The Bunnet Club

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My husband and I were grocery shopping the other day.  As we rounded the end of the produce aisle a tall, dapper gentleman in a lovely tweed jacket smiled at us in such a friendly way that we of course smiled back and said hello.  He looked like he was about to ask if he knew us; there was that sort of recognition in his open and cheerful expression. Instead he made a comment about the store not being very busy.  When my husband replied, his Caithness dialect evident even in just a few words, the man’s smile broadened.  We made a little small talk and I thought they might begin dismantling their histories in that “if I don’t know you personally then I’m sure I know your people,” way that so often happens in the Highlands.  Unfortunately just then a woman walked by and interrupted to say brightly, “Hullo, Eric, how’s yersel’?” He turned to answer her and she settled in for a chat, so we had no choice but to somewhat awkwardly move on, having been left hanging.  The brief encounter was remarkable enough that Sem said wistfully as we walked away, “Maybe we’ll see him again in here sometime.”  It was that sort of lovely, inexplicable connection which so seldom happens, like recognizing an old friend despite never having met them before.  Blast you for interrupting so thoroughly, lady!

As we went on with our shopping I said to Sem, “He looked like he should be a member of The Bunnet Club, even though he had no bunnet.”  Sem agreed and said the tweed jacket was a dead giveaway.

So what is a ‘bunnet’?  An alternative spelling of ‘bonnet’ but not the kind of frilly headgear I think of when I see the word.  No, a bunnet is a flat cap, the type lots of farmers and other country gents wear up here.  Men all around the UK wear them I suppose but I didn’t notice them much in our former village; here, though, they are everywhere.  Most of the bunnets I see are in subtly patterned tweed, and the rest of the ensemble is either a tweed jacket or a canvas work jacket, and jeans or work trousers.  Occasionally if I’m at the vet’s picking up insulin for our cat I’ll see a crofter come in and go to the ‘farm animals’ side of the counter, invariably wearing work coveralls, wellies, and a flat cap.  More often, though, it’s men who are of retirement age who seem to gravitate toward this particular look.  Sem has joked that he doesn’t care if it’s out of fashion; he just likes the bunnet-and-tweed-jacket ensemble.  I happen to think it’s neither in nor out of fashion; it simply endures, and if it works for a guy, it totally works.

When I first moved to the Highlands Sem was partial to wearing a Greek fisherman’s cap that he’d picked up in Greece (though not directly off a Greek fisherman’s head), and it looked very nice on him.  In winter he paired it with a jacket resembling a navy pea coat, and he cut a fine, somewhat nautical figure.  At some point in the last few years, though, Sem has had a change of heart – and a change of outerwear.  Perhaps it was our move back to the farming county of his childhood that made him gravitate towards this style of an almost bygone era, I don’t know, but it suits him right down to the ground.  Sem now has a couple of tweed bunnets to choose from, and when he wears them with one of his tweed jackets and a warm, colorful scarf he is every inch the ‘crofter mannie’.  Or a retired lecturer.  Could go either way, as both are part of his personal history.

When we moved here we noticed as we walked around “the toon” that when another man wearing a flat cap happened to walk past, he would invariably give Sem a nod or a slight head-twist (or both), and even sometimes a wink.  Sem would return the wordless greeting in a similar manner.  It was uncanny and charming and it amused me greatly, especially because it happened so often.  After yet another such gentleman nodded in Sem’s direction (who Sem confirmed to me he did not know), I joked, “What, are you all in some secret club or something?”  Without missing a beat Sem said, “Of course.  The Bunnet Club.”  So it has been, ever since.

A well-balanced member of The Bunnet Club.

Years and years ago my car was totaled in a pretty bad crash, and for a short time my sister kindly loaned me her Jeep CJ-7.  I noticed that as I drove around, other Jeep CJ-7 drivers would lift a finger (no, not that one), or give a casual wave out the window, or even just nod briefly at me as we passed.  Mystified, I asked my sister if she knew a whole lot of other Jeep drivers and she said, “No, we just do that.”  Well I thought that was the coolest thing ever.  I soon adopted the CJ-7 greeting and felt like I was part of a secret society of awesome Jeep people.  When I eventually got a new car and had to relinquish the CJ-7 I was sad, and missed waving to fellow ‘club members.’  I’ve seen riders of certain motorbikes do the same thing, too.  The flick of a finger or or a knowing nod instantly establishes you as part of the club, whichever one it may be.  So it is with The Bunnet Club.

