For those who haven’t noticed, I tend to wear a hat. An Australian kangaroo skin Akubra, which I wear for consistency, recognisability and because I think it looks cool. Also, I’m thinning at the front and I don’t want anybody to know.
There are, of course other more practical reasons for my hat – it prevents my nose, ears and neck from getting sunburnt, it shields my eyes from the sun, it comes in handy as a fan, a mini-umbrella or even a pillow.
I tend to reserve the use of my hat for when I’m travelling, attending music festivals or being interviewed on the telly.
But what you might not know is that behind the scenes my hat has been played by several different hats – ten in all. However, they’ve always been the same hat. A bit like Doctor Who.
Hat 1 – “The Original”
April 2002 – 21 August 2004 (Lost)
Appropriately, my first hat was bought in Alice Springs, slap-bang in the middle of Australia during my roadtrip around the great Red Continent with my then-girlfriend Mandy, who bought it for me as a gift.
But then, in the summer of 2004, I found myself at the V Festival in Staffordshire. More specifically, I found myself backstage of the NME Signing Tent at the V Festival in Staffordshire… with a fridge full of Carling, and The Scissor Sisters.
Ana Matronic and I were in the middle of putting the world to rights when I heard the unmistakeable sound of THE PIXIES blasting from the main stage. I kissed the lovely Ana goodbye and ran as fast as my wobbly drunken legs could carry me.
I vaguely remember the intro to Digging for Fire, and maybe a bit of crowdsurfing.
Some indeterminate time later, I awoke, splayed out on the ground, not far from the madding crowd wondering why The Pixies were covering New York City Cops by The Strokes. Wiping the grass from my sleeves, I stood up and realised it was because Frank n’ Kim had finished an hour ago. We were now halfway through The Strokes.
Also, I had lost my hat.
Hat 2 – “The Sequel”
December 2004 – February 2006 (Lost)
Later that year I returned to Melbourne for the first time since 2002. Mandy and I went to Vic Market and I got my hands on Hat 2. It was nice to have a hat on my head again, although Mandy forbade me from wearing it whilst out and about in Melbourne as apparently that would be a “totally bogan” thing to do.
Yet Hat 2 remained my faithful friend, coming with me to a string of music festivals across 2005 and then to Thailand in February 2006. Bizarrely, I shared the flight over to Bangkok with Ian Brown, Franz Ferdinand (the band, not the Archduke) and Oasis. They were due to appear at a music festival on the outskirts of the capital that weekend… along with Arctic Monkeys, Placebo and Maximo Park.
There was no way I was going to miss this. I met up with my old university chum Stan on Khao San Road and we got ourselves tickets for the gig. Later that same day we would share a round of drinks with 70s comedians Frank Carson (RIP) and Stan Boardman outside a go-go bar in Patpong. It was that kind of trip.
The gig was MENTAL. Brilliantly mental. They ran out of beer in the first hour and so dozens of locals turned up and started selling cold ones out of the back of their cars. When the security guy had his back turned, beer cans flew over the double metal fence one way and balls of scrumpled up bhat flew the other.
The next day security had improved and so the only way of getting a drink was to buy a shot of the ubiquitous 100 Pipers whisky – the sponsors of the event. However, the powers that be decided to set up several games of skill – darts, hoop-la, hook-a-duck etc, the successful completion of which would result in a free shot. Kinda like a brilliant drunken Thai version of The Crystal Maze.
My favourite was the run-the-metal-loop-along-the-wire-without-touching-the-wire challenge. Especially considering while I was doing it (and had already made it buzz 2 of the permitted 3 times) Stan secretly unplugged the apparatus. Ka-ching! Drinks please!!
A few days later and the drunken carnival of ridiculousness that was our Thai holiday peaked at the Ko Pha Ngan half-moon party in the jungle. We had been drinking since lunchtime, and were already off our scones before we arrived at the party. We got ourselves temporary UV tattoos of words that cannot be reprinted in this family periodical and embarked on another round of Buckets.
For the uninitiated, a ‘Bucket of Joy’ is a Thai delicacy involving vodka, whiskey, Red Bull, Coca-Cola and a ton of ice. It comes in a little plastic bucket and it gets you very drunk. If you’re already very drunk then it gets you very trouble.
