Traditional country pursuits reimagined for a modern world
Nick Fisher ponders the question
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Just look for a wellie sticking out the hedge,” said Chris Yates – writer, artist, tea connoisseur, TV personality and one-time holder of the British carp record. He’d just given me directions for how to find his tiny Dorset cottage.
I would spend a day making a BBC radio show with the star of A Passion For Angling, one of the most perfect, iconic and eccentric English fishing series of all time. As I drove down the M3, I considered my interview questions, pondered our tactics for catching a big, estate-lake mirror carp, and wondered – just what sort of a wellie would the great Chris Yates use to identify his gaff?
Would it be an ancient wellie kept only for marking his territory? Would it be one currently in use? Would it be a gay-coloured Boden-esque creation? A white, bright, slaughterman’s boot? A wader maybe? A dairyman’s slurry stomper? A shortie? A camo-covered, neoprene assassin’s shod? A Croc gone long? A steel toe-capped, builder’s health and safety essential?
Eventually I pulled up outside a roses-round-the-door, chocolate-box thatched cottage in Tollard Royal with a vintage Le Chameau Chasseur size 11 perched sole-upwards on a hazel bean pole.
Le Chameau is currently celebrating 90 years of artisan handmade boot production and as Chris hopped out of his cottage in one boot, slipped the other battered brother off its bean pole and onto his holey-socked foot, I could see that this was probably one of the early examples off their artisan production line.
Chris beamed like a Cheshire cat on Prozac. And I felt a warm glow inside. Today would be a treat. You can tell a lot about a man by the wellie he wears. And, how he wears it...
“South West Railways would like to apologise for the quantity of mud to be found in some of our carriages today,” said the announcer. The tables have now turned. Fifteen years later I now live in Dorset (a county famous for its mud) and now in reverse, I very occasionally have to commute to London for work.
The train guard’s summertime apology for the copious quantities of brown stuff sticking to the carriage floors was on account of yet another West Country music festival that was spewing its mud-splattered devotees onto the platform at Waterloo.
As I followed two bleary-eyed, rucksack carrying, temporarily hair-braided millennials along Platform 9 towards the ticket barrier, I checked out their wellies. After a decade and a half of Dorset mud, I am now an eagle-eyed wellie twitcher: One set of Hunter women’s Originals in aubergine. The other: Men’s Chasseur leather-lined in Vert Vierzon. Worn à la Kate Middleton and the younger royals with the side zips left undone. Both way too new. Unbroken. Never seen action other than in the likes of the Pyramid stage at Glasto.
Like I said: You can tell a lot about a person by their wellies and how they choose to wear them. And what they wear them with...
When I worked on a building site constructing the M11 motorway circa 1978, the Irish contingent on site insisted on wearing their wellies with the top three inches turned down to expose the creamy-grey cotton lining inside. It was a cultural thing. A uniform. Like LA gang members rolling up one leg of their baggy jeans. The boys from Cork and Mayo favoured the turn down.
Me, I’m a wide wellie man. I like a boot with a big mouth. Not because I have calves like a New Zealand rugby player, but because I like my wellies fast. Easy on. Easy off.
My wellies are not something I wear all day. They’re something I wear on and off all day. To let the ducks out. On. To walk the dog across next door’s field for his morning wee. On. To feed the pigs. On. To get a barrow of logs from the wood store. On. My wellies are frequent flyers. On and off more times than a Gap store greeter’s smile.
To me, the sign of a good wellie is a boot I can put on and take off, while carrying a mug of tea as I go out the door and carrying a handful of freshly laid eggs as I come back in.
Each to their own, I suppose. We all have our funny ways. I once visited Barcelona in the summer when all the female assistants in shops like Zara and Urban Outfitters were wearing long, lilac Hunter wellies. In 30°C with short skirts and not a molecule of mud in sight.
Traditional country persuits reimagined for the modern world
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