As any fule kno, our world divides into two kinds of people: crocophiles and crocophobes. It is not a division down the middle, because the angry mass of phobes vastly outnumbers the oppressed minority of philes.
I once knew a girl who said you could tell all you needed to know about a man from his footwear. Leather soles, or just the uppers (cheapskate)? Cross-laced or straight-laced? Heels worn down on the inside (not to be trusted), or outside … etc etc. In view of which, it was surprising that our friendship lasted as long as it did. This was mid-way through the first century BC (Before Crocs), between the creepy era of the suede Hush Puppy and the lumberjack chic Timberland epoch. Green Flash had made way for Stan Smith at the tennis club.
I got my first pair of crocs in Wales, long after the first craze had passed me by. A Brummie with a junk shop had a back room full of fakes, attractively priced at £4 a pair. I selected an understated dark green pair, well calculated to sit comfortably in the lush Welsh landscape, and immediately felt at home in them. I was not alone in this, and other family members demanded a return visit to the junk shop the next day to buy their faux-crocs. Then it was the turn of a visiting friend and her young son. “Not you lot again,” said the Brummie, when we trooped in for our fourth visit.
As an alternative to flip flops or open-toed sandals whose velcro straps break after a few days, fake crocs were a great advance: more durable and cheaper. My daughter particularly enjoyed personalising hers with decorative plastic butterflies and beetles to pop in the holes. I found crocs ideal for leaving beside the back door and slipping into and out of for garden tasks. I also like the fact that they hide my toes.
When the dark green pair wore thin, I looked for a replacement and chanced on a canary yellow pair in the bin outside a discount shop: £3. “You cannot be serious,” said my daughter. “I’m sorry,” I lied, “but it’s the only colour they’ve got in my size.” They were Cloggz, by Hollandia, and I have never found crocs to equal them for comfort.
Before their new canary brightness wore off, I was cycling up the hill with my dogs when a horse coming the other way bridled and nearly threw its rider. “Sorry about the dogs, but they don’t mean any harm,” I said to the horsewoman. “It’s not the dogs that are scaring him,” she replied. “It’s your shoes.”
Notwithstanding this reverse, I took the yellow crocs with me on our second French bike ride, in September 2009, and at a picnic spot beside the Pont Pakowski near Issoire took the momentous decision to jettison my bulky old trainers and commit to croc-cycling.
As I have often explained, my reasons were entirely practical: to eliminate the need for socks. Reducing the load is a constant and noble objective, and wearing bright yellow shoes might have beneficial safety implications as well as Tour de France referential validity. Even so, my companion Galaxy was appalled at the prospect of spending a week with a man in yellow plastic sandals, and insisted on travelling in front where he would not have to see them. He lost no opportunity to remind me how happy he would be when he saw a Croc detached from its foot and floating down the river.
Whatever: crocs work for me. When it rains, the feet simply get wet and then dry off. On a hot day I like the ventilation. Crocs are great for river bathing – or wild swimming, as it is more fashionably known – offering extra buoyancy and protection against rusty nails and broken bottles on the river bed. There are drawbacks, admittedly: when I need to stop suddenly and put a foot on the ground – to avoid running over a car, for example – the croc has been known to stay in the foot strap and more than once I have just missed stabbing my foot on a sharp stone. Other croc-wearers report painful stings from insects that get caught in the sandal. If it is true that wasps are attracted to the colour yellow, this might explain why the yellow pair found its way into the ‘everything must go’ bucket outside the discount store. Chris Froome might like to bear this in mind and apply some repellent before each stage, if it isn’t a banned substance.
By the time of our third expedition, down the Tarn, the idea of a book of six rides had been hatched, and I ordered a new pair of fake crocs from Wales, requesting blue. I thought a different colour of croc for each ride might be an attractive design gimmick for the book.
As it happened the Tarn crocs were not the best shade of blue and when one of them disappeared irretrievably down a concrete crevasse between the blocks of the sea wall at Pyla sur Mer I threw its partner away without regret. My fashionable lady publishers politely rejected my idea of a coloured croc design theme, and also vetoed my suggested title for the book: Croc Monsieur. So it was back to yellow for me, as Amy Winehouse might have sung.
Corsica was this year’s new bike ride, and a new pair of Crocs. At last I felt ready to splash out on a real pair. I had long had my eyes on the chocolate brown Croc Yukon, its stylish leather trim reminiscent of a convertible Chevrolet. Last summer in Wales I saw a pair of them in action: a cool dude at the boatyard wore his Yukons while pushing and pulling boats in and out of the water. ‘Doesn’t the salt water distress the leather?’ I asked him. “I rather like distressed,” said cool boatyard dude, and that settled it.
“They almost look like shoes,” said my daughter, when my Yukons arrived in the post. If I kept a low profile, I might just be allowed to wear them when I came to pick her up from school.
Unfortunately they are a tight fit, and I returned from Corsica with blisters on the top of several toes. “Yeeuch,” said my daughter. “Have you seen your feet?” Indeed I had, and gave then a rest from the brown crocs for a few weeks. But having spent more than £20 on them I am persevering, and will beach test them in Wales next month. The best horses and hiking boots need breaking in. No pain, no gain.
What is it about crocs that people find so hateful? With many thousands of others I follow the Worse Than Crocs twitter feed with ghastly fascination. Worse than Crocs? Other footwear. Worse than lycra? Let’s not start on that.
“Your book looks good,” volunteered an acquaintance when we met by chance in the pub recently. “But you seem to be wearing the most appalling shoes.” She sounded genuinely shocked and disgusted that I could be guilty of such a grotesque error.
Even the medical profession seems to have it in for my sandals. “The doctor says your crocs are to blame,” said my son triumphantly, after he had finally taken his nasty sole-of-foot infection to the surgery. He claims to have picked it up in Wales, and told the doctor that he did most of his croc-wearing there. “Apparently the rubber is very bad for your feet and makes them sweat. Crocs make the muscles relax too much and collapse.”
“Don’t wear them then,” I said. Shoes that make the muscles relax sound good to me, and how can a sandal pierced by more holes than a Swiss cheese make anything sweat? Never mind: if the doctor’s diagnosis means that my son is less likely to put his rotten feet in my crocs because he is too lazy to find anything else to wear, so much the better.