While I was walking home from a dentist’s appointment this afternoon, a kid (who judging by his size and uniform was in the early years of the local secondary school) asked me if I was a lumberjack. Being the truthful chap that I am, and not disposed to enter into a lengthy dialogue with half my mouth still numbed by anaesthetic, I answered with a curt (but hopefully fairly friendly sounding) “no” and a probably somewhat lopsided attempt at a smile. It left me slightly perplexed, though, as I don’t think I was looking or acting particularly like a lumberjack at the time.
Admittedly, my beard is currently in fairly bushy mode (not that I’d think of that as a particularly stereotypical lumberjack trait) and I was wearing cargo trousers, a denim jacket and a woolly hat. However, I wasn’t wearing one of my checked shirts or carrying an axe or other tools of the woodchopping trade, and I wouldn’t have thought that my slightly tatty deck shoes would particularly suggest this as my vocation.
It did cross my mind (once it was too late to ask) to wonder whether the kid has recently discovered Monty Python’s “Lumberjack Song” and is asking the same question of every random stranger that he meets on the street. Otherwise it seemed a very odd question.
This incident reminded me of a couple of previous occasions when people have made suppositions about my identity based on my appearance. Both, as it happens, were to do with my leather hat. It’s one that I picked up quite a few years ago on eBay and tends to be my go-to hat for most of the year as it combines the practical virtues of being reasonably waterproof for when it rains, having a chin-strap to keep it attached in windy weather and having a nice broad brim to keep the rain and (less often) the sun out of my eyes, as well as providing protection against seagulls and preventing too much heat loss through the top of my head. It’s actually from South Africa, though I suppose it does look a bit like an Australian bush hat or an American cowboy hat. Hence the confusions…
The first was not all that long after I got the hat, when I was asked by a couple of slightly drunk blokes at Crewe station if I was Crocodile Dundee. I’ll spare you the gory details of that story!
The second was on the ferry across to Ireland last summer. On this occasion I wasn’t addressed directly but, while I was queuing to get off the boat, I heard a small child a little way behind me loudly asking his Dad if that was a cowboy ahead of them in the queue. It’s possible my leather jacket may have contributed to the impression, but I think it was mostly based on the hat and it was fairly obvious that he was referring to me. It wouldn’t have been so bad if he’d just asked once and forgotten about it, but there followed a near constant stream of cowboy references and questions for the next several minutes. I suppose I should probably have put him out of his misery by turning round and either gently correcting his mistake or blatantly lying and telling him that yes, I was a real live, genuine cowboy — my inclination was strongly towards the former option as I don’t generally like to play too fast and loose with the truth and wouldn’t want to set a bad example for impressionable young minds. Sadly, though, my natural shyness kicked in and I just spent a few uncomfortable minutes hoping that either the kid would shut up or everyone else would somehow assume he was talking about somebody else.
In fact, now I cast my mind back, I can think of several other examples of times when I’ve been mistaken for other types (such as a pirate or a biker) based on what I was wearing. Still, I’d better stop working now so that I can sleep all night and then, as tomorrow is Wednesday, go shopping and have buttered scones for tea.