Class conscious - Andrew Martin steps on his brown suede shoe
My posh shoes committed suicide, as if knowing that I'm not their rightful owner
Moderately glum after a couple of weeks on the promotional trail for my novel ("The book is called The Blackpool High . . ." "What did you say?") I walked into Jermyn Street. I am always cheered by being in the environs of bespoke tailoring. I just like looking in the shop windows and watching the dandies who fill the street, sauntering along in their ridiculously brilliant clothes.
This time I wandered into New & Lingwood. This is one of the few remaining shops where the assistants might ask a customer buying a shirt whether he wanted a bonded collar or not. Everyone used to wear detachable collars, but for a fairly sordid reason: so that the actual shirt could be worn for two days or more running, albeit each day with a new collar, which was sometimes - as in the case of the humble Edwardian railway ticket clerks depicted in my book - made out of paper.
For my past two birthdays, my main present has been a collarless shirt from New & Lingwood, bought by the wife at a cost of seventy or so pounds.
New & Lingwood also supplies all the various hats and socks and, for all I know, underpants worn by the different houses at Eton. It also has a good shoe department upstairs, towards which I found myself drifting fatalistically. I picked out a pair of brown suede lace-ups, reduced from £250 to £125. I looked at them for a while. "They're a pretty good grade of leather, sir," whispered an assistant as I did so, "fully leather-lined and welted." I concluded that I could not really afford these shoes, even at their reduced price. Having done so, I turned to the assistant and heard myself asking: "Can I try them on, please?"
As I paced up and down in the shoes, I asked the assistant whether he thought there was something a bit caddish about suede shoes. "The Italians wear them very well," he replied, slightly evasively, "either with a suit or a pair of jeans."
"The trouble with suede is that it's difficult to look after," I suggested.
"Well, naturally, you'll keep them in wooden shoe trees," said the assistant. "A bit of Fairy Liquid on a damp cloth will deal with lots of stains, but wax and oil . . . nothing to be done . . . forget it. The shoe is ruined."
I bought the shoes and the assistant rethreaded the laces for me. They had, inexplicably, been put in criss-cross. "That's the American way," said the assistant with a shudder.
I decided to wear the shoes straight away, and arrived safely back home an hour later without having come across significant amounts of either oil or wax. I wore the shoes for much of the next couple of days. They gave me confidence when discussing or thinking about my book. They were special, and made me conscious of every step I took.
Then I had to catch a train from King's Cross. I thought about taking a taxi to the station but decided on the bus instead. I was carrying quite a big bag on my shoulder, and when I boarded the bus it was standing room only. Somewhere in Kentish Town, the driver braked hard and my bag swung free, causing me to stumble and somehow to stamp on my right foot with my left. I looked down at my right shoe and found there was a black mark across the toe. Whether it's oil or wax, I don't know, but I can't get it off, and I can't help thinking how strange it was that the stain should be caused by the other shoe. It was as if the shoes had committed suicide, knowing that they didn't have the right sort of owner. I should never have been on a bus in New & Lingwood shoes.
Andrew Martin's novel The Blackpool Highflyer is published by Faber & Faber on 19 August