The owner reassured me with an unfamiliar line, but I could only tell her I needed a very specific sort of hat that was only really a concept in my mind.
I sank into a velvet chair with a chaise cushion made of polyester fibre plaited into a shiftless material on which it was impossible to focus.
I slept a troubled dream-filled moment.
I awoke in Lawrence.
Historic wooden men with cylindrical bodies stared unblinking into the sun.
Everywhere were coffee shops and tiny churches and cars that came and went and people with ice cream cones.
I felt at home.
Next to the rural supplies co-operative office there was a hardware store that sold coloured plastic balls and magazines and paint.
It looked like just the sort of place where, tucked between a lilo and a set of Phillips head screwdrivers one could find the perfect hat.
But that wasn’t the case.
Sometimes when one is looking for an item so hard, one can be assured it will never be found.In such a situation it is important to stop looking, and let fate decide your path where will has done what it can, but failed.
By some strange fate, I woke up in Mosgiel.
The streets were wide and the temperature was exactly 2degC warmer than Dunedin.
The path wavered and the residents were directed in their wanderings by two-dimensional fish.
In a Christian bookshop window there was a book called Men, We Thank God for You.
I didn’t feel at home.
But look you, standing unbowed by a major intersection was a small branch store of a Dunedin menswear outlet.
It had a huge leather whip in the window, and two tiny wagon wheels.
And there, next to racks of pink business shirts, pre-faded jeans, solid leather belts and cowboy hats, it sat casually yet fashionably not far from the counter.
It went down at the front and up at the back, just like I wanted.
It was of a subtle dark colour with a simple yet elegant black band.
And inside was printed on a tiny tag what appeared to be the clincher.
It was made of 100% paper.
It was a paper hat.
But that was not all.
Printed neatly on the receipt following payment was the description of the hat.
It was a Jackie Chan trilby.
You can’t do much better than that.
Thank you, Mosgiel.
- Mr Loughrey would like to thank Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazlewood for their help with this article.