Farm Ireland

Sunday 25 February 2018

Decoding the strict rules of manly welly wearing

Prize winners at the recent Raphoe Livestock Mart, Co Donegal. Photo: Clive Wasson.
Prize winners at the recent Raphoe Livestock Mart, Co Donegal. Photo: Clive Wasson.
Ann Fitzgerald

Ann Fitzgerald

What's the common denominator between farmers? Use of baler twine to tie things up or a penknife to cut stuff down, weathered faces or deeply furrowed hands? Perhaps. But in a temperate climate such as ours, surely the one thing they all do is wear wellies.

Last week, I went to a farm walk and, while my ears were glued to what was being said, my eyes kept straying groundwards. There they were, on everyone's feet. Everyone, that is, except the poor few eejits including myself who thought they could get away with boots. I could almost hear the chorus of disapproval, "where in the world did she think she's going?"

At a guess, I would say the dominant brand was Dunlop, especially the thermally lined Purofort but also evident were Bekina, Cofra, Steelite. I spotted a few pairs of Hunters. Then I saw wellies unlike any of the others. A lighter green, long and slim in the calf, with an elastic insert near the top. Could it be a pair of Le Chameau, the expensive French brand popularised by the Duchess of Cambridge. I'd have felt a bigger eejit if I asked.

But what does what wellies you wear say about you? Opinions abound, now that wellies are commonly worn at outdoor social events. For male farmers, which I will confine this discourse to, the answer is probably quite simple.

Most farmers couldn't care less about the name on the welly. All that matters is that they fit and keep you dry. However, while it is a rare farmer who would claim to be a fashionista, most, perhaps unknowingly, adhere to strict rules of manly welly wearing.

During the summer or working with tillage or sheep, mid-calf wellies might suffice yet they are seen as the preserve of gardening grannies and most farmers wouldn't be caught dead in them.

Usually the purchase of wellies is a pretty unceremonious event. You walk into your local farm supplier and say: "Can I have a bag of calf nuts, a box of Effydral and a pair of size 10 wellies?" If there is a choice on the latter, it would be "black or green?"

Sometimes you will see a man - it is always a man - wearing wellies so wide they are like dual wheels. What kind of feet does he have? Shrek's? Or maybe he just likes a bit of room.

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In my, albeit limited, study of the subject I would say there's no correlation between the size of a man's feet and the size of any of his other appendages, numerically matching or otherwise. Long feet do not mean long hands. Or a long nose.

Except on brand new wellies, there is almost always a band of dried-in muck stretching from the top edge down as far as the wearer feels they can comfortably point the power hose. Then, there are some people who, no matter what they do, can't seem to stop the dirt riding up over the tops of their wellies on to their clothing.

But the one thing that often surprises me about farmers, given how prudent they usually are, is how wasteful they are when it comes to wellies.

It's rare to get a new pair of wellies until something happens to the old pair. Usually this takes the form of a hole. However, both wellies rarely hole at the same time. Given that the old wellies are often replaced with a new pair that is exactly the same, is there not an argument for just using one from the new pair and keep the other one until the next time? Unless, of course, you are a serial left-leg or right-leg welly-holer.

Though, by the time one welly holes, maybe they were both coming up to their 'smell-by' date anyway.

Lots of people continue to wear a pair of wellies even after one has holed. It has taken them so long to break them in that they just don't want to have to start the job all over again. So instead they avoid situations where they might get into trouble or, at worst, when they come to a wet spot try to only step in it with the good-welly-foot.

Discarded wellies have their uses, too, for example, as cute herb planters.

But what seems to me to be the most curious aspect of all of wellies are the raised patterns on the rubber. Sometimes you even get what look like spur ridges, like what you might see on riding boots. What is their purpose? For aerodynamics or corrugation? Or a way of standing out, but just a little bit, from the opposition.

Now its time to don my own, red (Up Munster) wellies and go do a bit of herding.

Indo Farming