My unheard-of three week absence from these pages can be explained by a variety of factors, including a clandestine high-noon mission which necessitated changing into my best suit in the cramped confines of a Fiat Punto in a layby outside of a west Manchester cornflake factory. I could tell you about that little adventure in more detail, but then I would then have to kill you. So instead I will tell you about our trip to New York to visit Abby and John- and to make the acquaintance for the first time of their incredibly cute and beautiful new baby Oscar.
Now as you know what we specialise in round here is wringing 1000 words out of a trip to the cornershop, so- and this is another explanation for that impromptu hiatus- the task of writing about something as momentous and life-affirming as a trip to the other side of the world to see your first nephew has proved strangely daunting. I mean, where exactly do we start here? With that first, surreal, emergence from the subway tunnel into chilly Central Park? Or with the sunset walk across Brooklyn Bridge? Then again, perhaps the view of the Manhattan skyline from the overland 'Seven' train as it rattles over the bridge connecting Abby's borough of Queens to the downtown district would serve as an ideal starting point to our odyssey? Or even better-how about the vignette on the Subway platform later that night, where a trackworker came to our aid as we struggled to understand the transport system (the New York subway, a spaghetti-like mass of multicoloured squiggly wires intersecting at seemingly random points throughout the five boroughs, has been known to reduce seasoned European Citybreakers to helpless fits of sobbing) and proceeded, with the help of a smartly-dressed middle-aged lady on her way to a uptown dinnerparty who had been listening in to our conversation, to give us a quarter-hours' worth of unsolicited airline advice, along with a quickfire review of the best places to catch late night jazz in lower Harlem?
Oh it's all very cinematic I'm sure (and that last episode was only one of many establishing our view of New Yorkers as the friendliest, most helpful and most approachable people on earth, whatever you may have heard to the contrary), but then that's the trouble- you've seen it all before.... in the early films of Woody Allen. So instead I'm going to attempt to convey to you the excitement of New York- and how it contrasts with our Manchester existence- by telling you about the hat.
The hat is on the table right by me. It's a black pinstripe trilby, finished with a jaunty brim- just like the one Humphrey Bogart wore in every film he ever made. As soon as I saw it laid out on the table outside of a shabby East Village boutique I knew it had my name written on it, and no amount of wry sideways glances from Charlotte (who was hardly in a position to demur, since her head was adorned with a spectacularly oversized pair of sparkly sunglasses just bought from the very same emporium) was about to persuade me otherwise. $12 later I was striding across Union Square feeling every inch the 1930s mobster- and it was all the assembled company could do to dissuade me from rigging a couple of union ballots right there and then, before, as a Saturday night encore, mowing down the eldest Pascuale boy in cold blood with a view to setting up a watertight five-borough racket halting all movement of tinned herring across state borders.
Such haughty delusions kept me awake all the way home, and the Hollywoodesque headwear was still firmly in place on Monday morning as we stepped off the plane, still buzzing with the effects of a gin-and-tonic breakfast, into the unseasonably bright Manchester sunshine. However, just as the airport train wheezed out of Gatley station the complimentary Martinis started to wear off, and that Anything-Goes-Holiday-Bubble burst, as audibly to me as the post-flight popping inside my eardrum, just as we glided over the rooftops of the Burnage council estate.
By the time we stepped off the connecting service at Levenshulme I was feeling suddenly jet-lagged, and quite acutely aware that the sporting of a jauntily-brimmed trilby in inner-city Manchester in broad weekday daylight- depression era gangland associations notwithstanding- is the sort of behaviour liable to get your fucking head kicked in. Weighed down by this realisation as much as by the rucksack on my back filled with holiday presents for young Frankie (who was at that moment racing across the M62 with his Merseyside granny to meet us), I scurried head-down past the Polish grocers and kebab shops lining our stretch of the A6, and, once safely indoors, hung the hat on a peg in the downstairs landing. It has stayed there ever since.
But you know what? I'm starting to think it doesn't have to be that way. If the people of this neighbourhood are too damn suburban to cope with the sight of a man pushing a baby's pushchair into Greggs the Bakers dressed from the neck upwards like an extra from Casablanca, then that's their problem. Come to think of it, hasn't it been posited by learned academics that the postwar dimunition in urban civility and social cohesion can be traced indelibly to the decline of hat-wearing among the common folk of these islands? Damn it, I'm not standing for it any longer- what I'm embarking on as from tomorrow morning is nothing less than a one-man crusade to Put The Hats Back On The Heads Of The British People.
Right then. I'm off to walk around the house for a bit in my hat, just to get a feel for the thing again, you understand. Your promises of solidarity, donations to the fighting fund, and- most valuably of all- suggestions of places in this city where the overt and pointed donning of retro dandy headwear might place me in immediate peril at the hands of sneering shopboys (the ensuing brawls later to be reported in graphic detail on these pages for your amusement)- into the comment box please. The good fight starts here, my friends. Hang on to your hats, now.