The Hat, a short story by Tony Hughes
Edinburgh, —This is a short story (possibly based on actual events) written by my good friend Tony Hughes, back in 1999. He has kindly given me permission to reproduce it here.
It was a Friday night and I was going out. I met up with Ed and some of his workmates in town and, as usual, they drifted away home because they had sore heads or no money or some such other excuse not worth mentioning. So, at some point in the evening we found ourselves in the Moo Bar. It’s not the sort of place I like to frequent as it’s usually full of dark, shady characters staring ahead. We only went in because Ed needed to use the toilet.
I got the beers in while I waited and glanced around the dimly lit room. There wasn’t much to it — it was like standing in a living room of a house of someone you don’t know particularly well. Just as I was wondering what I was doing here Ed returned. We talked a little until his voice trailed off as he noticed a hat on the floor presumably belonging to the occupants of a nearby table. It was a sort of Indiana Jones type thing, felt–like and wide brimmed. The three men at the table looked like university lecturers and were all dressed smartly.
Now for reasons only best guessed at Ed hatched a plan to steal the hat. He suggested we sidle over to the fruit machine and I put some money in thus causing a distraction whilst he edged the hat over our way with his foot. This we did and I bent down with the practised art of a person with years experience of picking things off a pub floor and attempted to make my escape. I chose to leave by a different door to the one I had come in by — something I soon realised was a mistake. Lesson one for any prospective criminal is to have a foolproof escape route mapped out for those times when he requires a quick exit. I picked the hat up, stuffed it into my coat and walked briskly to the exit. It was locked. Two padlocks barred my route to freedom. What does one do in such situations? What could I do? I sprinted back through the main bar to the door where I had come in, passing three puzzled–looking lecturer–type men, and ran out into the street, gibbering laughter as I went.
I rendezvoused with Ed farther up the street, he oblivious to my panic–stricken plight of earlier, and we headed off to the next pub, The Woolpack. The next part of the plan was simplicity itself: sell the hat to enable us to purchase more beer. Well either students are getting a whole lot poorer or we weren’t the salesmen we thought we were. Nobody was prepared to pay for the hat. We couldn’t even get a pound for it. The bar staff wouldn’t buy it, the bouncers wouldn’t buy it. If I were a student I would pay a pound for it just for the thrill of throwing it at somebody or fooling about with it later on. Eventually, after a long protracted bartering session with some English Lit. students, we managed to offload the hat for the net total benefit of one pound. That managed to get us one vodka and lemonade.
As we sat there with our respective drinks (I got the vodka, Ed got to hold his last drink for a while longer), we felt a sense of loss. Tonight’s fun had been taken away for the sake of a watered down spirit. There was only one sensible option left: locate the hat and attempt to buy it back.
It wasn’t too hard to find. After haggling for over a minute we had the hat back, all for the princely sum of £1. 20. Where next? The Student Union of course! Having ordered 8 vodkas and lemonade, we tried and failed to swap them for the hat. The young barman looked at us and laughed a nervous laugh, as we had drunk 3 vodkas each before grudgingly agreeing to give him some real money for the alcohol. The hat was sold and repurchased another two times before it was dawning on these students in the bar that these two clowns were not really to be taken seriously and, in fact, must now be avoided as they were having fun. All the fun seems to have been somehow sucked from students in the 1990’s. It’s as if their primary reason for attending university is to get an education.
Whilst we stood debating what to do next, Ed decided to play an electronic quiz machine, called something like ’Mastermind’ or ’Test Your Knowledge’. It seemed fairly simple and we confidently expected, with our unwavering now–drunken enthusiasm, that we could actually win some money from this thing. All there was left to win five pounds was the music round: listen to 4 songs and press the requisite button to indicate which of the four answers provided are correct. A still picture of the Bee Gees came on the screen with the words ’Listen to this piece of music…’, this would have been fine had (a) The surrounding noise in the bar not been as loud as a fog horn, and (b) the speakers on the quiz machine had not been disconnected. There went another pound.
Next stop was Citrus Club, where we happened upon two blondes standing at the bar, the sort of women who, if you approached saying hallo and offering a drink, would tell you to fuck off. As the dance floor got busier it became easier to sidle up to people and plonk the hat on some unsuspecting head. It was to mixed reactions: some people laughed and played along with the joke, others threw the hat away as if in a rage, and glared at us ominously.
I’m not actually too sure what became of the hat. Ed swears he didn’t leave the club with it and I remember nothing of its demise. Perhaps it was meant to be.