The best part about The Bunnet Club is that a man doesn’t have to be wearing his flat cap to be recognized as a member.  There’s just a certain look about him that makes it evident to the other members that he’s one of them.  Perhaps it’s in the measured pace of someone who has walked a lot of country miles, or a certain wry seen-it-all glint in the eye.  Whatever it is, Sem knows it when he sees it, and he’s got it himself.

I’m fairly sure that anyone in this particular club can have an enjoyable half-hour conversation with any other member, even if they have never met before.  The weather, mutual acquaintances (always quickly ascertained), droll humor and current events all flow easily between them, given a chance.  And if there’s no time for a comfortable blether, then there’s always a nod or that quick, sideways twist of the head to acknowledge a fellow Bunnet Club member.  They just know!

I’m not part of a secret club, more’s the pity.  But I am fortunate enough to be part of something else rather special, and that’s being here at aNewsCafe… and that clumsy segue brings me off-topic to this next bit.  A few months ago I realized that I was fast approaching my 50th piece for ANC. Can you believe it?!  I said something about it to Matt Grigsby at the time and he replied, “Holy cow, that’s amazing!  What are you going to do for your 50th?”  I hadn’t really thought of doing anything special, but maybe reaching The Big ANC Five-Oh is worth doing something a little different.  What, though?

Next month I’ll write that fiftieth column, and I’m still stuck.  So I thought I would open it up to you, the lovely ANC readers.  It does kind of feel like the easy way out but it occurred to me that there might be something you were interested in knowing, either about this part of Scotland where I live, or something about our life here, which I haven’t touched upon.  Is there someone I’ve written about who you’d like to get to know better?  Have I mentioned a story you’d like to know more about?  Now’s the chance to ask!  If there are any “takers” then I can incorporate the answers to your questions into my next column.  Ask in the comments below, and I’ll do my best to accommodate.  I think it could be fun for all of us to have an “open question” column – if there’s any interest, that is!

In the meantime, for those of you who live locally, maybe you can cultivate a special ANC signal when you pass each other on the street, or see each other in a shop or at an event.  I know that Hal Johnson and RV Scheide had a ‘chance encounter’ last month, and I’m sure other folks have recognized contributors and fellow readers while out and about, too.  This ANC community is pretty exceptional… a knowing, appreciative nod might just be the thing!

Deb Segelitz
Deb Segelitz was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and is astounded to find herself living in the Scottish Highlands, sharing life with her husband, a Highlander she stumbled across purely by chance on a blog site. They own a small business restoring and selling vintage fountain pens, which allows Deb to set her own schedule and have time for photography, writing and spontaneous car rides in the countryside. She is grateful to the readers of ANC for accepting her into the North State fold.
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43 Responses

  1. Avatar Bruce Vojtecky says:

    Deb, I don’t think this would fit in a column but I have to ask. I’ve watched Shetland and Hinterland(Wales) and Ripper Street(obviously London), are there any other series about Scotland or the UK that you would recommend. Thank you.

    • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

      I’ll have to make a note of Hinterland, which we haven’t seen. I really enjoy Shetland – the current series is about to finish next week, and it’s been strange to have to watch it in ‘real time’ as opposed to binge-watching a whole series on catch-up, haha… Ripper Street was good too. With those sort of shows in mind I think you might enjoy one called Happy Valley, which is a crime drama based in West Yorkshire – there are two seasons, with a third on the way this year, I think.

      Another popular one which I haven’t watched is Rebus, based on the ‘Inspector Rebus’ novels by Ian Rankin. That is a detective show based in Edinburgh. Similarly, there’s a long-running detective show, Glasgow-based this time, called Taggart. I can’t recommend them personally, having not seen them, but they are always on somewhere in the TV listings so I suspect they have a following.

