The J.R.Hartley Experience


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I used to collect hats.

Now I don’t.

I’ve always had a penchant for a titfer and over the years have amassed a decent collection of bowlers, stetsons, pith helmets, trilbies and the like. There was something rather satisfying in strolling past a market junk stall, or an old charity shop and seeing, maybe, a French gendarme’s kepi or a Soviet forage cap laying there under a pile of old tutt and snapping it up for a couple of bob.

If anyone went away on holiday or assignment, I’d invariably ask them to bring me back ‘an indigenous hat’. Many a mate, family member or colleague cursed me as they lugged a dirty great bush hat, sombrero or headdress through customs, looking for all-the-world like some berk from Barnsley back from Torremolinos, circa 1974.

T’internet stopped all that, or to be more precise eBay stopped all that. There’s no challenge or worth in going online, tapping in “Japanese drinking hat” and being offered 78 different alternatives for sale online, many of them from Colchester or Orpington. Where’s the hunt? Where’s the chase?

So I stopped.

I still have them, hanging on various walls around the house, as part of the décor- in the same way you probably have flying ducks, bonsai trees or horse-brasses on the walls of your little hovel in Dulwich. And there they hang, collecting dust and occasionally comments from visitors, such as “What the fuck were you thinking?”. Most have never been worn in anger, as I have a head that doesn’t suit a hat. If I wear a homburg, I look like a fat tory, wear a Stetson I look like a fat tourist (see above) and so on and so forth.

Every so often I don one for that special occasion, such as the time I wore a white Rorke’s Drift pith helmet to the Oval in 2005 to watch us win back the Ashes from the Australians (ok, the headgear would have been more appropriate had we’d been playing the South Africans, but you get my drift). Having watched the match and drunk South London dry, I staggered back to London Bridge station, slumped on a bench and awaited my train. I was wasted. It was about 8 o’clock in the evening. A fella in a suit approached me. He looked at my attire: Pith Helmet, England replica cricket shirt, khaki, knee-length shorts and desert boots.
“Been to the cricket, mate?” he politely enquired.
“No, you c*nt! I’ve been to the opera!” and off he jogged.

So anyway.

My collection of cookbooks is rapidly rivalling my hat collection, albeit the books are slightly more useful than the hats ever were. I love a bit of cooking and do like a little experiment in the kitchen. Nothing better than trying (and succeeding at) a recipe for the first time, especially when your mum’s in town (always the hardest to impress). One of my favourites is simply called Curries by Mridula Baljekar (usual spelling, no relation). Published in 2006, it previously went under the name of Curry (beware of imitations), and a superb little book it is too. Nicely illustrated, simply designed and dozens upon dozen of simple yet gorgeous Rubies to tuck in to. I heartily recommend it. At least I would if you could go buy it.

curries

The Incumbent (or, for the purposes of this story, the Mehm Sahib) on having been at the sharp end of my culinary experiments for some time, expressed an interest in buying her son a copy of this said book. I agreed: simple to follow, nicely laid-out (that’s the book, not the Mrs) and doesn’t have you shinning up exotic trees looking for odd and unlikely ingredients. Off she popped and logged on to Amazon. Curries by Mridula Baljekar, Southwater Press. MRP £8.99. (it said on the back of my copy anyway). No new copies were available. There was in the Used and New section on offer for- wait for it- £ 144.95, for sale by a bloke in the States. That’s an 8.99 book going for 145 quid! It’s not THAT fucking good !

There were other offerings by the same author, including the aforementioned Curry, but you never know, do you? Curries is what she wanted, plural. Curry in the singular, may be missing that vital Taka Dahl entry, or may not have the nice pics of that Chicken Tikka. In any case, it can’t be the same book or they wouldn’t have re-named it! eBay was no more help. Not even an old copy for 200 quid. Nothing.

So it’s back to the good old shoe leather approach. I shall walk the streets of London through the junk and antique shops of Greenwich, the second-hand bookshops of Soho, or at the very least, Bluewater Shopping Mall until I find the volume I seek. It’s gonna be, I suspect, a long slog but it’ll be a little quest and a test, a hunt and a chase. Think of the thrill I’ll get when I find it?? Much more satisfying to find after Planet WWW tells me it doesn’t exist! I might pick up a hat along the way too.

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