In search of a red hat

The only possible excuse for my not already owning a deep red fedora is that I am not fond of shopping. I am certainly not fond of shopping for a particular item. Indeed, I liken the recent formal necessity for navy blue shoes to having an aspirin dissolve in one’s mouth before it can be swallowed. The shudder reverberates for far too long.

The fact is that I do wear purple. I could not wait for old age to “Rage, rage against the dying of the light” (Dylan Thomas, Do not go gentle into that good night).  Even when the collars of purple shirts fray, I continue to wear them. Imagine my delight when last winter’s fashion colour was purple. It was finally official! Tight budgetary constraints at the time restricted my pleasure to watching other people prance around in purple (collars and cuffs in good cond.).

I gather that the poem written in 1961 by Jenny Joseph ominously entitled Warning is under copyright restrictions. I shall therefore quote only the first verse here, since many of you will know it by heart anyway.  If not, Internet searches will yield plentiful results.

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people’s gardens
And learn to spit.

On my fortieth birthday, my younger sister lovingly yet cheekily presented me with the above poem written in her own hand: silver ink on black paper, itself backed by a colourful design with strong elements of red; contained in a wooden frame she had stained purple herself; behind the glass lie scattered bits of brightly
coloured pot pourri. I treasure it.

So, let’s see how I am doing, seven years later. I am sure you will forgive me for not presenting a classical literary analysis of this poem.

Well, I am practiced in the art of wearing purple. In the spirit of freedom suggested in the poem, however, I do not restrict myself to this colour alone. I rather suspect I shall get gaudier with age. At least I hope so. The red hat has been problematic for the reason already mentioned. I realise that if I apply my natural determination to this area I may well achieve this goal before too long.

I have rather large, practical hands, so you can keep the gloves, summer or otherwise. Satin sandals. Ha! Those who know me would become decidedly worried if they ever saw me shod in a pair – although those blue shoes did have uncharacteristic rosebuds on the toe…

Pavements, there have been many, thanks to the forgiving nature of the backsides of blue jeans. Pavements with large flagstones are perfect for a quick game of hopscotch. I noticed lately that I do have to be careful with my knees, though. I have no stick, but one can always improvise. Last item used: garden shears, thus combining two delightful activities into one afternoon.

I have been known to confess hunger whilst gobbling up samples but have always, in exchange, provided the poor sample purveyor with some strange, unrelated conversation in between mouthfuls. Those are very silly notices that command, “Ring once only. You will be attended to shortly.” The management of such establishments must believe that people like me really do not exist. Anyway, the postman always rings twice, according to Hollywood.

My father taught me how to spit out of the window of a moving truck. Much laughter, resulting in not much saliva being retained after all that effort. No pension yet, but the sobriety of my younger days was almost entirely soaked up in brandy, or variations on that theme. I am free, therefore, to give that one a miss, and instead, dunk biscuits in my coffee publicly.

The verses not quoted here tell me that I “can wear terrible shirts”, something which I have taken literally, although I really ought to have made more effort on the “terrible” scale. The idea of indulging on 1.36 kilograms of sausages in one sitting tends to induce in me a soupçon of nausea. However, if anyone is prepared to cook me the aforementioned quantity of a small variety of the sausages available in Portugal, and give me copious amounts of inebriating liquid with which to wash them down, together with background jazz and blues, or the fado – or even English and Irish pub songs sung loudly out of tune if nothing else is available – and a handful of friends doing the same, then I am game. As Jenny Joseph suggests, hedonism and the art of the bohemian needs practice.

It was an unexpectedly emotional wrench to dispense with my motley collection of Dutch and German beermats when we immigrated; we found homes for the all non-essential pens and pencils. I have no wish to swear in the street, but I do recall unintentionally giving my nephew and nieces a jolly good demonstration of how to swear properly at a family lunch once. Collective gasp! The youngest of the three was about eight, I think. I gave myself a pat on the back for having lasted well over a decade without blundering thus. The euphemism “jolly” has been jolly handy ever since.  Besides, when I say “jolly” now, they all know what I really mean.

Helena Bonham Carter, a remarkable woman in my view, recites the poem here: I would be interested in other performances, should you come across them.

I cannot say the poem has been my creed, nor that I would be tempted to join a Red Hat Society. What I am grateful for is the fact that I grew up in an age and location which benefited from the efforts of countless pioneering women to free us from the shackles of social conformity to the extent that even if we have to observe social niceties and discharge ourselves of familial duty and civil responsibility, we are nevertheless free to be ourselves when doing so. Moreover, we choose to express ourselves –  in often unbridled and surprisingly creative ways.  
Me, young, in purple. 1986.

The overriding dilemma, therefore, is whether to fix the toilet seat, or procure the hat.


The word in bold appeared in the previous post.

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