Alas, their time has come to an end. My faithful walking companions of many miles, many mountains, and many countries have finally shuffled off this mortal coil. To be fair, they gave me a warning of their impending demise a few months ago, and so this time I had to heed the call and send them on their way.
Their story begins nearly 15 years ago (coincidentally, almost as long as my marriage to my other Faithful Walking Companion), when I needed a pair of hiking boots. Being endowed with size 14 feet (which makes them, appropriately, each exactly 1 foot long), it’s not easy to find the right sort of boot. Not many manufacturers make receptacles that large, and those that do, tend to charge an arm and a leg for them. (That seems to indicate that you might get them half price, but alas, it doesn’t work that way.)
Eventually, I managed to find a pair of Caterpillars, which were a broad size 13, which pretty much did the job (and cost about double what I’d ever paid for a pair of shoes up to that point). They weren’t attractive, they weren’t phenomenally comfortable, and I would have preferred them in black. But they eventually polished up to a goodly dark brown, and stretched a bit over time to fit properly when warm.
When we lived in Ireland for 18 months, and subsequently travelled half-way around the world, they were my everyday footwear much of the time. They traipsed through snow & ice, through mud and bog, across the tundra and beyond the Arctic circle. They followed in the footsteps of pilgrims up St Brendan’s Mount, and trod the trails of Vikings in the Lofoten Islands. They stood before the Golden Buddha in Ulaanbaatar, and the Great Buddha in Kamakura (and weren’t particularly impressed by either of them).
On returning to South Africa, warmer weather and the arrival of offspring meant that not much walking requiring heavy boots was done. Table Mountain was topped a couple of times over the years, but besides that, the old Cats languished largely unused for nearly a decade. On arrival in the UK, they slowly got back into regular service, as the children became old enough to make hill walking pleasurable.
And then, there was the first dire warning – the last on the right hand shoe came loose, about 100 yards out of Euston Station. The man from Timpsons who glued it back on said the glue would last “for years”, but it turns out what he really meant was “for a year”. On an Easter Monday walk around Henley-in-Arden, the glue came unstuck, and I was left without a sole for about half the walk. Apart from the loss of dignity in having to limp for 3 miles with sole in hand, I also had to put up with a fine display of English punning in action. Not to mention numerous quotations from the Parrot Sketch: “That is an ex-boot”, “The only reason that sole would stay on would be if it was nailed there…”, ad nauseum. This is mind-blowingly dreadful at the best of times, but is slightly worse when they’re all directed at oneself.
The sole came in handy near the end, when it found a final resting place as a stepping stone through a particularly muddy patch we needed to traverse at the bottom of the hill. The Cats are now in limbo – waiting outside the front door next to the rubbish bin. I haven’t had the heart to tip them in just yet, thinking that some sort of Last Rites ceremony would be appropriate. Well, for one of them, anyway – the other probably doesn’t care too much, as it no longer has a soul, and is probably just pining for the fjords.