Hugh Reilly: Hat’s off to brave, bare-bonced kids

Hugh Reilly. Picture: Robert Perry
Hugh Reilly. Picture: Robert Perry
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I’M A man who likes to play by the rules, even the unwritten ones. On entering my local Asda, I ostentatiously take off my woolly hat to persuade the unseen Big Brother operative that I am a genuine customer and not a dodgy character embarking on a shoplifting spree (or a “five-finger discount” as it is known in grittier parts of Glasgow).

Sure, it’s a tad embarrassing to reveal oneself to be Nosferatu’s double, but face recognition is demanded by many organisations. Banks insist that motorcyclists don’t wear a crash helmet inside their premises and they aren’t too keen on blokes sporting a pair of tights over their heads either. When I was a member of Costco, the photo on my ID card was particularly unnerving: my bald bonce had merged into the off-white background and produced a snap of two eyes hovering in the middle of the pic. It looked as if I’d escaped from that nice FBI facility in Roswell.

In most schools, pupils are not allowed to wear hats or have hoodies covering their heads in classrooms or corridors. It seems a petty rule, but there is a good reason for it – staff like to laugh at the stupid haircuts and gel-based creations of “cool” youngsters. Hat-free heads also make the task of identifying intruders much easier. Neds wandering into schools is more of a problem than most folk realise, mainly because schools endeavour to cover up such unwanted visits for fear of sullying the reputation of their establishments.

One Fife headmaster, James More, has gone a step further by banning hats and hoodies within school grounds, citing safety concerns. The rector of BeWary High School, oops, Balwearie High School, in Kirkcaldy, stated that “there was no need for this type of headwear in the summer months”. One can only assume that Kirkcaldy must have its own sun-drenched ecosystem because, elsewhere in Alba, there has been a sharp rise in reported sightings of chittering, anatomically-challenged brass monkeys roaming the streets.

Mr More’s strict guideline is at odds with the appeasement initiatives taken by many other secondary schools, which have led to pupils designing school uniform hoodies, bomber jackets and even baseball caps. For example, in 2006, Inverness High School introduced hooded tops as part of its uniform, the aim being to design a dress code that, according to the school’s deputy head, the pupils could “buy into”.

It all comes down to a matter of perception. Is a hoodie a fashion item or a symbol of fear? In my north Glasgow ghetto, the hooded top is a must-have accessory for any teenager walking a growling Staffordshire bull-terrier who wants to be taken seriously by his elderly neighbours. Hanging round the corner shop wearing a Marks & Spencer Spring Collection boy’s jacket just wouldn’t instil the necessary respect the young thug feels he deserves. Admittedly, tiptoeing past a group of behooded youngsters can be intimidating, but is it any more terrifying than passing a crowd of snarling, swearing, bunnet-wearing pensioners upset that the sub-post office is five minutes late in opening?

I do not wish a return to the days when I was a schoolboy, an era when headwear was designed purely to humiliate the wearer. Each winter, mater disinterred from a drawer the balaclava she had lovingly knitted for yours truly. For the most part, she had diligently followed the knitting pattern, but an outsized bulge on the left side suggested she may have slipped a stitch or 20 while watching a riveting episode of Coronation Street. To strangers, it seemed as if I had a carbuncle growing out of one half of my skull. Worse, on cold, damp days, the harsh wool planed the epidermis of my chin, exposing my dermis to the elements. In a rare display of mercy, she bought me a ski-cap. This particular piece of headwear – now banned under a UN charter – had a flap that could be released to protect the ears. Another part of the quirky design was a brim so wide that the child lived in a world of permanent shadow.

Of course, like every Scottish kid, I was the ashamed owner of a tammy. My “Tam o’ Shanter” had an elastic gathering band that was so tight I often passed out on my way to school. Taking it off revealed a deep line across my temple that hinted I’d undergone a frontal lobotomy.

I take my hat off to Mr More for trying to maintain standards at Balwearie High.