Boots

20 April 2019

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I hadn’t properly cleaned my boots last time I put them away.

When I unbagged them and sat on the back of the car in the Lakes, a few weeks ago, they still had mud on them from a previous walk. Mud, from snow melting into earth, and white chalk, from the North Downs.

And now, that mud and chalk was translated a few hundred miles north, to be trodden into ground near Derwent Water.

A smile on the inside: how much mud and soil and who knows what else have I moved around the county, mixing tiny samples from one place into another?

My last pair of boots had taken me up hills in France, Cyprus, California, Australia. I didn’t clean the Australian soil off them for a few weeks after I returned. I couldn’t bring myself to do it; it was a final memento of a huge trip, a little piece of something alien, brought all the way home. I finally replaced those grey synthetic boots with these leather ones around 2016, when the old pair were just no longer waterproof. I was sad to do so; they had so many travels trodden into their soles; the new ones, stiff and clean, didn’t feel like they could match up.

But now, a few years later, these ones have really started to get their miles in, slowly – and highly inefficiently – redistributing soil and dirt around the world.

They’ll get a proper clean and wax in due course. In the meantime, I still like the tingle of all the previous journeys I see in them in moments like this.

How about this for writing, from James Salter’s The Hunters, his 1956 novel about fighter pilots in the Korean war. Cleve is an Air Force captain; he’s taking off on his first mission from his new posting.

Cleve dressed himself slowly to reduce the time he would have to spend standing around and taking little part in the talk. He was not fully at ease. It was still like being a guest at a family reunion, with all the unfamiliar references. He felt relieved when finally they rode out to their ships.

Then it was intoxicating. The smooth takeoff, and the free feeling of having the world drop away. Soon after leaving the ground, they were crossing patches of stratus that lay in the valleys as heavy and white as glaciers. North for the fifth time. It was still all adventure, as exciting as love, as frightening. Cleve rejoiced in it.

Salter goes from the ready room to flight inside a paragraph break. And how he describes it! His flying descriptions do become slightly more ‘technical’, in the sense of defining what is happening, when combat occurs, but he’s almost completely uninterested in the technical interactions of flying. He wants to show intent – what Cleve is doing, not what his plane is doing. (His plane, incidentally, is an F-86 Sabre, though it will only ever be referred to as a ‘ship’ throughout the novel, and the MiG-15s of the North Koreans will be reduced to nothing but ‘MIGs’.)

Beautiful; not quite ‘spare’, but stripped down to only that which is necessary to tell the story, about how a man feels in the air. The rest of the book is continuing to be as good.

  • Nice write-up of this show from Denise – I greatly enjoyed it, and agree with most of what she wrote. I particularly enjoyed examples of the SLS (3D printing technique) process, notably, the case showing what emerges from the printer – and how much material is brushed away by hand to reveal the object thereafter. Many of the exhibits they showed were magical, and yet they worked hard to remove the magic from the _processes_, and I really think they pulled that off.
  • "At the turn of the millennium, the internet seemed full of heartfelt pitches. Millions of users singing the praises of their favourite things – crowding around them, talking about them, calling for others to recognize their charms. Not the sturm und drang of social media: just clear-throated whoops, and echoes. Strangers like Pedro logging on to share their passions, not just once but every week, long after they had earned their Into the Grove membership rights, as if they couldn't help themselves."