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  • Dougie

We bought a hat

Updated: May 23, 2022

I do not know when I began to develop the bald spot on the top of my head. I can tell you, however, when I first noticed.

We were in Singapore. It was December 2011 or thereabouts. My mother (who is the prime reason for us making this trip and who we shall meet in her new nursing home in Scotland in two weeks or so) my mother was travelling to Australia to spend Christmas with us. It's a long journey for woman in her early eighties, travelling alone. So I thought it would be a good idea for us to meet Betty in Singapore, spend a few days with her there (a part of the world my mother had never encountered previously) then we'd travel on to Sydney together.

It was a good idea. The plan was to arrive a few days early, dine on Singapore Chilli Crab, Spike could have a Gin Sling at the Long Bar and we could see some art (as is our wont).

So. I was sitting in my wheelchair in the foyer of the grand ex-colonial mansion of the National Gallery on St. Andrew's Road, Singapore. Minding my own business.

The Gallery had set up what I suppose you might call a video installation interactive art exhibit. Basically ... they had fixed an enormous video screen to the foyer wall -- high up across the length of the vast space. When I say "enormous" I mean, football pitch enormous. Big.

The curator of the piece had fitted unseen cameras in the ceiling to project from above the bird's eye view of visitors to the gallery crisscrossing the tiled, black and white foyer floor. It made for fascinating viewing as I sat there, waiting. Was it art? I don't know but I watched the human bodies come and go -- old women slightly crouched and awkward in their gait, the crisp, clipped steps of a member of staff on his way from A to B, a family group -- one child fast asleep in the stroller, the slightly older child lying flat on his back with his feet up in the air, calling out to his parents as he pointed at himself in the giant screen fixed to the wall.

My attention was drawn to a middle-aged man sitting in a wheelchair at the edge of the screen. All I could make out was the top of his head (which had the beginnings of a bald spot) and his shoulders, legs and the rear wheels of the chair in which he sat. I remember thinking -- truly -- "that guy in the wheelchair has a bald spot."

And then the penny started to drop.

"Wait a minute,' I thought. "I don't have a bald spot."

The man in the wheelchair in the screen above looked around the foyer, almost empty now. He swiveled left, rotated right - searching for a man in a wheelchair, He looked directly up at the ceiling -- head tilted back -- and the bald spot disappeared. He straightened his neck once more and there, on the giant screen fixed to the wall opposite, the offending bald spot reappeared.

"Fuck me," I almost heard the man say aloud, "I'm going bald."

Fast forward 11 years to Paris, France. My bald spot is still in its development phase but there is definitely more bald spot 'infrastructure' -- ba' heid as we call it Glasgow - than there was in Singapore.

It has been warm and gloriously sunny in Paris since we emerged from the train station four days ago. We've administered sun screen to the offending area on top of my head at least twice now, especially after spending too much time meandering through the fleamarket yesterday. My skull is I think you'd say, delicate and sensitive. A bit like myself.

So. We emerged this morning from the tunnels of RER line B at St. Michel-Notre Dame station on the south bank of the River Seine -- La Rive Gauche -- which is very much the touristy bit of central Paris these days. Emerging from the lift and turning left onto Quai Saint-Michel I was momentarily shocked by the brightness of the sun in my eyes and the intensity of the heat on my balding head.

Fortunately, the first shop we encountered was a tacky tourist shop. There were more musical Eiffel Towers, Paris Je t'aime t-shirts, hot pink French berets and 'ooh la la' beer mugs than you could shake a platter of escargots at.

But there were also hats. 5€ a pop. Whitewash white or farmyard straw. 90% paper and 10% polyester so I reckon it should survive -- maybe -- most of the first five minutes of any downpour we get caught in.

But -- if you ask me -- I think my bald spot looks chic and debonair as Spike, me and my new hat meander through Paris on the banks of the Seine on our way to more art at the marvelous Musée d'Orsay.

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