These boots were made for travel.
Really though their time has come. Yet they have seen me through so many miles that I cannot let them go. They are my comfort footwear when I sit writing in the winter, such old friends and though no longer comfortable for long walks as the soles are held on with screws, they always feel a part of me.
Why do me humans insist on imbuing inanimate objects, let alone animals, with colour and character that is totally ephemeral and self-imposed?
These boots feel a part of me, but of course they aren’t. Bought in probably 1978 in an Army Surplus Store in Edinburgh, they had previously been worn (so I believe) by a German Army parachutist. That year I was working as a high-tensile fencer all across Scotland. We were based at the old army barracks at Cultybraggan – Comrie, Perthshire; Westlers Fencing Division!
In January we were fencing a glen across Loch Linhe from Fort William. Ben Nevis towering and snow-caped across the sea loch. We slept in an old caravan beside a farmhouse. At night the temperature would go down to minus 10 or less and the sea loch was freezing over. I kept a bottle of water in my sleeping bag (so it wouldn’t freeze) I then used this in the electric kettle, the boiling water being needed to pour over the gas cylinder so the gas would unfreeze and I could light the gas fire and cook breakfast. This was before first light as to get in work time we needed to be on the glen as dawn broke. This was nearly half an hour by landrover then a walk up the hill to the fence line, sometimes carrying rolls of wire or strainers. My boots didn’t let me down.
When at the end of 3 weeks daylight to dusk, hard physical work, we got a week off. I’d start early hitching to Perth and then onto the south bound A9, I was headed for the Suffolk coast near Woodbridge. I found it was nearly always quicker than the train, and obviously cheaper. In those days loads of people hitched and I soon realised there was a real art to it. Look at your route, work out the likely destinations of the people passing, use a sign board (felt pen and recycled cardboard) showing that destination. Basic psychology; it made a connection between you and them, all you need to get a ride. The driver can tell immediately if he is of any use to you, that you aren’t just going to the nearest pub. I had lifts from Glasgow to London, having shown a sign saying ‘England’ with below it ‘London’.
Another thing was to choose a good standing point where a driver could see you well in advance, read your sign, and most importantly be able to safely pull over. Also worth it not to look like you smell or have a ferret up your trousers.
I was once hitching with my best ferret Fran, she was in a small travel box in a bag. I got a lift with a couple with a child, it was good long lift and they were very nice. Fran started scratching and of course the child next to me wanted to know what I had in my bag. Unfortunately the Sun newspapers morning headlines were about how a baby had been killed by ferrets! It might have been made up although mistreated and starved ferrets would not be afraid of tackling anything.
“It’s a guinea pig”.
“Ooh, let’s see it then.”
That took some getting out of!