      • Avatar Bruce Vojtecky says:

        I watched the first episode of Happy Valley and started the second but got side tracked on to Shetland and the others. I’ll check the others, thanks.

  2. Avatar erin friedman says:

    Congratulations (and a tip o’ the bonnet to ye!) on coming up on 50 pieces for ANC – quite a milestone. As long as you are taking requests…I’d love recommendations of novels set in Scotland that capture the true flavor, characters and history of the place. I’m deeply immersed in Irish history at the moment, reading everything I can get my hands on. But my family has roots in Scotland, too, I’d love to read and learn more. Thanks!

    • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

      Thanks, Erin! I will have a think about that – actually I’ll ask Sem, because he will likely have a whole bunch to recommend. Do you know which part of Scotland your family comes from, roughly?

      • Avatar erin friedman says:

        According the documents I have (written by a family member) ancestor Joseph Curd came from the “Lowther Hills – a member of the McLeod clan.”

        • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

          Thank you – I’ll ask Sem if he knows the area, and if there’s any reading he can recommend (specifically to there, and in general).

  3. Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

    My first thought was that I’d like to know more about the felted “wee coos” by the artist who did the Phoenix. They were darling!

    My husband sported a tweed bunnet when he used to ride his bicycle to work. One friend commented on it by saying, “It suits him.” And it did.

    Here on our very rural road, nearly everyone gives a nod or wave to oncoming cars whether friend or stranger. I always feel that if I have car trouble, another “nodder/waver” will stop to assist.

    Happy upcoming 50th!

    • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

      Thanks, Beverly! I will add the wee coos to the list.

      There’s just something about a tweed bunnet when it works, isn’t there? And it’s really lovely that your fellow rural-road-travelers are so friendly. Makes all the difference!

  4. Avatar Eleanor Townsend says:

    Hi Deb, I just looked back to your original column, October 1, 2014, and a few other early ones. All fascinating, also many commenters that I don’t recognize now. My dad used to wear a bunnet, (Google does not, not like that) but we had moved from Scotland to the south of England, so there wasn’t really a club, just him.
    I can say I have wondered about the man who does the glass blowing, and produced our Phoenix – how you know him etc. But mostly, whatever you write, I read with rapt attention, and love the photos, so I would say, write whatever is in your mind and heart, that hasn’t failed you yet!
    Looking forward to the 50th.

    • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

      Eleanor, I’m now afraid to Google ‘bunnet’ haha… Your dad was an ‘outreach member’ of the bunnet club, at least that’s what I would think!

      Beverly asked about the wee felted coos, who were done by the same person as the glass Phoenix, so I will definitely make that part of the next column.

      I am so glad you enjoy my pieces, thank you for telling me!

  5. Avatar Matthew Grigsby says:

    Deb, I love this article! I love them all, always and forever, but this one made me grin all the way through. I NEED MY OWN TWEED BUNNET. I own a couple of Harris tweed jackets, and now I need the hat, even if I’m the only one in California wearing one.

    Also… the Jeep thing is true out here too. I had a friend in college who owned a Jeep and when I was riding with him once he waved at someone in a Jeep and I asked him who that was. He said, “No idea. But Jeep people always wave to each other. Watch.” Sure enough when another Jeep passed, there was a wave and a nod. How funny it happens on both coasts, thousands of miles apart!

    As for your Golden Anniversary Article, you could type out names from the phone book and I’d read every word. However, you’re looking for ideas and I’d love to see a whole piece (even at a later date) with single observations/experiences/sights/happenings. Like, “Today I saw fifteen kinds of fish for sale in the market and none of them looked like fish.” Or “I saw the girl from the café at the post office and neither of us knew where we knew each other from.” Or whatnot.

    Anyway…lovely piece, this!

    • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

      I just said to Eleanor that her father would have been an ‘outreach member’ of the Bunnet Club since he wore his after they moved from Scotland down to England, so you can totally be an international outreach member! I think you would look awesome in a tweed-jacket-and-bunnet combo. You’ve got the look!

      I love that the Jeep thing happens on both coasts, and probably everywhere in between, too. Awesome :-).

