Old Shiny Boots
OLD SHINY BOOTS
A Close Community
I grew up in Gorleston-on-sea, to the west of the river in Great Yarmouth. It was a close knit herring fishing community-so close that everyone knew everyone else by nickname… Old Hetty (was she ever Young Hetty?), Sergeant Rodean and Old Fartn’smook. The latter was conferred after a reply its owner gave to a question posed by a Yarmouth Mercury reporter… “What do you do in the winter after the home fishing?”
“Waal” came the answer, “Oy doont dew much cept sit ber muh fyre an oy fart an I oy smook.” The name stuck, From then on he was Old Fartn’Smook . His boy became known as Young Fartn’Smook when he was of an age.
Old Shiny Boots?
However, there was one nickname that instilled fear and doubt into everyone…Old Shiny Boots! I can still clearly picture him. He was in his late sixties and barely five foot three. He always wore a black cloth cap, a white silk muffler and a black serge suit. His face was always scrubbed to a shine but his small black eyes always seemed to focus on something in the far distance. He never smiled. He had no family or friends. His two most noticeable characteristics, however, were his distinctive way of shuffling along on his heels and of course his black boots always buffed to a dazzling shine.
Most deep sea fishermen have their superstitions and those of Gorleston were no exception. The hymn “For those in Peril on the Sea” was a no-no, for example, as it was believed to always sing up a storm. There were also the three classes of people never allowed on or near a drifter (fishing boat)…clergy, women and Old Shiny Boots….the community Jonah!
Shiny Boots was often seen on the quay but keeping his distance from the boats. No boat would ever have had him as crew. In fact, on one occasion his simply casting off a drifter’s ropes, was enough for the skipper to refuse to put out to sea. Mothers with prams were known to cross the road if he was seen walking towards them. He was banned from football and inter-pub dart matches but even as semi-delinquent kids we were sternly forbidden ever to victimise him.
At home for a weekend from my London college, mother broke the news that Old Shiny Boots had died.
“That will have relieved a lot of people” I said.
“I’m not so sure”, my non-superstitious mum replied, “now he’s dead and buried, people will have to stop blaming him and blame themselves for what goes wrong.”
I bought that.