Neigh bother: an Indian blacksmith changes a horse's shoe in Delhi, 2013. Photo: Getty
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A day spent sole-searching affords me an unlikely victory

My motto, when it comes to buying shoes, is “as rarely as possible”. A shoe will have to be hanging off my foot and making flapping noises as I walk before I buy another one. 

Meanwhile, because I am a good person deep down, I accompany someone shopping. And not just shopping but shoe shopping.

My motto, when it comes to buying shoes, is “as rarely as possible”. A shoe will have to be hanging, exploded, off my foot and making flapping noises as I walk before I buy another one – even the desert boots I get from that shop on the Uxbridge Road for £20. The last ones I bought there are still going, just. Over the years, I’ve had to spend £15 at the local menders, at £5 a pop, getting the soles glued back on, but I still think that’s good value. Although, for some reason, this time it’s the laces that have exploded. I didn’t realise shoelaces had intestines. Who’d have thought?

Anyway, here I am in the Covent Garden branch of —, while my companion chooses a pair of flatties. I sit down on a comfy bench, the only man in the shop apart from a postman who pops in to deliver the mail, and I contemplate the music being played and the staff. They are all . . . of a type. The music is the kind in which the voices have been compressed or stretched to fit the synthesised tune. Not my cup of tea but I can understand the appeal. The manager, her face a triumphant copper mask of the tanner’s art, rules over all she surveys. At one point, my companion shows me a pair of shoes that she has just tried on. “One’s bigger than the other,” I say. She goes off and tries the next size down.

I am smiled at from time to time, faintly contemptuously but with a touch of sympathy, by the staff and the manager. Something brings her over. Perhaps it’s that I am still holding the shoes.

“Look,” I say. “One of these is bigger than the other.” She takes them from me.

“No, it’s not,” she says.

I weigh up my options and the wisdom of standing up for the truth. Now, I quickly decide, is not the time to go all eppur si muove on her.

“You’re the boss,” I say.

“I certainly am,” she confirms.

Next, to the — in Holborn. It is a shop that sells running shoes. Call it the Foot Monster, or the Running Shack, or whatever you like. For some reason, I have forgotten its name. But I have not forgotten the names of some of the shoes that stared back at me from the shelves as I gazed upon them from the (much less comfy) bench that I’d parked myself on. Pegasus 31. Ghost 6. LunarGlide+ 5. What happened, I wonder, to Pegasuses 1-30, Ghosts 1-5 and LunarGlides+ 1-4?

My companion comes over to me while an assistant – having asked her several questions about her running and her gait and got her to have a go on the running machine in the shop, which she is not used to, but there is a man who has been pounding away on it like a twat for the past half an hour who would make anyone feel like a novice – gets her shoes.

“I’m mesmerised by the names,” I say. (You realise, of course, that this is the first time I have been in such a shop and I am boggled by the novelty of the experience.) She, with the keen eyesight of youth, has noticed an even better one and points silently to it: Vomero. Vomero 9, to be precise. And silently – well, after a brief but loud snort of laughter – I applaud the mischievous genius of the mind that came up with this. Short of calling it Blister 500, Ankle-Buster 60 or CardiacFailure 12, they couldn’t have thought of anything better to capture the experience of running.

The assistant returns. I point out that my friend is going to be running on quite hilly terrain, not on paved roads or tracks.

“Hmm, good point,” says the assistant, stroking his chin, which is odd, because what I was expecting him to say, after a quick appraisal of my build, gait and obvious bemusement, like someone from a 1960s episode of Doctor Who who had stumbled into the Tardis, was something along the lines of: “What the f*** do you know about it, you silly tool?”

I count this, I suddenly realise, as one of my life’s quiet victories.

So here are today’s lessons. Never turn down an invitation to go shoe shopping, for every day is a school day – and, yes, it’s true, you can fool some people some of the time. 

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 04 June 2014 issue of the New Statesman, 100 days to save Great Britain

Photo: Getty
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The big problem for the NHS? Local government cuts

Even a U-Turn on planned cuts to the service itself will still leave the NHS under heavy pressure. 

38Degrees has uncovered a series of grisly plans for the NHS over the coming years. Among the highlights: severe cuts to frontline services at the Midland Metropolitan Hospital, including but limited to the closure of its Accident and Emergency department. Elsewhere, one of three hospitals in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland are to be shuttered, while there will be cuts to acute services in Suffolk and North East Essex.

These cuts come despite an additional £8bn annual cash injection into the NHS, characterised as the bare minimum needed by Simon Stevens, the head of NHS England.

The cuts are outlined in draft sustainability and transformation plans (STP) that will be approved in October before kicking off a period of wider consultation.

The problem for the NHS is twofold: although its funding remains ringfenced, healthcare inflation means that in reality, the health service requires above-inflation increases to stand still. But the second, bigger problem aren’t cuts to the NHS but to the rest of government spending, particularly local government cuts.

That has seen more pressure on hospital beds as outpatients who require further non-emergency care have nowhere to go, increasing lifestyle problems as cash-strapped councils either close or increase prices at subsidised local authority gyms, build on green space to make the best out of Britain’s booming property market, and cut other corners to manage the growing backlog of devolved cuts.

All of which means even a bigger supply of cash for the NHS than the £8bn promised at the last election – even the bonanza pledged by Vote Leave in the referendum, in fact – will still find itself disappearing down the cracks left by cuts elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.