We moved from Cambridge to Weston-super-Mare when I was young, and my sister and I had to start a new school. We had come from quite modern and forward thinking schools in Cambridge, and although we had to wear uniforms, they were just skirts (green for me, brown for Andy) blouses, a green or brown jumper, and a tie. As a sixth former, I wore similar but in grey and maroon, Andy had to have a gym slip which reduced the family to hysterics, with thoughts of St Trinian’s springing to mind.
Our new class mates were very friendly, however, but at the start of my first PE lesson one of them asked me “Have you got your daps?” I restrained my giggles – it seemed such a funny word, and asked what she meant. “Well, daps is daps,” she replied.
Daps or dappers are what we called plimsolls, rubber soled gym or PE shoes. Some are laced up the top, some have a an elasticated band inset to hold the shoe on, much, much late some had Velcro fastenings. I had never heard the word ‘daps’ until I came to the west country. They were compulsory in schools for children doing PE. Apparently in Northern Ireland and Scotland they are called ‘gutties’ – from gutta-percha, a type of latex, and ‘sannies’ – from sand-shoe; the word sanny has a completely different meaning to women of a certain age in England at least!
Until recently I was convinced that plimsolls, as we in Cambridge called our gym shoes, were invented by that other hero of mine, Samuel Plimsoll, but no, it was a nick-name because of the line round the side of the shoe where the rubber bottom joined the canvas top, looked like a plimsoll line, and if you went in a puddle and the water came above the join, your feet got wet!
Moving north I came across the use of the word pumps, I always thought of things on your feet called pumps were for ballet or dancing… not something you lumbered around the gym in doing PE… or maybe it was only me who lumbered. When I started teaching, corporal punishment was still allowed, and in the PE department, naughty children were slippered – ie hit on the bottom with a plimsoll/dap/pump/slipper.
Plimsolls, as I call them, have a long heritage; they were first developed in the 1830’s as beachwear; how many millions must have walked the beaches of the newly popular seaside resort of Weston super-Mare in the Victorian years. They were sand shoes developed by the Liverpool Rubber Company, later Dunlop.
Plimsolls, daps, dappers, pumps, sand-shoes, sannies, gutties… no wonder people struggle to understand English!