Using hats from the handling collection as inspiration for a short piece of writing.
In May 2017, the Kinsley WEA Creative Writing group had a visit from Wakefield Museums to provide objects for inspiration. A box of hats from the museums handling collections were taken to the group and after discussion and handling the hats the group were tasked with creating a short piece of creative writing.
I’ve got loads of hats
More hats than cats
And what does it matter
Whatever the weather
So I’m a real go-getter
But daughter Kate’s opinion
But let me tell you
SHE wants that one too
In the drop of a hat because
Kate will have to dream
Everyway a winner
Homburg, trilby or flat
I love a hat
Too many times in the past he’d come a cropper when the contents had been much heavier than he’d expected. He’d lost count how many times he’d woken up, on the floor confused, with a bump on his head.
To his delight, the box felt light, he pulled. Everything he saw next was in exquisite slow motion. The whole cardboard construction fell in an avalanche of organisation. He was sure that when the boxes fell they left behind a perfect shadow of dust suspended in the air, a dirty negative.
The whole wall collapsed upon him, buried in storage, as if this wasn’t bad enough, a split second later, the dust followed it.
Rob laid where he was for a few minutes, waiting for any injury to manifest itself. After feeling no real pain, or the wetness of blood, he sat up.He checked himself, particularly his bare legs below his old cargo shorts. To his relief, the boxes all appeared to be as light as the first and fell off him easily.
One of the cardboard containers had tipped over, and the contents had fallen out. A hat.
Rob picked it up and looked at it. A straw boater in excellent condition, in fact, it looked almost new. The straw weaved into the construction was bright and fresh with an aroma of sweetness. The band that ran around the crown was bright blood red. The hat showed no sign of age.
Rob did what most people would do in this situation; he popped it on. Immediately, he felt a shift in his equilibrium. A smell of wet vegetation assaulted his senses, and he could hear the drone of summer insects close to his ears.
His arms ached from exertion, and a trickle of sweat ran down his back. Rob looked into his hands and could see the shadow of something substantial there. He squinted and could make out what appeared to be handles of oars. He felt the resistance of liquid weight, ebbing and flowing. Suddenly a voice made him start. Another shadow manifested itself about two metres away. The image wavered and wained like the water he could feel flowing past his arms. He focused, and beautiful young women crept into view. Like a portrait looked at through a rain soaked window, she seemed to warp and run.
“Oh Bertie, what a wonderful day for an aquatic adventure”.
Rob snatched off the boater; reality snapped back into full fact focus. He reached up and touched his face; it was covered in a thick layer of dust. Rob used his T-Shirt to rub some of it off.
He must have bumped his head, he thought, although he wasn’t aware of losing consciousness. The irony of this wasn’t lost on himself.
He moved and removed the lid of another box. This time it revealed a bright yellow helmet. He picked it up in his hands. It was a fireman’s helmet; it looked like it was from the second world war. Once again, it looked new, unused. The visor was clear with no scratches, and the leather straps used to attach to the head smelled clean and freshly tanned.
Rob hesitated but wanted to ensure that what just happened with the boater was just dust in his eyes and a bang to the head. He slid it on.
Immediately, the smell of acrid dense smoke filled his lungs; he retched into his mouth. He felt an intense heat. Looking down, he saw the hairs on his arms and legs shrivel and oxidise on his skin. They broke off and mixed with the dust.
Rob felt his clothes tighten, the material within them reacting to the temperature. He couldn’t see anything. The smoke was a black hole eating oxygen and light in equal measure. He looked at his hands and was terrified to see blisters starting to form. As he stared, one popped, and viscous fluid ran down his wrist. He’d seen and endured enough. Struggling, Rob felt the strap melting into his chin. He scratched and clawed, managed to get his nails underneath and threw the helmet off. To his disgust, he could see tendrils of his charred skin follow it.
He clenched his teeth and fell to the ground; he rolled around and around in the dust to extinguish himself. He slowly stopped when he realised he was untouched and unmarked. He looked at his hands; they were perfectly intact and unmarked.
Dave, the site foreman, popped his head through the room door.
“You OK Rob? I heard a bang.”
“Yeah, I’m alright thanks, think I’ve inhaled too much dust from this cupboard, I’m gonna finish early.”
“You should have worn a facemask, you daft lad!”
“I know that now” Rob shrugged with embarrassment.
“OK Rob, see you tomorrow.”
Rob gathered up his belongings. As he did so, he saw another open box near the door. Hanging out was a brand new bowler hat. A tsunami of nostalgic warmth washed over him. He remembered as a child watching old black and white comedies with his Dad. Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton, Laurel and Hardy and of course, Charlie Chaplin. His dad would love that hat.
As his hands were full, he took a chance and popped it on to his head. He waited for some terrible vision or event but nothing happened, relieved, he walked out of the room.
He left his possessions behind.
Dave shouted after him, “see you Rob, nice hat.”
Rob turned and scowled at the foreman. Dave felt that stare in his very bone marrow, the smirk he had on his face dropped immediately.
Rob walked out into the busy street. He looked up and down until he saw what he needed.
The cab pulled up, and Rob got into the back. Although his body felt the cool leather seats on his bare legs, his brain didn’t register it. He was deep in thought.
“Where to pal?” The driver cheerfully asked.
“I am not your pal, my good man” Rob retorted.
“Sorry mate, so where to?”
Rob rubbed his hands together. So much unfinished business to be attended to, so much yet to do.
“My title driver is Doctor.”
“OK, Doctor” the driver responded sarcastically, “Where do you want to go?”
“I have lot’s to do” responded Rob.
“Well, the meter is ticking…”
“Rillington Place, number 10” a wide smile broke out on Rob’s face or rather the shadow that was Rob’s face. It was slowly fading away.