I’m in mourning. I’ve lost an old, dear friend of mine.
It’s a friend I have known for ten years, a friend who has been everywhere with me, that has walked with me on every continent (apart from South America!). A friend that brought comfort and support, one that I could rely on and trust never to let me down. A friend I just could not bare to replace.
I have lost a beloved Cod Flop.
Now, most will read this and wonder what on earth I am gibbering on about. There are some who will roll their eyes and think ‘about time’. There are a few who will no doubt share a little bit of sadness with me at the passing of such a special friend. There are one or two who will read this with a knowing nod at my loss.
Those one or two will be the people I met at Camp America, in the Catskill Mountains of New York back in the summer of 2002, the likes of Steve Rose, Steve Reynolds, Lynne, Katrina, Peter, Mike and Chris, who, lovingly, christened me Cod Head thanks to my Grimsby roots.
I celebrated my 21st birthday at Camp Nashopa, and in July that year a few of them clubbed together to buy me something special for my landmark birthday. Aside from vast quantities of alcohol when I became a legal drinker for the second time in my life (its 21 in the States!) I was handed a present. They had splashed out on me, and handed over a pair of blue flip flops. All $1.50-worth of Walmart flip flops.
These, however, were not just any old flip flops. These had a picture on them – a picture of a fish.
Well, it was the skeleton of a fish to be precise, but it was a fish all the same. And from that day forward, we were all in agreement that they shall be named the Cod Flops.
And that was the start of a beautiful relationship, a relationship I am sure even some of those who helped buy me that beloved gift are unaware of, and that’s one of the reasons why I’m writing this!
Back then, I promised I would wear them for the summer, partly as they were a bit of a novelty joke gift, but partly because they were so incredibly comfortable. We went to the American countryside with the kids together, ran the go-cart activity together, had a special trip to New York City together. We even went as far as Boston and Atlantic City together, with my new friends not even as much as nipping my feet, let alone give me any blisters.
It was the start of something special, and I couldn’t just leave them behind. I packed them into my bag, and they came home with me, as something to show the parents of ‘what the lads got me for my birthday’ before being thrown away or forgotten about.
Except, it didn’t stop there.
With no other flip flops so comfy, I began to wear them at home. Then they were packed into my bag when I made a return trip to the States the following year, returning to the summer camp to see friends for a few days, and enabling my Cod Flops to feel at home for a while.
Then there were holidays – to Turkey, to a week with the lads in Greece, to Spain and the Canary Islands. We began to venture further afield, travelling to the Gulf with the Grimsby Telegraph and spending a week onboard HMS Grimsby as we sailed from Abu Dhabi in the UAE to Muscat in Oman in 2003.
We were together on my first trip to Hong Kong, Australia and Singapore a few years later. I changed jobs, and the Cod Flops continued with me to Africa, visiting Sierra Leone when I was sent to film the work of Comic Relief projects in the war-torn country, even coming with me and flying with the RAF to Cyprus when we filmed the Tornado fighter jets returning home from Iraq.
My Cod-Flops met people in my life, spending time with best friends and travel friends, a couple of ex-girlfriends who would roll their eyes as they see the tatty, ill-fitting footwear going on yet another journey. We had more holidays – to the Caribbean, to Egypt, to Prague and countless trips to Madrid to see best mate Dan and wife Denise. I learned to ski, and the cod-flops made their first adventures up mountains with me – just to wear around the hotel of course, but they went out in the snow from time to time too.
We were inseparable while I was away, and last year they made it to Thailand, Australia and Connecticut in America on my three-week trip around the world, a trip that helped me decide to make this very journey. They had circumnavigated the globe with me once, and with wear and tear beginning to take its toll, I had decided this would be their swansong, a chance to go out with a bang, a trip that I could show them the world and say ‘thankyou for being there’.
And I looked after them well – when all their flip flop friends were being washed ashore, abandoned or lost by their owners in a drunken haze at Thailand’s Full Moon parties, my trusty Cod Flops were still firmly held on my feet. When the little rubber toe holder pulled through from the bottom of the blue foam base on a walk in Cambodia, it wasn’t a snap, just a temporary, repairable blow-out, as always. They kept my feet dry and away from nasties on the dirty trans-Siberian train conveniences, and in the countless squat toilets across Asia.
But this trip did begin to take its toll on my weary friends. I began to feel sharp stones underfoot as the fish-painted base began to wear thin. In Thailand, a bit of broken glass stuck right through and cut the big toe on my right foot, leaving a half-inch gash in Coddy. The edges began to bend up and around my feet, and they still, even to this day, made my feet blue every time I wore them as some sort of paint or dye rubbed off. Yet I always forgave them.
