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Thursday 9th January 2014
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Thursday 9th January 2014


A sombrero is never not fun, right? If you see someone wearing a sombrero and you're not in an old Western film then you know it's going to be laughs all the way. Well not necessarily. Today I was working in Caffe Nero in Hammersmith and there was  a man wearing a sombrero. It's not a place you expect to see a man wearing a sombrero, so the juxtaposition made it seem amusing, but it became clear that the man had a few issues and choosing to wear a sombrero in Hammersmith was the least of them. Yet even though it quickly became apparent that he was a bit unstable and probably dispossessed, the fact that he was wearing a sombrero made it all a bit surreal and light-hearted. My wife had seen him first, popping into the toilet. She told me I needed to look round in a minute as a man in sombrero had just gone to the loo. I was unsure that turning to look at a man in a sombrero was the right thing to do. If he saw me looking at his sombrero then he might take umbrage and stab me in the face with a knitting needle. I had correctly guessed, without seeing him, that there might be an element of danger here.
Later, my wife had left and I was facing the other way, and the man in the sombrero came back to use the toilet again. It was funny because he had a sombrero on, but he was quite a sad looking, downtrodden figure which made me feel sad. But then I looked at the sombrero again and it made me smile. It was so confusing. The sombrero was, almost certainly, a consequence of his mental illness. But it was still a sombrero. And so even though I was concerned I was still smiling. Because of the sombrero. If only more of our dispossessed people could make the effort to make us see the bright side of our neglect of the poor and needy then the country would be a much brighter place.

But the man in the sombrero opened the toilet door and went a bit crazy. It was unclear as to whether he was upset about the state of the facilities (which he'd only just used withouth complaint) or if this was something to do with drugs (which was one of the words he was screaming), but it was a strange and disconcerting panic attack. But everyone in the coffee shop was caught between worrying about being stabbed in the face with a knitting needle and not wanting to be involved or look and smiling because the man was weraing an incongruous sombrero. I have never seen an item of clothing with such power to confound and confuse. People were smirking at each other as this man had a breakdown. I wonder if sombreros might be the cure for everything. If your father is dying in a hospital bed, his breath rasping and his skin pallid and grey you'd probably feel sad and appalled, but put him in a sombrero and voila, you can say goodbye to him with a smile on your face. But maybe it wouldn't work if the sombrero were dealt out to everyone. If they were ubiquitous then they would no longer have the power to surprise and amuse and distract us from the horror of life.

As nice as it would be to live in a country that cared and looked after its mentally ill and didn't leave them to wander around getting terrified of public conveniences, we don't. We live in a world where they have to get on with life themselves, which is negative in a lot of ways, but does mean they get to choose their own headwear which can sometimes be funny. If the state cared about protecting the mentally ill and the people who might chance into their path then we wouldn't have had the sombrero. So think on. There was no authority or trained person to help, so instead it was left to the barista to talk to and calm down this scared and confused old man. And he did a brilliant job. Earlier this week I'd been in a kebab shop (my wife was having the kebab) quite late at night and seen how the man behind the counter had to deal with a succession of threatening and unpleasant drunks and how he did so with charm and tact. This is an unexpected aspect of being in the service industry - you have to be ready to protect yourself from people who are unstable either due to illness or because they've faked madness by getting blasted. I did not envy him at all, even though I imagined he could probably have free kebabs any time he wished.

And the barista did a brilliant job as an amateur therapist, something he shouldn't have to be and calmed the guy down and he went into the toilet again.

Later I saw the guy in the sombrero sitting outside at a small table eating soup. He also had about four or five muffins in front of him. I suspect that the kind staff at the cafe had donated these to him, but he may have been a solvent eccentric. He could after all, afford a sombrero. A man in a sombrero eating soup and surrounded by muffins was even funnier, even though it was still tragic. I wondered about who he was and what his story was and where he'd go next. But I mainly wondered where he'd got his sombrero.

If the government get wind of the power of the sombrero they might blind us to all social maladies and injustices.

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