      Your idea about single observations etc. is intriguing. I like it! I will have a think about it, and hope to have an interesting day before I write my next column, haha…

      I’m glad you enjoyed the piece (and that now you have a fashion item to hunt for!), thank you for telling me, as always!

  6. Adrienne Jacoby Adrienne Jacoby says:

    . . . . well . . . .shucky darn!!! I just wrote a nice, long reply to your article then stopped to answer the phone, hit a wrong key in doing so and erased the entire thing!!! Mainly, in usual form, I took five times as many sentences to say CONGRATULATIONS as I needed. For those of us who are not of the authorship club, it can prove rather amazing to look back at one’s work output over the past few years. I kinda feel like I’ve run out of creative (at least in the writing field) gas lately. It absolutely amazes me how Doni seems to be able to come up with eminently readable and informative pieces on a regular basis. Even when she worked at the R-S that aspect of her writing never ceased to amaze.
    I do have one question for you, my friend. As a musician well removed from the environs of your adopted country, (west coast of U.S. A. is pretty well removed) are bagpipes as endemic to the culture of Scotland as we like to make them out to be?
    Keep up the great writing and wonderful, artistic picture taking, my friend. I love your contributions.

    • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

      Ohhhhhhhhh don’t you just hate it when that happens? When I lose something I’ve written, be it a post or a comment, I want to throw things. But thank you for the congratulations! I could hardly believe it myself, time – and the column – has flown by so quickly. I sometimes feel a little stuck for the next idea but fortunately something will happen or some random thought will build into a stream of thoughts, and then a column is born. I don’t know how Doni does it, either, but I always enjoy her work!

      I love your bagpipes question, and I will add it to the list – more than likely with photos (which partially answers your question!).

      Thank you for telling me you enjoy my contributions – it is always so nice to know!

  7. Avatar Erika Kilborn says:

    This is so exciting! 50 essays! That’s quite an accomplishment, young lady.

    I’ve always wanted to belong to some kind of secret society, but alas I am in that unfortunate category with Groucho Marx – no self-respecting society would have me as a member. Hey, maybe Groucho and I could have our own society! Wait, he’s dead. That won’t work.

    As far as what I’d love to know more about – to build on something that Beverly mentioned above, I’d love to know more about the crafters you come across there. I am always interested in talented artists and since it is doubtful that I will make it to your neck of the woods, I’d enjoy hearing about the local craft and art scene, such as it is.

    Here’s to 50 more!

    • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

      I will be in a secret society with you! Oh… dang… people can see this, can’t they? 🙂

      Thank you for the idea, building on above comments! I’ll have to think about it, as I don’t know if I have met that many crafters/artists personally. But it’s on the list, so there will be pondering!

      50 more would be awesome. I’m pretty sure that I’ve said to Doni that as long as there’s an ANC and she’s happy to have me here, I’m happy to be here, writing!

  8. Avatar Carrie Dokter says:

    I too love allll your articles and pictures, and look forward to the next fifty.

  9. Adrienne Jacoby Adrienne Jacoby says:

    Well, Here’s MY take . . . . we can call it a “secret society” if we want!! After all, we can have our own definition of the word “secret!” LOL!!!

  10. Avatar Peggy Elwood says:

    I too enjoy all your writings…my favorites are anything and everything about the people, places, and unique things about Scotland…I will never get to go there at this point and I love getting to know little things about your life there. Did you ever tell the story of how you and Sem got together? Also, love the pictures!

  11. Avatar CODY says:

    Do people in that area ever talk about Brexit?

  12. Avatar Candace C says:

    Deb, congrats on your upcoming “50”, that’s an accomplishment worth celebrating! Cheers! We’ve not met before but I enjoy getting to know you through your stories. Your warmth shines through in your writing. I especially like it when you focus on the “common” folk where you and Seth live.

    • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

      Thank you, Candace! I’m glad you enjoy my stories. There are still some more characters I’ll be writing about at some point, mostly from our former village 🙂

  13. Oh Deb, happy almost 50th ANC birthday to you! You are such a gifted writer and photographer, and I feel grateful beyond words that you are here with us.

