Maybe I’ve seen too many Daily Mail pictures of fleshy women in skin-tight dresses, staggering around bawdily, bowls of fruit perched precariously atop their bleached bonces. Or perhaps, it’s the thought of hoards of hoo-ra Henrys quaffing champagne and braying brashly.
I don’t know what it is about the races but I’ve never had an interest in going whatsoever.
So when the husband arrived home from work and announced: ‘We’ve been invited to Royal Ascot!’, instead of saying ‘Wow. That’s great! How lucky am I?’ – like any normal, grateful being – my response went along the line of: ‘Oh no! Now, I’m going to have to get dressed up and drive to the other end of the country to make small talk to drunken people I don’t know, while some horses canter past in the distance.’
I’d much rather spend my Saturday quietly reading The Guardian, sipping an extra-hot-one-shot latte, and mulling over the merits of Mallorca with me old mucker Malcolm (more on him next week!)
In the maelstrom of the end-of-term madness, I pushed the impending Ascot trip to the back of my mind.
But approximately two days before, I woke in a cold sweat with only one thought on my mind: I needed a hat. It was the ultimate first world problem.
I needed a hat but worse still, I didn’t have time to get a hat. I was up to my eyeballs in writing reports and controlling over-enthusiastic children.
Still, from my limited knowledge of Ascot, I knew that attending sans hat was simply not an option.
I hastily jumped on the Royal Ascot website. ‘Skirts must be of modest length, preferably to the knee. Hats must have a base of at least 4cm,’ it said.
Like a true mad hatter, I hared out of work that night and headed straight to town. I had about one hour to procure a hat, otherwise we had a major problem on our hands.
I don’t know if you’ve ever attempted to panic buy a hat but let me tell you now, it’s a hideous experience. First of all, hardly ANYWHERE actually sells the blasted things. You can’t just nip into your local Marks and Sparks and grab one-off the shelf. All the usual haunts in town led to dead ends. The only thing I could find was this garish fuchsia thing in Topshop, which was the size of Jupiter.
I tried it on. It was HUGE. You could barely see my eyes.
‘Great,’ I thought. ‘No one will try to talk to me because they would just be addressing a giant expanse of pink. I could even tape a copy of the Guardian magazine to the inside of the brim and just sit and read that all day, thus reducing the need to converse with anyone. Perfect!’
I texted my friend Anna the picture. ‘Does this look like a ludicrous sun hat or an acceptably outlandish hat for the races?’
‘Ludicrous sun hat,’ she texted back. ‘Have you not read that Daily Mail’s coverage? It’s too floppy!’
Floppiness aside, in my panic hat buy, I’d forgotten one critical problem: the size of my head. It’s preposterously small. Some mean people even call me ‘pea head’. This was a new problem for me; quite the opposite of the having feet the size of a man.
For one insane moment, I actually toyed with the idea of MAKING a hat. Surely it was just a case of scrunching some papier mache together and gluing a few feathers on the sides? Perhaps I could even top it off with a bunch of plastic grapes?
But before I could begin my millinery mash-up, I suddenly remembered trusty old Debenhams.
I’d been fighting the need to enter Debenhams because I imagined it quite simply sells the dullest, mumsy-est hats imaginable. Up until that point, I’d still been hoping to stumble across a Philip Treacy-inspired piece, preferably at Primark prices.
Now it was a case of beggars can’t be choosers.
Entering Debenhams, I tried on a taupe number. It made me look like some sort of weird air cadet.
I donned a pink flowery cloche, which made me look like a deranged Hyacinth Bucket.
An announcement came over the tannoy. ‘The store will be closing in five minutes.’
I began to feel very, very panicky.
As I exited to street level, another text came through from Anna.
It was a picture of a Saturn-shaped black hat with two peculiar stripy sticks protruding from it.
I texted back. ‘I’ll take it.’