I bought these gumboots a long time ago, in the late 1990s. They were from an op shop, of course, but I don’t remember which one. When I bought them they were covered in blue glitter glue stars, which I promptly removed, preparing them for their new life at the end of my legs, rather than the legs of some raver girl at the party in the forest (though they would have been practical, being watertight).
The boots appealed to me for a number of reasons. I bought them at a time when I wore only red clothes, so they fitted in with my rules. Why was I only wearing red clothes? I’m not sure now, something to do with being nineteen, which was a very edgy age for me.
I also liked that they had heels, so not only were they practical, they were also fashionable. Little did I know that gumboots were to become a fashion accessory in years to come. I thought that perhaps their style was something to do with their Finnish origins.
Now known for small ringing objects, Nokia started out as a company that produced, among other things, gumboots like these. Over the years I have accumulated a fair bit of time staring at the labels inside the boots pondering how they could be the same company that make mobile phones.
The boots are an example of an object that has become more precious to me over time. At first I didn’t think much of them, they were a useful addition to my all red wardrobe, and the Nokia things was perplexing, but I didn’t wear them often. One day, though, after heavy rain, I decided that I wanted to go splashing in puddles. Things have obviously improved since the all red days! Now I go about light of spirit, splashing around in puddles like a five year old.
Yesterday was a rainy day, with sudden heavy peals of rain. I was going out to Officeworks to do some copying, as I do on a regular basis. Usually I ride my bike but Simon had warned me about cars driving through puddles and sending up Hokusai waves of dirty water. He had suffered a soaking on his journey to Officeworks an hour earlier. As soon as I heard this, I went in search of the boots.
I could see Simon through the Officeworks window, concentrating on a serious photocopying problem, the planned result of which was a giant typewriter. My duties were much less involved, just copying a few pictures of ice skaters and shrinking down some pages for my latest zines.
As I stood at the card recharge machine, feeding in 20c coins, I noticed a tweeny girl staring at my red gumboots with a look of distrust/incomprehension. It is a look I am familiar with but I see less and less often. I used to get it all the time when I wore 70s clothes around before the time when vintage was fashionable.
I looked down at my boots and tried to observe them as if I had never seen them before. They were muddy, with the remains of the blue glitter stars that I was never able to fully remove, and the poor things were now a faded orangey red rather than their once bright colour. They were very different to the neat gumboots hanging up in rows in Target, or the ones you see on the trotters of girls mincing around the city with shopping bags dangling off their arms. They were boots that had lived!
Over at the copiers I sat with Simon, cutting up a picture of a typewriter into numbered rectangles. “How many pieces are there?” I asked. “Oh, 180,” he said casually. “It’s going to be one hell of a jigsaw puzzle.” The man near us, a tall German guy wearing a long coat and photocopying library books about sculpture, saw us with our scissors and energetically showed us that we could use the guillotine.
“That’s a good idea,” Simon said, “but it won’t work with these crooked lines.” The man retreated and went back to his copying. There are certain people who buzz in, copy their passports and recent bills and leave, and others who set up for the long haul. Both us and this man were the latter. I noticed that he kept blowing on the photocopier glass between copies, a strange manoeuvre, but one that he obviously felt was necessary.
As someone who has done a lot of photocopying in my life, I understand how, during a long photocopying session, you and the machine merge somewhat. I become attuned to the sounds of the copier, so I know when the scanning light has withdrawn and it is safe to open the cover and turn to the next page. For this man, the blowing obviously was part of a similar kind of communion with the copier.
We could hear the rain, loud, on the roof. All three of us stared out at it patterning the concrete of the carpark outside, contemplating it in our separate ways. Soon I was to go out into it, my boots splashing through the puddles as I ran for the bus. Running in heeled gumboots while holding an umbrella is not easy, but I did it, and the bus driver waited for me, and ten minutes later I was home.