Peter Dornauf: Hat police sour day at the Bay

It was a case of hat off or else when Peter Dornauf bowled up for lunch at the Citizens Club in Tauranga recently.
FAIRFAX NZ

It was a case of hat off or else when Peter Dornauf bowled up for lunch at the Citizens Club in Tauranga recently.

OPINION: The last time someone told me what I could and could not wear was my mother. I was six years old. I am no longer a child.

The reason for these opening remarks will become apparent further into the text.

Recently I travelled to Tauranga to catch up with relatives, some of whom I'd not seen in a long while. They'd booked a table at the Citizens Club for 1 o'clock, so I decided while I was in the city to visit a couple of galleries beforehand.

First was the commercial gallery, Zeus. It was showing the latest works of Tim Croucher, a Hamiltonian who has tutored art students at Waikato Wintec for many years. Tim originally hailed from the Manawatu and the paintings on show were landscapes and figures in landscapes that evoked a period of time associated with his formative teenage years in the area. Large and impressionistic, the works possessed a strange kind of ambiguity, part idyll and yet charged with a pervasive sense of lassitude, a sort of bogan ennui.

Young men are depicted sitting about in period armchairs which themselves are placed in odd settings – on the edges of lagoons or watery inlets, youths simply hanging out in an aimless sort of fashion. In others they're standing around watching burnouts on a street.

This was life in rural provincial New Zealand in the late 1970s for boys looking for something to do. It's the landscape, however, which predominates in the paintings, executed with a fine and assured brushstroke. These sorts of works are quite singular in New Zealand which makes them special. The subject is infrequently dealt with. A time and place associated with a piece of social history is summoned and the viewer is rewarded for looking.

My second port of call was at the Tauranga Art Gallery which recently made TV headlines for its showing of a collection of street art featuring British provocateur, Banksy. Others on show were mainly American but Banksy had the edge for his wry simplicity and political aplomb. His satirical target, in general terms, is human stupidity, of which there is no dearth on the planet. The man does not have to struggle for subject material.

Which brings me to the point at which I came in. At the Citizens Club I had to sign a register – odd in itself, I thought, but I conformed: Name, signature, place of origin. What more did they want? Fingerprints? A mouth swab? But then came an inexplicable request from the ageing receptionist. I was asked to remove my hat!

What? I was not allowed to wear my fedora, which has become part of my identity, inside the premises. I could not believe what I was hearing. What kind of parallel universe had I stumbled into? Was I suddenly caught up in a bizarre time-warp transporting me back into some former century?

I have on occasions removed my hat when requested, at airport security checks and in banks when asked by the teller. There are sensible reasons here to do so and I have happily complied. But when I asked for the reason behind such antiquated demands of the Club, I was met with, "That's the rule", which of course, is just a mindless, irrational response.

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When I indicated that I would not be complying with such a foolish request, the manager was called and the same scenario played itself out. It was a rule, there was no reason for the rule other than it had always been the rule from time immemorial.

I was a little incensed and insulted at this stage, confronted, as I was, with human stupidity and made to feel like a child. As I said at the beginning, I am a grown man, no longer six years old, and nobody tells me what not to wear any longer. I was not having a bar of such infantilism.

At this point I have to apologise to my relatives because I then left the premises, unwilling to play the proprietor's silly games, and drove back immediately to Hamilton. Someone has to take a stand against such dated nonsense and human inanity.

It soured the whole trip.

Two worlds, it seemed, faced off in Tauranga that day – one represented by youthful energy and vibrancy as exhibited at the galleries, the other by an old moribund spirit embodied by intransigent people and outmoded practices that have the death rattle about them.

One bright moment did occur in the city streets when I bumped into my former dentist, now retired to the area. He reminded me about my love of nitrous oxide, that wondrous balm for all who frequent the dentist chair.

Later, travelling back to Hamilton, I recalled once suggesting to the man, after a particularly painless dreamy drilling episode, that perhaps the cure for all the world's ills was what I had just inhaled.

The hat Nazis who run the antediluvian Citizens Club could profit from a double dose.

 - Stuff

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