birthday present · Uncategorized

The Birthday Hat

In five decades, my husband has:

lived in three different countries by the age of 10

learned English

become a great cook

studied to be an architect the long way around after failing his A levels

become a great architect though he always says he has much more to learn

worked in a series of jobs while a student – everything from selling knickers at Ashton Market to pulling pints in a pub in Portsmouth


Photo by Gonzalo Remy – unsplash

moved to Australia for a student exchange

moved back again to England to finish his studies

moved to Hong Kong with 300 quid in his pocket and got a job as an architect on his second day there

IMG_7518Photo by Erica Murdoch

moved to Australia for the second time

encouraged and supported and loved us

picked up after us

discovered that he loves wearing caps.

He walked into my life wearing a pair of shorts, brown boat shoes and wore the same things for 10 days straight as his luggage was in transit.

A Manchester boy from Tanzania originally. Now the young twenty-something I met at the youth hostel has morphed into a middle-aged man wearing a cap. In 2018, on a family trip to New York, he bought a cap from The FlameKeepers Hat Club in Harlem.  He’d read about this shop in the Qantas inflight magazine on the 21-hour journey from Melbourne. The three of us walked in and sat on a plush red sofa. I almost expected someone to serve us champagne. The room had the feel of a bordello and the air smelled of furniture polish, good quality carpet and expensive air freshener. The hat selection began. Hat after hat was placed on his head. There were three assistants; one of them looked like he belonged in Peaky Blinders and we guessed he was the boss. After each try, they would all confer and then suggest another hat.

My daughter and I played on our phones and the time went by.

‘Have you thought about a cap?’ someone asked eventually.

My husband had shrugged. ‘Isn’t it a bit of an old man thing?’ he said.

In answer, Mr. Peaky Blinders stood up, grabbed a tweed cap and gave it to my husband. Dev placed it on his head, grimaced a bit but he looked pleased. He did that funny thing he does when he’s bought new clothes, stretched out his arms, flexed his wrists and said, ‘What do you think?’

He knew the answer. It became him. It was undoubtedly the right one. He was now a cap wearer.

Afterward, we celebrated his purchase at Sylvia’s– eating southern fried chicken and grits. It was a good day.

And he wore it for the next two years until one horrendous day when our new puppy ate the cap. I have never seen him look so sad. For someone who is short-tempered at the best of times and is somewhat of a yeller, we could tell that this puppy vandalism went deep. His shoulders slumped, his mouth turned down and he went to bed early.  Our dog knew she had done wrong. He didn’t refer to it again for months except mentioning that he’d taken the cap to a local hat shop and they said it was irreparable. More unspoken sadness. He contacted the shop in New York and discovered that the freight alone was a couple of hundred dollars. More shoulder slumps.

So this year, in the height of the pandemic when things were fraught, I contacted my friend, Darcy, in the US and she bought the cap and sent it over. I felt that the cap might lift his spirits. It didn’t arrive in time for his birthday and I still can’t work out why Priority Express took three weeks. However, the cap arrived and he plunked it on and has barely taken it off since.

IMG_3919Photo by Erica Murdoch

And he’s learned the hard way. Don’t leave it in reach of the dog.

Happy belated Birthday, Dev.


Uncategorized · Wedding

The Wedding

Winnie told me to do it. ‘On the day, go to the Lovers Rock up on Bowen Road and touch it. It will bring you good luck, lots of children.’ She had cackled and dug me in the ribs. Taoist mumbo-jumbo hocus pocus I had thought at the time.

But for this day, my day of days when I long for my mother’s voice and the touch of her hand, touching something resembling an Earth Goddess might have to do.

Looking down to my right I see the snaking traffic on Queens Road East and the neon signs fading out. Makes no difference that it is a Sunday – every day is a working day in Hong Kong. Even the day I get married.

Photo by Puk Patrick on Unsplash

I reach Bowen Road as it runs along to Magazine Gap Road. Incense sticks seep smoke at the small shrines that line the roadway, and old men amble along, passing the time of day as they criss-cross each others’ paths. Some men kick their legs out as they walk- dressed in the uniform of old Hong Kong men; baggy grey shorts, white singlet, and Kung Fu slippers.

Under the banyan trees in the sitting out area a group of ladies practice tai chi. One of them has brought a portable cassette player and the crash and wail of Chinese opera drown out my thoughts. Mum used to do tai chi – until she got sick.

I hit my stride, breathing deeply and get all caught up with a group of Hash House Harriers, gweilos, training for next years Trailwalker. I use them as a front-runner clipping at their heels. I envy their rise and fall, their unity and their business.

I reached Lovers Rock. I usually run the other way so have never seen it before. But I recognise it. A giant penis-shaped piece of granite covered in daubs of red paint and prayer papers. In a crevice under the rock are Chinese god ornaments arranged in a small shrine. I bend to read the sign. I am at the Home of the God of Love apparently. Nearby two women pull oranges out of a striped bag and place the oranges next to the ornaments. An old man is setting up a card table and pulls out a sign in English and Chinese reading “Fortunes told.” I am not sure what to do. Winnie hadn’t gone into detail about that. I go up the steps and pat the side of the rock. Stuck on the side of the mossy surface are fragments of incense sticks and ash. There are yellowing photos of happy couples wedged in a crevice. I wonder why they left them there.

So that’s it I think as I turn to run back. Job done. Good luck won.

Photo by Shuja- Zed  on Unsplash

Back at the apartment, my fiancee wanders around in a bath towel.  Our flatmate offers to make me tea. I ask for a gin and tonic – a double. She understands. She is Scottish and it is my day, and if I want to drink gin at 10am -that’s fine.

Later. Out on the street. Heart pounding as we hail a cab, me clutching the last minute bouquet with the tinfoil from the florists still wrapped around.

We arrive. Remember it’s the day of all my days. The wood panel walls of City Hall smell of polish and age and privilege.  Mix in the smells of designer bags and shoes, and the new suit scent of the nervous grooms. Funny, I am noticing all this. I should be looking at him only, him across the room pacing and looking at his watch. One of the nervous grooms. He laughs at something Nick says in his too loud English accent.

My girlfriends push and pull me. Photo here. Touch up there. Smudge the lipstick here. ‘Your hair is messed up,’ says Therese. ‘Let me fix it’.  I breathe deep. I look around. I see it. A door. A room just for me. Brides Room. The sign says so in English and Chinese. The glass on the door is frosted. I imagine what’s inside. Minions. Comfortable chaise lounge. Grapes. Pedicure. Glass of champagne for the blushing bride. MTV. It will be my room and my time.

I open the door. Inside there is nothing. Just a giant powder room with royal red carpet and mirrors down one wall for the prink and the fix. No minions and no chaise lounge and no champagne. A faint whiff of old carpet and I hear the whine of the air conditioner and the distant sound outside of Nick haw-hawing.

A knock on the door.

‘Are you OK in there?’ says my beloved.  ‘I think we are up next.’ I look in the mirror and my mother’s eyes look back at me. ‘Coming,’ I say.


Twenty-five years later we’re in Hong Kong on holidays. Some friends still live there, others have flown in from  Auckland and London. We’re reunited for a fiftieth birthday. And on our first morning, we walk past City Hall and there are the brides and the nervous grooms just like us a quarter of a century ago. We eat dim sum at Maxims with Nick(our best man) and Tania, our Scottish flatmate, and Dominque, the birthday girl- who were our witnesses. As the dim sum carts trundle past we toast our long friendship, our looming wedding anniversary and plan the next reunion for another fiftieth birthday in two years time.

Bravery · Embracing change · Reinvention

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