    I love this column, and was delighted by the segue from your Sem’s bunnet club to ANC’s club of talented contributors and discerning readers and supporters. I’ve never seen a site like this one; simultaneously regional and global, a place where the comments section takes on a life of its own with lively dialogue between authors and readers. Your ability to interact with readers, to moderate your own comments section, only makes you that much more endeared to us.

    So I’m not surprised that you’d turn to us for future column ideas. It’s so like you to be so inclusive. Thank you!

    I agree with all the suggestions above (love Matt’s, in particular). Me? I like everything you like, but some of my favorite columns have to do with the retail culture of where you live … shopping, restaurants, markets, etc. I was fascinated by your food column a while back, and would like to know more about ingredients and recipes and what people eat and order when you go out, and how it compares to food here in the states.

    I also love your people columns, and your adventures with some memorable neighbors, which I realize might be tricky to write about.

    Your mother’s chair and its new life? Never gets old for me.

    But I agree with Eleanor and Matt and others, who’ve said that we love whatever you write. So, write on, my dear Deb, and thank you for being such a valuable part of ANC.

    xo d

    • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

      Ah you’re so lovely, Doni! I’m so glad to be here at ANC, and I love the feedback from everyone, it really makes things lively and fun.

      Thank you for the suggestions! I will add them to the growing list and think about differences/similarities to the States. I wonder what typically Scottish food I could write about, which I haven’t yet covered… hmmmmm will have to think. It will be especially good if I have to taste-test while I think. We’ll call it research :).

      I actually have a piece started, about our neighbors – but Them Upstairs were being particularly obnoxious the day I wrote it, and I had to put it on a figurative shelf for a while because there was far too great a temptation to swear a lot!

  14. Jon Lewis Jon Lewis says:

    The big 5-0 is a nice milestone and congratulations in advance. I’m always interested in golf stories from Scotland, with it being the birthplace of the game and all, so if your travels take you to any links I’d love to hear about it. And thanks for sharing the first 49 pieces. Much appreciated by all!

    • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

      Thanks Jon, it has been a pleasure! I will have to think about the golf stories – there are courses all around us but I don’t play, so I won’t have any first-hand experience. My husband’s father was in charge of the grounds at one of the courses a bit south of here, though, so I will ask Sem if his father had any stories!

  15. Joanne Snyder Joanne Snyder says:

    I loved this article Deb! My requests for future articles are dogs and fiber arts. I’ve read a lot about the culture of herding dogs and would love to know more about it AND about what kind of dogs people have as pets. Sheep and wool and knitting and weaving. There’s a growing collaboration of fiber artists of all types in Shasta County….shearing, spinning, weaving and knitting. What is it like in your town.
    One of my favorite people in the world was one of my dad’s cousins my folks sponsored to come to the U.S. from England after WWII. He had what I thought was an English Accent and he wore a bunnet all of his life. It wasn’t until I was older that I learned he had come to England after escaping a concentration camp in Germany and fighting with British forces. The accent was Polish/English,but his bunnet and humor and spirit would have been recognized by any man of this society. Wonderful article!

    • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

      Thanks, Joanne, I’m glad you enjoyed it! I like the ideas about dogs and fiber arts, thank you – I know about the dogs, but will look into the fiber arts side of things :-).

      I love that you had a Bunnet Club family member, it sounds like he was lovely. Here’s to worldwide members, both past and present!

  16. Avatar Barbara Byers says:

    I love your articles, Deb, because they give an insight into what life was like for my Dad’s family. They came to Canada from Stranraer in 1929. The only time my Dad and his sister (along with my Mum who was Canadian) visited there, they were surprised to find how little things had changed. One interesting thing they mentioned was that people went downtown every day or every other day to do their ‘messages’. Maybe you could mention that in a column sometime.
    All the best to you and Sem.

    • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

      I’m glad you enjoy them Barbara, thank you for telling me! I do think that life has moved a bit more slowly here over the generations. People still say they’re going for the messages 🙂 and I like that you brought that up – I’ll put it on the list of ideas, thank you! All the best to you and yours, as well.

  17. Steven Towers Steven Towers says:

    Deb, this article was so damned good I kinda wish you’d done something else for your 49th and saved this for the big milestone. Alas, I’m probably not the guy to suggest a writing topic—I don’t know how many ANC articles I’ve written, but I’ve been high-centered for many months, and I know I’m not fast approaching my 50th.

