A couple of months ago, I got into an argument about shoes. People I knew, whose opinion I had hitherto respected, were talking about some new fad that promulgated the desirability of going around the place barefoot. OK, I said; I can see the point of this if it’s all about toughening up the soles of the feet, but really? In London? The pavements are most unsavoury, my dear.
No, they said, this is about being connected to the earth. You what? I said. They went on to claim some nonsense about earth energy being transmitted through the soles of the feet. Wear rubber-soled shoes, they said, and you are depriving yourself of a source of vital something or other. You are more or less giving yourself a death sentence.
“What about these?” I said, pointing to my leather-soled boots.
“I suppose they’re not so bad,” I was told.
I thought of these halfwits last week in Brighton, as I stood on a damp pavement and felt a faint sensation of moisture in my right foot. I knew what this meant: it was time to get the Chelsea boots resoled. I had bought them, with the aid of a grant from the Royal Literary Fund, in Brighton, the last time I was there; since then, they had seen more or less continuous wear, apart from during the icy conditions in Scotland, where I was obliged to use my fake Timberland walking boots, which have thick rubber soles and so I suppose are the equivalent of smoking 900 cigarettes a day while eating a block of lard the size of your head every hour.
Shoes are important. This was brought home to me forcefully by A—, who went out with me for a while even though she was almost 20 years younger than I was. An important factor, she said, was that most men her age didn’t know decent, stylish footwear from a hole in the ground. The worst kind, she went on, were men who wear those pointy shoes that are now thankfully out of fashion, but persist in some benighted areas (there is a scathing reference to them in Brighton Rock, if I recall correctly). My shoes – Loakes Chelsea boots in the winter, tan suede desert boots in the summer – passed muster. In the end, everything north of the shoe failed to pass muster, but that’s a story for another day. (We’re still friends.)
But the expensive shoe is an expense that keeps on going. The leather sole not only allows for some vestigial contact with earth energy, it transmits vital knowledge about the surface one stands upon. Let the soles wear down thin enough and you can tell whether a coin is heads or tails just by standing on it. Yet once a hole appears, you have to do something about it or the whole shoe is ruined. And this becomes a big problem when you are in a town with only the one pair of shoes. They take a day to mend and you can’t wander around without any shoes on, even in Brighton, whatever people may say.
So then I remembered that my friend S—, who lives in Brighton and is a tall woman, has the same size feet as me, more or less. I asked her if she had a pair of shoes I could borrow while the Loakes were being fixed and she handed me a pair of silver Doc Martens. They weren’t exactly Doc Martens: they were vegan Doc Martens. Brighton, she pointed out, is the place where you can get vegan bondage gear.
So for a couple of days I wandered about the town wearing silver pseudo-DMs. I posted a picture of myself on a social medium and they caused a sensation. Gentle reader, imagine if I had been in any British city other than Brighton. I don’t think I could have got away with them even in Bristol. The mind boggles at the comments I might have drawn had I been in Liverpool, or Newcastle. I do not mean to impugn these fine cities. I just suspect that their attitudes as to correct male footwear are a little more conservative than Brighton’s.
And did the thick rubber soles make me feel as though I had lost touch with Mother Earth? Not really, but the design did make me rather fancy the man at Timpson’s who resoled my Loakes.
I asked if I could come in the next day to watch him fixing my shoes. (He had been referred to, in the other branch, as Timpson’s “shoe guru”. And yet he seemed so young!)
“I don’t think we pay enough attention to the way our shoes are made,” I said feebly.
He looked at me a bit oddly but said that would be fine, and indeed, I was deeply impressed by his sole-repairing skills. But when I put my repaired boots on, the spark had gone. I was straight again. What was all that about?
This article appears in the 28 Feb 2018 issue of the New Statesman, The rise of the radical left