Sunday, December 16, 2007

A matter of John Stuart Mill and hats

This comes under the heading of "Bizarre Conversations".

I was enjoying a full-on power walk around Greenham Common (above) today.

The etiquette appears to be that you smile or say "hello" to people who you meet as they walk towards you, but not, I think, if there is some one off the track vaguely about 20 yards from you on the heath. Anyway, I was on the track and I noticed a lady walking with her dog on the heath about 20 yards away. (I had been walking for about two hours, so, after initially wearing my hat, I had put it in my pocket when I started to get a bit warm.)

I walked on after glancing at the lady, but then I heard her say something to me: "Have you got a hat?", she said.

"I'm sorry?" I said, with my hand to my ear. I could have sworn that I had heard her say "Have you got a hat?" but it was such a bizarre question that I thought I must have misheard her. Anyway, she repeated herself:

"Have you got a hat?"

I thought for a moment that she was having trouble with her dog and needing a hat for some bizarre reason. It seemed unlikely because she was wearing a hat herself.

"Yes" I said, pulling my hat out of my pocket, waving it at her and then putting it back in my pocket.

"You should put it on", she said.

For a moment I thought I had slipped back thirty five years and I was having a walk in the grounds of my school and that this was the matron telling me to put my hat on. I was tempted to say something like "What's it got to do with you?" but I kept my cool and said:

"Why?", I asked.

"You'll catch a chill", she said.

At that I was faced with a dilemma. Do I let the charitable person in me come out and say "Thanks for the advice". Or does the bolshy liberal and, indeed, the affronted male who started getting narked by being told what to do by matronly women at about age 17, come out and say what I had initially considered saying, specifically: "What's it got to do with you?"

I am afraid to say that the bolshy liberal/narked male got the better of me and I did indeed retort:

"What's it go to do with you?"

I felt a bit unkind shortly afterwards, after all, she was only showing concern for someone else, which was nice of her.

She then said "I was joking".

So I said "Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't realise - I had my hat on but then I got warm so I took it off".

"Have a good Christmas" she said, hurrying on.

"And you" I said with as much jollity as I could muster.

What a bizarre conversation! But, as I say, it's nice that someone was concerned for my well-being. She was obviously a very well-meaning lady. But John Stuart Mill comes in here. If someone is walking along minding their own business, doing no-one any harm, should they really be admonished by the Greenham Common Hat Police for not wearing a hat?

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