Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Beret

Last winter I lost my beret. I have no idea where I left it, or what has happened to it, but it is gone. This was no ordinary beret. Hamish gave it to me for Christmas in 1975, while we were staying with the Francis Tuftons, and he was an undergraduate at Jesus College, Cambridge. It was a black woolen second- or even third-hand St. John’s Ambulance Brigade beret with slender leather trim, emblazoned inside the crown with the Maltese cross and certain other armorial bearings of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem. Over the years these gradually began to wear away, but this splendid article of apparel nevertheless performed its simple function with 100% effectiveness and utter reliability for no fewer than thirty-three years, gradually adapting itself also to the size of my aging head, and varying amounts of hair. Apart from the beautiful Tissot wristwatch Mum and Dad purchased for me in Basel on the same holiday—that went in 1999 when I was cleaned out by burglers in Adelaide—I cannot recall losing anything else of greater sentimental value. It brings to mind a remark Dennis Potter once made to Melvyn Bragg, which, paraphrased, adapts itself perfectly to the situation: “I’ve lost my beret, oh my god, I’ve lost my beret…oh, the beret-ness of that beret, and the lostness of that loss.” Dennis Potter was talking about the experience of losing something when you are a child, but I reckon there are times when it applies to adults with equal if not greater force—much as we like to pretend that certain material or worldly possessions do not matter to us quite so much as they actually do. For several months I couldn’t bear even to think about trying to replace my beret. However, at this time of year, when with stony dread we await the gruesome onset of fall, then the outrageous atrocities of the next winter, you have no choice but to reach for headgear. So lately I have been trawling on-line. I have with increasing frustration visited countless virtual purveyors of hats, but although the world is awash with berets, I cannot find just the right one. They are either too broad, too snug, too foppish, too furry, the wrong color, or else hitched to some irritating selling point such as “genuine Basque,” or else ridiculously expensive. However, I have not yet given up.

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