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Sandal-wearing pinkos of the modern era


George Orwell, The Road to Wigan PierI don't know what it is about sandals, but they seem to have stood for many commentators as emblems of all that is effete, pretentious and, ultimately and by extension, corrupt in those who choose to wear them. George Orwell, in his The Road to Wigan Pier, launched perhaps not the first but certainly one of the most resounding sallies against sandals and their wearers.

Discussing the perception of socialism in England in his day, he suggests, 'It would help enormously, for instance, if the smell of crankishness which still clings to the socialist movement could be dispelled. If only the sandals and the pistachio-coloured shirts could be put in a pile and burnt, and every vegetarian, teetotaller, and creeping Jesus sent home to Welwyn Garden City to do his yoga exercises quietly!'

Warming to the task elsewhere in the book, he laments that socialism seems to attract 'with magnetic force every fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal-wearer, sex-maniac, Quaker, 'Nature Cure' quack, pacifist and feminist in England'. He goes on to include 'vegetarians with wilting beards', and 'that dreary tribe of high-minded women, sandal-wearers and bearded fruit-juice drinkers who come flocking towards the smell of 'progress' like bluebottles to a dead cat'.

Sandals seem to have fallen into some desuetude after Orwell's vigorous assaults, though assiduous research reveals a thin line of reference over the years keeping them at least on the periphery of political discussion.

On 8 April 2010, writing in the Homeland Security Watch, Christopher Bellavita reported on the gradual development of rumour and misunderstanding surrounding a Qatari diplomat, Mohammed Al-Madadi.

Madadi was caught apparently attempting to ignite an explosive in his shoe on a United Airlines Flight to Denver. Further investigation revealed that he was covertly extinguishing a forbidden cigarette by placing it under his shoe, which, as it turned out, was not a shoe but — you've guessed it — a sandal.

Christopher Bellavita couldn't help himself: 'First reports about a 20-something, nicotine-addicted, sandal-wearing, low-level diplomat', he headlined, adding 'are usually wrong'.

As the central ingredient in antipodean vituperation, sandals have a healthy record. Reporting on the Finkelstein media inquiry, the Daily Telegraph's Miranda Devine referred to 'sandal-wearing freelance journalist and prolific tweeter Margaret Simons'. Simons riposted, in a piece entitled 'Sandalgate: and the most gratuitous media reference is ...', by auctioning the offending sandals then conceding to the wishes of the successful bidder by establishing an award 'for most gratuitous reference to personal appearance in the media'.

But if Orwell's sandal salvos have passed the test of time and lived on into a political age and hemisphere at least the equal of his in squalour, his colours may have been lowered by former prime minister Paul Keating. In a stoush with Sydney mayor Clover Moore, Keating says she 'has no concept of a metropolitan city, she's an inappropriate person to be lord mayor of this city because she thinks it's a city of villages, she's for low rise, she's for sandal-wearing, muesli-chewing, bike-riding pedestrians without any idea of the metropolitan quality of the city'.

'Is the former prime minister really saying that anyone who opposes Barangaroo is a sandal-wearing, muesli-chewing, bike-riding pedestrian?' the mayor riposted. Well, yes actually. Close and fearless analysis does appear to confirm that is exactly what he's saying.

Like Orwell with his teetotallers, vegetarians and fruit juice drinkers, Keating wields the broad brush and is not too worried where the paint splashes: both men's epithets are of their time, but 'sandal wearing' survives nearly a hundred years of vituperation to be the star insult for each of them.

Just as for Orwell the faux socialists were a 'dreary tribe', for Keating the 'tiny voice of opposition' emanates from a 'miserable view of the world' and, he adds, not to put too fine a point on it, a 'miserable, microscopic view of the world'.

This is all stirring stuff and Clover Moore's plea to 'play the issue not the man' does come across like a 'tiny voice' amid the tumult.

Her namesake, Suzanne Moore — sometime Guardian columnist — must have felt tiny-voiced as well when, having repeated the false report that Germaine Greer had had a hysterectomy, copped this rejoinder, complete with shoe — though not sandal — imagery: 'So much lipstick must rot the brain,' said Greer, going on to describe Moore's appearance as 'hair birds-nested all over the place, fuckk-me shoes and three fat layers of cleavage' — a dead set Sandalgate winner if ever I saw one.

Perhaps our dreary, miserable political scene might be a little enlivened, though probably not uplifted, if Peter would swap Slipper for sandal, if Craig Thompson would grow a beard (which, given his alleged occasional need for anonymity, might be handy) and take to fruit juice, and if the female parliamentarians would give more serious thought to their footwear and its libidinous as well as its podiatric possibilities.

Under such reformed conditions, an election could become a shoe-in, recalcitrant members would be brought to heel, the boot might sometimes be on the other foot and at least some of our august representatives might be made to toe the line. 


Brian MatthewsBrian Matthews is the award winning author of A Fine and Private Place and The Temple Down the Road. He was awarded the 2010 National Biography Award for Manning Clark — A Life.

Topic tags: Brian Matthews, sandals, George Orwell, Paul Keating, Clover Moore, Germaine Greer



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Existing comments

I cheerfully maintain a hatred first fired in me by Orwell of what I like to call contemptible bourgeois leftists. The sort of people who live in Balmain, work in the public service and vote Green.

Adrian | 25 May 2012  

Interesting lines, by Orwell, the colonial cop who wore sandals as uniform, and by Keating, so far from any notions of socialism as to put him alongside Ming. There is a surfeit of wealthy ALP ex-PMs and leaders, of ex-Seanators and lower house polllies, so much so that one has to wonder if there have ever been any not engaged deeply in 'the joke'.

Andy Fitzharry | 25 May 2012  

The sandal wearers that I don't understand are those Pommie blokes who in summer wear shorts and sandals with ankle length socks.

john frawley | 25 May 2012  

Thank you Brian. It is good to be able to start a bleak, cold & wet Melbourne day with a chuckle .

David HICKS | 25 May 2012  

You can't stop there, Brian. Former prime ministers might fail to be a socialist's bootlace, having hauled themselves up by their bootstraps after being on their uppers; and we would all be tracked by gumshoes once (speed the day!) we've sunk the Slipper.

DNB | 25 May 2012  

As usual, Brian, good for a laugh. And a think.

John R. Sabine | 25 May 2012  

When I read sane, sensible articles like this and realise they are published by Jesuits, I am more gobsmacked than ever that Tony Abbott claims the Society of Jesus shaped his mind. He must not have paid attention in RI.

Carol Mac | 28 May 2012  

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