    I think I’ve mentioned before that I’d love to be tweed coat/scarf/jaunty hat guy, but whenever I go anywhere near that look, I feel ridiculous—like I’m wearing someone else’s outfit instead of my own clothes. I’m painfully aware that dressing like I do isn’t a positive attribute. I’ve even been tempted to sign up to one of those companies that pop up in my Facebook feed constantly—the ones that pick out a “look” for you and send you clothes that are sharp and go together. (I suspect Facebook’s magical algorithms scan all posted photos of me and mumble, “Jesus. Dude…there’s help out here.”)

    Here’s the way I procrastinate forever instead of shopping for much-needed adult clothing to replace my jeans, t-shirts, ball caps and running shoes: I’ll do it! I’ll grow up and buy professional casual clothes! As soon as I lose 30 pounds…

    • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

      What a fabulous compliment, Steven, thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed the article.

      I know what you mean about feeling like you’re wearing someone else’s outfit, and I have seen lots of people (male and female) try the tweed coat/scarf/jaunty hat look and so totally NOT rock it that I want to just tell them gently to try something else. Not because they look bad in it, but because they look self-conscious or uncomfortable. Which is why (a) it works for people who DO feel comfortable in that look, and (b) you are wise to not buy outfits that will just make you feel like an imposter somehow. Maybe jeans, t-shirts, ball caps and running shoes is just your look, and should be embraced. Or maybe you can try small changes, like jeans and a casual buttoned-up shirt with a tweed jacket, no hat. Because honestly while I know that the whole Bunnet Club look might not work for everyone, I totally think that a tweed jacket looks great on anyone.

      I’d be leery of Facebook algorithms, though. I can’t tell you how many ads I see for things that I would never, ever do/wear/own/enjoy, on there!

  18. Hal Johnson Hal Johnson says:

    I loved this article Deb, but then, I think you could write about watching paint dry and I’d love it.

    I’d actually met R.V. before. He and his girlfriend came by a local establishment when my trio was the Wednesday night house band there. I thought he looked dang cool in that hat. One of my band mates commented on what a cool hat it was too.

    When I’ve done gigs or hosted open mics, I’ve often thought I should perform with a hat out of consideration to others, to prevent the glare from my head from giving folks headaches. One day I was out with my wife and son as he was looking at hats (he looks good in about any hat he tries on), and I spotted a hat similar to R.V.’s. I put it on and turned to my dear family.

    “What do you think?”
    The feedback from my dear family was limited to snickers. Snickers. No, not the candy bar.

    They kept snickering on the drive home. I put on my best pout face. “You guys are mean to poor Dad. I’m going to get an Uber and go out to drink pitchers of beer to drown my sorrows.”
    My son said, “Or, we could start re-watching ‘Justified’ tonight and have tacos.”

    Dang, I really think “Justified” was even better the second time around.

    • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

      What a lovely compliment, Hal, thank you. I’m glad you enjoy my column!

      Did you notice that R.V. is hatless in his ANC photo (points to comment below)? I did a double-take, too! It is a cool hat for sure, but this new photo is pretty dang cool, too.

      Your family! So cruel! Though it sounds like they did you a favor, and hey, at least there was ‘Justified’ and tacos. I would put up with some well-intentioned cruelty for that.

      I could be wrong but you kind of look like a fedora guy, to me.

  19. R.V. Scheide R.V. Scheide says:

    Not just anyone can be in the Bunnet Club, but I have a musician friend here, of solid English descent, who can wear the flat cap with aplomb. I have to admit it was odd the first time I saw it, because I knew him when he as a teenager almost 35 years ago, when he had a brilliant bleach blond spiked hairdo, and the next time I see him, he’s wearing the cap, yet it still looked normal somehow, and he is now quite bald.

    • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

      I think that is the key to wearing the flat cap – aplomb! It just works for them, doesn’t it? Even if there was an initial moment of consternation after having last seen your friend with bleached spikes, it sounds like his bunnet suits him perfectly… and keeps his head nice and warm, too.