A sudden gust of wind caught Susan’s hat and it flew across the car park. She ran after it, hoping the cars coming in would not crush it under their wheels. With a swift movement she retrieved it and placed it back on her head, taking care to ensure it was central and straight. You never knew when the judges would be looking. She was very pleased with her hat this year and had high hopes it would do well in the competition.
She had found the hat a few months ago in an antique shop; it had such style and glamour, a sea of soft cream feathers cascading over a wide brim. Just the slightest movement and they fluttered and shimmered. It had not been expensive – being second hand had put people off. Susan didn’t mind in the slightest that it was old. It did not look like it had ever been worn, and she liked the fact that it was vintage.
Today was Ladies’ Day at Kent County cricket week. It was a tradition for the gentlemen to bring their ladies to watch the cricket. She could remember as a child coming with her grandfather and her parents. They would have lunch in one of the tents surrounding the pitch. The ladies would dress up in all their finery and of course her mother’s generation always wore a hat. The tradition of Ladies’ Day continued. Susan still came with her parents. Her mother had been wearing the same hat for the last five years. Susan liked hats and put considerable effort into finding a different hat each year.
During the lunch interval she wandered round the ground. It was a lovely summer’s day, with a gentle breeze that every now and again caught the flags on top of the pavilion. Most people had made an effort and there were certainly some smart and expensive outfits on show. Susan peered in at the Club President’s tent. There was the lady who always won and who spent a great deal of money on her whole outfit. This year was no exception. A vision in green, with oversized flowers some as big as ten inches. Susan continued her meander. She saw one lady with what she could swear was a bird of paradise on her head. Multi coloured feathers sticking out in all directions, red, blue, yellow, orange, pink. It looked more suitable for the Rio carnival than Canterbury. One or two ladies made their own hats. These were imaginative comical themes, relating to cricket. They could be stiff competition. There were a number of bright young things (emphasis on the young), pretty girls, long legs and short skirts with a bit of fluff and froth on their heads. What Susan’s mother would call a ‘little bit of nonsense, how can you call that a hat at all, wouldn’t be allowed in the Royal enclosure at Ascot.’ Lastly the battalions of elderly ladies who each year brought out the same hat and rammed it on their heads, like her mother did. Some years they added a flower or a piece of ribbon, to show willing. They were no competition. And for those who had forgotten or were unaware of the tradition, a stall thoughtfully provided expensive creations to cover their embarrassment.
Suddenly Susan spotted them, the judges – there they were with their clip boards. The taller of the two judges was wearing a pale blue, wide-brimmed hat, carrying it with all the elegance and decorum her height afforded her. The dumpy judge sported a small pink top hat decorated with sequins and ribbons perched on the side of her head. Susan held her breath as they came towards her. The moment was over. They had passed by. She knew she should just walk on but she could not help herself. Casually she turned round to see where they were going next. They had stopped and were talking to each other, quite animated. An argument? Susan decided then and there that her hat deserved a second chance. Slowly but deliberately she walked back towards the judges, taking care to tilt her head slightly from left to right so the soft feathers rippled in the slight breeze. As she got nearer she slackened her step even more. She had virtually come to a standstill in front of them – would they put her name on their clipboard? She was face to face with them. They smiled, nodded and then stepped aside to let her pass. Her moment over, she resumed her normal walking pace, deflated. Then she heard pounding feet and the dumpy judge, out of breath and with her hat bobbing up and down, in a rush of words asked, “Could I have your name, please?”
Susan was taken aback. She could see the tall judge looking thunderous and tapping her toe on the grass.
“Your name, please?”
“Thank you, we will be announcing the winner and the runners up at the tea interval. Please be in front of the hat stall at three forty-five.” With that she smiled and trotted back to join her taller companion. Susan stood still for a full five minutes. She had never got as far as runner up before. Oh, well, that would be better than nothing.
The match progressed towards the tea interval, but Susan could not concentrate on the game. The clock on the score board moved slowly. It seemed an age till half past three. She popped into the Ladies on her way round to the hat stall, to apply a little more lipstick. With five minutes to spare she arrived. There was the lady in green, and the bird of paradise, a couple of bright young things and one of the homemade hats with cricketers scampering across the top. They were all assembled, eyeing each other up like prize boxers. Except the lady in green. She kept herself aloof and separate. She knew she had won and did not want to mix with the mere runners up. A few more minutes to wait. The dumpy judge bustled up. She smiled.
“Thank you all for taking such trouble today and continuing the traditions of Ladies’ Day. I am very pleased to announce that this year’s winner is Susan Tate.”
She went on to explain the details of the prize. But Susan did not hear. All she heard was that her hat had won – she had beaten the lady in green, the bird of paradise and the bright young things. She was content. This had been a perfect day and she had the perfect hat.