Both Sandals - The Beginning

In English there’s a saying that encapsulates a certain “je ne sais quoi” about how to live life to the full, whether one can afford it or not. It’s about the joy of life or, as we call it, joy de vivre, linked with the notion that putting things off for a bit while you have a glass of wine is a good idea. (Positive Procrastination.) This is a direct translation from the French “joie de vivre”.

When the French troops arrived in England in 1066 they brought with them many of their attitudes, traditions, food, drink and beachwear. Having been under the influence of the Romans for so long they also brought ideas on how to make life easier and more convenient; one of these concepts was supermarkets, which they placed at strategic locations like crossroads. Now, in those days, there weren’t many crossroads because there weren’t many roads but, with typical Gallic pragmatism, that didn’t stand in their way. They worked on the basis that Roman roads were long and straight and people travelled at huge speed, however, you had to stop, look and listen at crossroads for fear of being run over by an ox. You saw the shop and felt hungry. Clever eh?

The choice of goods on sale was not great – it was limited to cheese, wine, bread, dry rather chewy sausages of dubious origin and beachwear, mostly sandals based on a racy southern French design with no heel strap so they could be removed quickly with the rest of ones clothing in order happily to indulge in other joie de vivre. (The French are apparently good at that sort of thing having invented kissing and a certain saucy number.)

Anyway, by about 1075 DeViet was well into the design business himself, having more than satisfied William the Conqueror with a range of designer trusses and incontinence pouches. The English, although they’d been largely subsumed into several other cultures by then, had mostly resisted the call to fashion and still tended to wear footwear fashioned out of local materials. For example, people living on or near the coast would sport large hollowed-out seabirds, while those further inland would wear things like gutted baby mink, small hard-wearing pigs or, for extra grip in the icy winters, dry-cured hedgehog. (The Dutch did much the same and wore small logs.)

On a visit to one such market DeViet bought the last pair of sandals on offer. They were on special discount and advertised as Jesus Sandals-as worn in the Holy Land.” He thought they looked a bit old and didn’t really know where the Holy Land was but was stirred. He also vaguely wondered why, if they belonged to this chap called Jesus, they were on sale in East London, but had the idea of adorning them with the same material he was using for his special line of leisure trusses. More importantly though, he thought he’d spotted a niche market among religious leaders – a simple, ascetic design that would lend a certain cachet to the senior bishops and match their plain brown habits. Ok, so they were supposed to be plain, simple men with no taste for self-embellishment and definitely not intended to be attractive, but he reckoned that the sight of a well-turned ankle, a soft pink instep and prehensile toes might be just the thing to cause a ripple among the not-so faithful and revive the churches’ flagging audiences.

He borrowed the design and used existing stocks of mink, rat and otter leather and sold them under the banner of “ye flock fillips” – a clever play on words relating to congregations and the need to lift their spirits. (Clearly, these were the forerunners of modern rubber beachwear with the name modified by the centuries.) In a café attached to the shop he jotted down his new idea on a scrap of velum parchment he found in his man-bag and, after several jugs of rosé wine, set off for home. He was in very high spirits indeed and stopped at several bars saying to all who would listen “I’m in heaven. I’ve had a vision of the future.”

Sadly, he was so deliriously inspired and Relaxed he forgot about the dangers of high-speed oxen and was run over by a group of youths having a stolen cart race. He was badly injured and spent the remaining 5 years of his life in a monastic hospital, drifting in and out of a demented coma. Severe brain damage caused him to lose his power of speech, except for the occasional lucid moment after the mead and broomstick treatment beloved of nurses in those days. Unfortunately, the medics still thought he was raving when he screeched out “Holy Sandals”, “They’re not Jesus’, they’re mine!” and what sounded like “Antibell’ll have me”.

The parchment on which he’d written his marketing plan was also badly ravaged and all that remained, faintly decipherable in the blood and mud, were the words “Holy”, “Sandals”, “fillip” and “Auntie Bella”, to whom he was going to make a present of the first of his production run. Naturally, the healers, who let it not be forgotten were devoutly religious but a touch simple, became intrigued, inspired and ultimately frightened by his ramblings, seeing in them a significance that was not entirely accurate or realistic. (So, no change there then.)

Amidst their enquiries about the provenance of DeViet and the mystical footwear, they tracked down Auntie Bella to a penthouse hovel near Dartford, England. She turned out to be a he, with a neatly trimmed beard and a leaning towards dresses, rouge and musicals. He was an avuncular chap who dabbled in money lending, exotic oils and herbs, and “general procurement” but who was owed considerable money by DeViet. Auntie Bella was a bit of a rogue but extremely lovable, except when crossed. He was a ladies’ man, a man’s man - in fact anybody’s man when he’d had a few.

Twas thus that various legends were born. DeViet died on 24 Dec 1080 just before midnight. He was buried without ceremony in a bog on the banks of the river Thames by a handful of very, very scared monks and attended only by Roger his half-wit son with a lazy eye in the middle of a murderous thunderstorm. The Sandals went with him, along with a gilt-edged truss, two packets of chicken gizzard condoms, a broom handle, a pint mug of mixed mead and wine cocktail and a bottle of truffle oil.

It’s almost unbelievable but verbal accounts from certain monks handed down through the generations recall how, as the last turf was stamped down over his grave, a thin but intense shaft of light penetrated the gloom and shone on the mound. DeViet’s voice could be heard whispering over and over again “Wahphuqszisszen. Fillip’s ze kee. Antibell’ll find me.”  A second or two before the light faded eerily away they heard what they thought was the voluptuous passing of wind, the grave sank a few inches as if sighing with relief, and all went quiet………………………………………..