Wednesday 19 August 2009

Tilley Tirade

Yesterday I took the kids to Norfolk. On a whim really, but it was a nice day and I wanted some wide-open space and BIG SKY. Montana was too far away, so we went to the North Norfolk coast. Initially I had thought Hunstanton, but it was rammed so we carried on to Titchwell, which I knew had a buggyable path down to the usually empty beach.

On the way down we stopped off at the new Island Hide, and had a quick peek at the waders - it would have been rude not to. There were quite a few people in there, but we found a space and I started grilling the waders to see if there was anything to show the kids. Not long into this and I found a Curlew Sandpiper - not unexpected in August really. The kids start to have a look through the scope at it, appreciating the finer points of ferruginea, when I become aware of a small crowd of people forming around us, setting up scopes in the same direction as mine. Eh? They were all over 60, they all had nice scopes, they were all wearing beige and green clothing, and to a man (and woman) they were wearing Tilley Hats. Brand spanking new perfectly formed Tilley Hats. Ah yes, Titchwell, I love it. But the hats irk me. Why?

Well, I have a Tilley Hat, and have had for years, but I don't often wear it, as it seems equivalent to wearing a sign saying "numpty" round my neck. I know, I should ignore all of this nonsense, and wear it anyway, but birding seems not to be like that. Anyway, this is a great shame, as I love my hat. I bought it in 1998 before my Australia trip, and wore it night and day for about four months. I went swimming in it, I fanned barbeques with it, I collected plant seeds in it. It still comes with me on every foreign trip, especially to hot places, where it excels. But I can't bring myself to wear it birding in this country. It differs from all the hats I saw at Titchwell in that it is knackered and looks well-used. The hole things even have a nice layer of blue-green oxidisation, much the same colour as that Blue-cheeked Bee-Eater I saw. The ones at Titchwell however are all pristine, and the brass gleams. I don't know they manage it. The hats must live in boxes, come out briefly for half an hour to marvel at Curlew Sands that other people have found, and then go back in a box. The brims are always perfect. There is no part of the brim of my hat that continues in the same direction for more than about ten centimeters. Though it pains me to say it, I have never seen anyone other than a total numpty wearing a Tilley Hat. Once, when I was at Fionnphort on the Isle of Mull in 1999, a man on a bicycle with a [naturally] immaculate Tilley Hat on came up to me and said "Congratulations!" Blank stare. "I see you are wearing a Tilley Hat, congratulations, let me shake you by the hand!". Tragically, this is not a lie, it actually happened. I mean, who in their right mind would go up to a complete stranger on the basis of the hat they are wearing, and strike up a conversation specifically about that hat? Why would you assume that somebody wearing the same hat as you therefore has the same values as you and would be pleasant to talk to, and what is more would be delighted that you had come over for a chat? I don't remember what I said. I was less bitter and twisted then, so I probably nodded and smiled. I remember that at the time it upset me that somebody wearing the same hat as me could be such a total ass, and that I blathered on about it for a lot of the holiday. Nowadays I would probably just tell him to piss off.

Thankfully no more incidents of this nature occured in the intervening period and I had largely stopped thinking about Tilley Hat associations. Until I started birding that is. All novice birders end up in Norfolk pretty soon, and that seems to be the spiritual home of the Tilley Hat. So no doubt a few years ago some other blogger would probably have been writing about what a total numpty dude-ass they had encountered at Titchwell wearing a stupid hat, but that was then, and now is now. I have moved on to a beige cap. This is what real birders wear. By wearing it, people must look at me and think "There goes a proper birder", but then, "Oh wait, he can't ID anything, why isn't he wearing one of those funny hats?" It is a great cap if I don't say so myself. Made by Orvis, a fishing company, it is made of some kind of special material that allows water to bead rather than soak in, but is not obviously gortex or anything like that. But it has its shortcomings, namely that it does not protect the back of my neck from the sun. The Tilley hat is very good at that, but as it proclaims me to likely be a tit, I don't wear it birding. There are exceptions - boat trips for example, where a good hat is essential. If it gets windy the hat has two handy straps, one that goes under the chin, the other that goes under the back of the head. Trust me, you look really cool. For God's sake, isn't this pathetic, why do I even care?

I wore my hat at the weekend, fishing. It was great. But we were the only people at the lake, and my Brother-in-Law already knows I'm a tit...

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