My son was inconsolable when it came to dog walk time, because he had a hurty toe.
What to wear into the forest? His trainers would pinch, and I forbade his new sandals.
Because it’s muddy out there, right now. The heavens have tipped unbelievable amounts of rain on an incredulous English population. We are all hot under the collar about it, but there is absolutely no-one to whom we can complain in triplicate. In the forest, the soil has had enough, thank you very much. Peat has become mire. Purchasing sandals, it seems, was a foolhardy course of action.
What a good thing there was a roomy pair of bottle green wellies waiting for Felix in the porch. He popped them on to reveal they protected the toe, and were a passport to all the best puddles.
Felix might as well have had seven league boots on. He requested the muddiest route and investigated every quaggy mire with the application of a professional surveyor. He sought out broad puddles, deep puddles, sticky puddles and shallow clear pools. He contrived to become stuck, grinning like a delighted orangutan and elongating the drama as his concerned parents asked him: did he need towing out?
He sloshed and sploshed and diced with welly levels, daring the puddles higher and higher, every further towards the top of his boots.
It is easy to forget that, while wellies have become the staple of children and women on relentless soggy British days out, they began as an unmistakably blokey thing.
We all know who designed them: Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington. He had long admired the boots worn by the Hessian soldiers, the 18th century German mercinaries who often worked for the British Empire. He wanted something softer, more close fitting, but which could be used one minute on the battlefield and the next at dinner that evening.
How very British. Keep calm and carry on, and all that.
But Wellington didn’t make the boot.
At the top of St James Street, on the corner of Picadilly, next to the old Guards Club, there once stood a stood a renowned bootmaker’s. It belonged to George Hoby, bootmaker to the stars; or at least, to the great and good of his time.
His boots were the best. There was no disputing it. But according to celebrated diarist Captain Rees Howell Gronow,his manners were famed for being arrogant and irascible.
When an early Churchill stormed into his shop to complain he would never patronise Hoby’s again because of the poor quality of his boots, Hoby turned with a sardonic pastiche of defeated loss to his shopman and said: “John, close the shutters. It is all over with us. I must shut up shop; Ensign Churchill withdraws his custom from me…”
One day, as he was with the Duke of Kent fitting him for boots, someone brought news that Wellington had trounced the French at Vittoria.
Hoby retorted: ““If Lord Wellington had had any other bootmaker than myself, he never would have had his great and constant successes; for my boots and prayers bring his lordship out of all his difficulties.”
Magic boots. Seven-league boots: Hoby died leaving a fortune of £120,000, and his legacy has outshone the fortune by far. It stretches throughout English life,through all our rainy days.
All the way to a rainy forest puddle, where a small boy plays at adventures.
Who knows where Hoby’s boots will carry him.
Image source here