I was already very drunk.
For some reason I got it into my head that we were being raided by the police so I legged it into the jungle. Now, there’s a reason why they don’t hold the Men’s 100m in the jungle at night. It’s a case of simple mathematics: the chances of a moveable object running through the jungle in the dark hitting a immoveable object, such as a big frikkin’ TREE are roughly 100%.
And hit it I did.
Now, I have a range of super-powers that come in damn handy for travelling and without which I may not have been able to complete The Odyssey Expedition. One is that I can sleep anytime, anyplace, anywhere. Another is that I rarely get ill. A third is that I can wake up whenever I want – so long as I think about it before I go to sleep. Finally, I am the proud owner of an almost supernaturally dependable beer scooter.
A beer scooter is the magical device that somehow gets you home when you’ve had one too many. Mine seems to work no matter where ‘home’ is from one day to the next. One minute I was flat on my back in the jungle, the next I’m on the other side of the island flat on my back in bed in our room back at the Coco Hut in Hat Rin and it’s morning and it’s sunny and Christ my face hurts and…
Where’s me hat? 🙁
Hat 3 – “The Enigma”
March 2006 – ??? (Missing)
Hat 3 was the Babylon 4 of hats. It had only been online for a short time when it went missing in time and space. Mandy and I bought it out on the Melbourne quayside after the Thai debacle (which also resulted in me contracting conjunctivitis, that most miserable (and infectious) of eye diseases). It came with us on our trip across the Nullabor from Melbourne to Perth and attended the Download Festival with our Stan.
One day it was happily sitting in my flat in Liverpool, the next it was gone. Nobody knows when it disappeared or where it went, but disappear it did, which is why I’m not wearing a hat for Stan and I’s insane road trip around Europe in July 2007.
Hat 4 – “The Legend”
December 2007 – February 2010 (Retired)
Hat 4. You wonderful thing you.
Purchased from Vic Market in Melbourne in the run-up to Christmas 2007, my brain formed more happy memories from inside Hat 4 than any other.
Hat 4 was with me in Barcelona for my birthday in 2008, it was with me in Australia when I got Lonely Planet involved in The Odyssey Expedition that summer, it came with Mandy and I to Paris for our last tango and, yes, this was the hat that accompanied my head for the first 13 months and 142 countries of The Odyssey Expedition.
I wore it through every country in South America, The Caribbean, Central and North America, Europe and North West Africa. Bear in mind that it’s not actually attached to my head and I was travelling alone with nobody to watch my stuff.
It came with me on the boat over to Cape Verde and, together with a copy of Lonely Planet West Africa, helped form my ‘pillow’ whilst I was sleeping on the concrete floor of the jail in Praia.
It made it back to Africa and travelled with me through Mali, Sierra Leone, Cote D’Ivoire, Nigeria, Cameroon and Gabon. Whilst I was allowed to keep it when incarcerated in Cape Verde, in Congo I was not so lucky. Before they bundled me in that jail cell with blood smeared all over the walls, I was relieved of not just my belt and my shoelaces (standard), but also my shoes, socks, t-shirt, glasses (yes really)… and Hat 4.
Upon my release six days later I stopped at the doorway, turned back for one last glance at the sorry state of the police station in which I had been held, then, face forward, slipped on Hat 4 and strode out a free man. It was exceptionally cinematic.
Shame there was nobody around to see it.
Hat 4 stayed on my head all through the rest of Central Africa. It came with me through Southern Africa, East Africa, the Indian Ocean islands, then North-East Africa and the Middle East. I wore it in Sudan, Israel, Syria and Iraq.
But all good things…
The road had taken a toll on Hat 4. And as a result of being so often drenched and then dried in the baking hot African sun, Hat 4 had shrunk. And it didn’t smell too good either. I tried stretching it, but there was nothing for it. I would have to get a new hat.
Being a damn good sport, Mandy bought me a new one from Vic Market in Melbourne and sent it over to the UK, where I would be pit-stopping for visas and a mum-cooked roast before hitting Libya and Algeria.
So the legend that is Hat 4 now lives at my parent’s place, hooked on a set of Texan bull horns in the hallway under a sign that reads ‘Mustang Me ’At Up On The Wall’.
The story continues with Hat 5 “The Daredevil”…