I did, however, almost buy a new pair of flip-flops in Thailand, as the Havianas were just £2 a pair in Bangkok. I told myself that if I had to retire the Cod Flops early, I would write a post about them, to give them a send off and let the world know how much they meant to me, and how much I would miss them. An obituary like no other.
But their time wasn’t up – as long as I could walk in them, they would be my companions. They would make it to the end of my journey, and I would take them home, back to Grimsby and Hull, where they would have eternal rest in a wardrobe or a loft, a treasured momento of times past rather than being thrown out and forgotten.
And so, in our latest adventure together, we set off for Uluru, Ayers Rock, one of the most famous sights in the world. A walk around in the Red Centre of Australia, the sacred deep red sands being a first for me and my Cod Flops. I set off from Alice Springs, trying to drive my friend Neil’s 4×4 in them. It wasn’t working, so I swapped them for my North Face walkers and threw them into the back of the car.
And that, my friends, was the last time I ever wore my Cod Flops.
Arriving back into Alice at 1am, it was dark and cool. I unpacked the car as best as I could, and grabbed my Cod Flops. Except, there was only one- my right one. I looked under the seats, in the back, around the front. Nothing. The other one must be in my bag. I’ll have a better look in the morning.
Morning came. Everything came out of the car. Still no left Cod Flop. I searched my bag, frantically looking through every compartment. I even checked my cool bag. I texted my friends to see if it had been put in their bag by mistake. Nothing.
I removed the back seat from Neil’s car once again, to check my lost friend hadn’t somehow been wedged underneath. It hadn’t.
The Cod Flop has gone. Lost. Misplaced. Run away. Departed.
I was struck by a strange mild panic over an inanimate object. I feel like I have betrayed them, telling myself how I should have looked after them better on the journey. How I should have placed them nicely in my bag, rather than slinging them over my shoulder into a rear passenger footwell. It was my fault. All my fault.
I thought of how Tom Hanks must have felt when he saw his beloved Wilson, his volleyball friend, drifting away from him in Castaway. Friends for so long, a part of his life, yet a relationship that when he lost him from his raft and drifted away on the tide, resulted in tears and that famous cry of Wiiiiilllllllllssssoooooooooonnnn.
And they were only together for four years.
Ten years together, bought for me by good mates in great times gone by. We’ve shared laughs, been out for beers, met a few girls, stubbed toes and hit a few rocks during our relationship, but we’ve seen the world and walked thousands of miles together. But now our time, and our journey together, has come to an end.
My left Cod Flop must have known the end was night. It wasn’t bothered about New Zealand or Fiji, or returning back to the streets of Hull. It didn’t care for the accolade of travelling all the way around the world. Pah – it had already done that last year.
No, for my left Cod Flop, the red centre of Australia, the middle of one of the most vast, inhospitable desert areas on Earth, home to the majestic Uluru and Olgas, and just about as far away as you can get from Grimsby or their birthplace in New York, was the place where my long-term close friend decided to continue its adventure.
It’s the place that Coddy decided was so stunningly beautiful, it wanted to stay. A place where it hopped from the car to see out its days, its travels never ending, and living for eternity in a place so far away from my home, but a place that will now forever be its. A place where I can think back to in a few months time, while I’m out at the crack of dawn filming on Grimsby Fish Market, safe in the knowledge that Cod Flop is still out there, in the middle of Australia, still having the journey of a lifetime. A place that I was just the middleman, the person chosen to deliver Coddy to its final destination, where it will see incredible sunsets and sunrises, watch as the deep red sands blow across the plains, and wave to countless thousands of people like me, from all over the world, driving by to look at one of the planet’s greatest sights.
I don’t know where my left Cod Flop fell out of the car in the outback, but it must have been somewhere near Ayers Rock when we stopped. While I am sad it has gone, and that I won’t ever have the pair of them to look at or wear ever again, in a way its only brought more romance to the tail of its remaining flippy.
I will keep my right Cod Flop, and take it onward and home with me, every day and every mile getting further and further from them being the pair of friends I have grown to love. I promise to look after it, to treasure it, and for it to have a special place in my house when I return. A place where I can see it, look at it and feel it, every gouge and mark, bend and scrape being part of the story together, and every time I will remember the good times we shared around the globe.
Who would have known that a pair of cheap flip flops, bought as a joke for a 21st birthday years back, would have such an amazing story of travel and adventure behind them. And for that reason, it’s quite fitting that it chose such an incredible part of the world to leave me, a place I may never visit again, but somewhere that I will always look at on a map and remember the special part of me that remains there.
Walk in Peace, Cod Flops. My feet will miss you. I will miss you. You’ll Never Walk Alone.