Lesson #378: In Bermondsey in Burberry

Sorry for the unexpected break; between football matches with my footie friends (it was only supposed to be one, but then our Tanzanian friend showed up and informed us Liverpool were playing, so it turned into two) and a bonfire with both sets of friends on Saturday and brunch, catching up with my college roommate, and (finally) watching Tom Hiddleston do Shakespeare in leather with some girl friends yesterday, my weekend kind of got away from me. 

If you’re familiar with the band Stars, a Millwall fan*, a hooligan, or any combination of the three, that title might make sense to you. If you’re not, welcome to a post on the rather surprising connection between the upscale clothing brand Burberry and football hooligans.

In the late 1970s, when Liverpool were having a run of luck in Europe, their  fans followed them abroad to cheer them on. Like you do. (I did, after all, drive to another country to see Spurs play the week before last.) But a funny thing happened…these fans started coming back to England with continental fashion labels that hadn’t yet crossed the channel. Nearly 20 years on, in attempt both to be seen as ultra fashionable and, probably more importantly, to pass as a higher class of fan than the average hooligan and therefore avoid detention by the police, Burberry’s trademark plaid became the new uniform of the football hooligan. To the point where the brand stopped making baseball caps in an effort to distance themselves from the type of ultra-hooliganism that arose in the 80s and was a serious social problem in England into the early aughts.

Burberry as a hooligan brand arose in the mid-90s, and if you google “Burberry hooligans”, you’ll get any number of pictures of chavs decked out in the brand. There’s obviously speculation about how a lower-class group were able to obtain a high-end label (in my reading it was stealing directly from the store and mugging people who were wearing the brand), but since I don’t know, I’ll not guess. What’s funny about the rise and fall of Burberry as a hooligan uniform is that it mirrors the way fashions trend on a smaller scale; while it started as a way to avoid police detection, it was dropped because it arose too much suspicion.

Bonus lessons: The trench coat is so-named because it was specifically designed by Burberry for British soldiers fighting in the trenches during the First World War. Also gabardine** was invented by Mr. Burberry himself.

For more, read here, here, and here.

*To my knowledge, I’ve never met a Millwall fan in the flesh. Fun, related (bonus points if you know the relation) fact: I met my first ever West Ham fans while out with my footie friends for the Champions League final in May.

**Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘America‘ is the first thing I think of when I think of gabardine. It has a lyric, “she said the man in the gabardine suit was a spy”, and I’m almost certain that’s the only time I have ever heard the word spoken…or, well, sung. Vocalized.


Lesson #122: Hobnail Boots

Autobiographical note: So today, I’m just chilling in the garden with a beer, a book, the sun and Urban Planner Housemate. He’s reading the paper and having a coffee, I’m reading my book, drinking my beer and listening to my mp3 player with one earphone in. In the span of 30 seconds, I come across a passage in my book about the Romans’ hobnail sandals,* think to myself that the only time I’ve ever heard the word hobnail is in the Beatles song “Happiness is a Warm Gun”, wonder what exactly a hobnail boot is and have my mp3 player, which is on shuffle, magically decide to play “Happiness is a Warm Gun,” which set Urban Planner Housemate and me into a conversation about footwear that ended up as description of every job we’ve ever had.** And lest you think that was a freakish turn of events, later today we were watching an episode of Scrubs and randomly talking about failed TV shows (specifically Joey) and the cast of Friends and 30 seconds later discovered the episode of Scrubs we were watching had a Friends cast member in it.***

So given that the universe clearly wants me to know what a hobnail boot is, today’s lesson is on hobnail boots.

A hobnail is a short tack with a thick head meant to increase the durability of footwear.

Hobnail boots are just a pair of boots that have been reinforced with these spikes at regular intervals. They’re often used by militaries and workmen. The German Army used them during the Second World War, which is what gave their marching the sound it had. Think the military equivalent of tap shoes.

As for the Roman soldiers, those who were on long treks wore shoes called caligae,**** which were reinforced with hobnails. At the time of the Romans, iron nails, which dulled over time, were driven through the soles of the shoes.

And lest you think hobnails are just some noisemaking, sole saving bit of metal, the Germans and the Romans both used them to do serious damage as regards stamping on people. Because empires tend to be like that. Not only that, but the Germans had the added benefit (?) of steel toes in their boots.*****

*Lest you think I was geek reading again, I was not. I’m reading Christopher Moore’s Lamb, which is awesomely sacrilegious.

**Urban Planner Housemate and I are very alike. We are both well traveled, are easily bored and have done a wide variety of jobs in our lives.

***My friend in the city in Texas I’ve never been in and I have this happen to us all the time. We’ll talk about something totally random and two days later, it will appear in one of our lives from an outside source.  We actually have a term for this.

****Bringing back my Latin, caliga is the singular, caligae is plural (which means the word is feminine).

*****Read more here and here. See images of caligae here.

Lesson #74: Curling Shoes

My options for sports last night were limited. Much as I love hockey, I can’t deal with women’s hockey; it’s boring. I like a perfectly executed hip check like I saw in the Switzerland/USA game on Wednesday and women’s hockey doesn’t offer that.*  So a friend and I decided to watch curling. He’s kind of been keeping up with it, I can’t usually be bothered. But when given the option of the men’s semifinals or the women’s hockey final, I chose the lesser of the evils. Anyway, about 3/4 of the way through the Canada/Sweden match (game?) I have decided that I can’t figure out the shoes. I ask my friend. He doesn’t know. We move into a conversation about bathroom assassinations.**

So today’s goal was to find out how curlers can slide at will and have traction at will. The answer is ridiculously simple. One shoe, called the slider, is soled with teflon and allows the wearer to slide down the ice. The other shoe has a rough tread to give the wearer traction while sweeping (or walking). The whole concept is kind of like a skateboard in the sense that you push with one foot and glide with the other.

*I should state for the record, as both he and my dad suggested that I’m setting women’s lib back 50 years, that I feel this way about a lot of women’s team sports. I refuse to watch women’s football too (though I prefer women’s volleyball). As a rule, women’s sports are slower and more technical and while they might be “prettier”, I like grit. And speed. And power. I’m not against women playing the games at all; by all means go, play, have fun! I know I did when I played football, volleyball and rugby! I just don’t want to watch them.

**Like you do!