As we walked round the clicking and stitching machines of Churches shoe factory we all stared with amazement at the grown adults with several silver nails carefully pinched and puckered between their lips, ready for tacking and thwhacking into a heal or sole. My teacher said we’d all soon be like the little shoe maker, just without the welcome help of that particularly kind and industrious little elf.
Well, sir was wrong, but as the ugly sister said, with hope and a shoe horn in hand ‘the shoe must go on!’ And so they did, especially those little black, elasticated plimsolls in the unusually hot and sticky summer of 1976. With the tarmac melting and ministers praying for rain I wore through at least six thin rubber soled pairs of plimsolls in just two sweaty weeks of running round the playground. This didn’t please my dad, he thought I was vandalising my shoes and wasting his money which could have been better spent on more cigarettes, of course!
Platform heels and Foot Asylum
Dad always had sensible, plain black shoes and so would I, if he could arrange it. So, did I ever get a coveted pair of Tuf shoes with a little compass in the heel of the shoe? I did not. But, I did get a pair of multi-coloured, high heel platform shoes in over laid, smooth, tortoise shell red, orange and navy blue leather. Bliss. Of course, dad cursed and gasped at the prospect of having to buy polish for each three colours of leather, but, I was in shoe heaven and down with The Sweet, Slade and (whisper it) Gary Glitter (before his shameful tumble from grace). I try to remember this when I travel with my daughter across the fearsome threshold of Foot Asylum or Foot Locker and empty my entire wallet for those flimsy, sparkling white, not very sensible shoes that my beloved and darling daughter would prefer over anything I’d idly point towards.
The cruel shoes and winkle pickers
Many moons ago I heard the comedian and actor, Steve Martin, recall the mania everyone had for the ‘cruel shoes.’ The more bizarre, awkward and difficult to wear that the shoes were, people had to have them. How I laughed. But then went through my goth rock stage (obligatory for a sixth former from Northampton back in the day) and eagerly handed over pocket money for size eleven black zipped and buckled winkle picker shoes. These were the best shoes ever! Never mind the blisters and it was always a truly small inconvenience to have to walk side-ways up the stairs in those shoes.
Dunlop Green Flash - in all half sizes
Of course time passed and so did the winkle pickers. For a short while I played footsie with a cushy pair of Hush Puppies with a knock down price from a friend of a friend who still, somehow, worked in the fast fading local shoe trade. I briefly tip toed through the smart- casual trend for Adidas trainers, you know, the ones in which no actual exercise ever took place. For a while, I actually had a Saturday job where I sold trainers in a store which prided itself on displaying every size and half size on the shops groaning and lengthy shoe rack. Of course back then, just like there were only three television channels, so too were there only three kinds of trainer: Dunlop Green Flash for tennis, Adidas for football and Nike for running, the end. Who could want for any more choice?
The granddaddy of all shoes were, of course for so many of my peers too, the Doctor Marten shoe or high laced, ox blood, red boot. The shoe of rock and revolt, the boot of conformity, skin heads and police constables looking for comfort on their beat. Everyone had to have The original: Oil, Fat, Acid, Petrol, Alkali Resistant shoe. Every kid that longed to be free and an individual had to have a pair of the same shoes that everyone else had. Of course these shoes took a bit of wearing in and a lot of plasters round the blood red, raw and livid sore ankle that Doctor Martens loved to nibble and knaw without pity. I think somehow the ox blood red leather version of the Doctor Marten was chosen to blend in with the copious amount of ankle blood released in the simple struggle to walk. How I hobbled and strained on my way to school, work, home - anywhere as those Doctor Martens shoes broke my foot in, not the other way around, alas.
But, there is no business like shoe business, the toe must go on and mine did, followed by sole and heel into a nice, comfy pair of Clarks shoes, also known by my daughter as ‘that shoe shop where there is nothing I will ever like or want!’ Give it time, and an epic supply of plasters. Fifty fabulous things - walk on with hope in your sole!