One evening while walking through our town, I spotted a pair of shoes flung over power lines. They were hanging by the laces, which had been tied together to form a loop.
There they hung, like galahs waiting for the rain. My Dad’s voice entered stage left: ‘What wee bawheid* wasted a guid pair of shoes like that?”
My sentiments entirely. The old man had five years in the army, where he learned habits of neatness and most importantly, how to care for one’s shoes. So yes, Dad would have been disgusted at this world-wide phenomenon known as ‘shoe tossing’ or ‘shoefiti’. Urban myths abound on the whys and wherefores of shoe tossing. It could be to mark a place nearby where you can buy drugs (US reference), a Year 12 farewell tradition (Australia), a symbol of love, a sign that someone has died (generic) or (US again) a way for gangs to mark out their territories.
In Scotland (since we earlier referred to the auld country), when a young man lost his virginity he reputedly tossed his shoes over telephone lines as a sign to his peers. What the girl thought of this version of kiss and tell is not explained. I can imagine, though:
“Well, turns out he was a heel, without a soul.”
Aspiring US politician Ethan Book decided the best way to tackle the shoe tossing mania was to cut the shoes loose. He used a (plastic) extendable pole to clip the laces of hung-up shoes in his home town of Bridgeport, Connecticut.
Despite this somewhat risky, year-long neighbourhood goodwill campaign, he did not win Connecticut, District 128.
It seems folks are not content with simply throwing a pair of shoes up on power lines. At times you will find whole trees festooned with footwear. On one of our outback sojourns, we observed a tree on which hung many pairs of shoes, boots, slippers, and sandals. The shoe tree trend, I might argue, has been amplified and accelerated by the likes of Instagram and Tikkity-tok (whatever).
There’s Dad again, reminding me that shoe trees (still in vogue today), are devices you fit inside your (polished) shoes to help keep their shape when stored in a wardrobe. Dad used to polish his good shoes every week, whether or not he was going to wear them, then store them away as described.
Sadly, I never developed these habits of tidiness and thrift, but my unquestionable curiosity and capacity for research uncovered this gem: “leather shoes which are well cared for and worn infrequently can last 20 or 30 years”.
I can at least offer an example – a pair of tan Italian leather shoes bought in 2004, along with a 300 Euro, beige suit from a shop near Rome’s Spanish Steps.
Those shoes are still in pretty good nick, despite my tendency to wear down the outside of the heel. I wear them seldom as they are a narrow fit and the latter aggravates a chronic foot condition.
Which brings me to a memo on my to-do list which states ‘podiatrist’. I’ve been putting it off, not so much because of the cost, but the pain.
A corn slowly grows into the side of my big toenail which, six months or so after treatment, has grown back enough to cause discomfort.
Meanwhile, my shoes lie all in a tumble at the bottom of the wardrobe. The ones I have not worn in a while, gathering dust, keep the more commonly worn ones company. I have only four pairs of shoes, carefully chosen for comfort, with a wide fitting to compensate for the complaint hereto outlined.
There’s a pair of black dress shoes, sturdy hiking boots with long laces, a mangy pair of slippers with velcro straps and my most-days walking shoes. I found last week that the stitching was starting to come apart along the top of the left shoe. One quick trip to the local shoe repair guy and $13 later the walking shoes are as good as new. These days I rarely buy shoes and when I do, the one rule is they have to feel like I’ve been wearing them for months.
If you are of my vintage, you may remember the fluoroscope, a shoe-fitting device in shoe stores. The machine took an X-ray of your foot while it was inside the shoe you were trying on. Children not yet tall enough to look at the bones of their own feet had to rely on Mum. By the time I was tall enough to use a fluoroscope, they had all but disappeared, after decades of children, parents and shoe store employees being exposed to radiation.
As this absorbing video by the US Food and Drug Administration history team shows, the fluoroscope, in common use between the 1920 and 1960s, was a hazard to health.
For strategic domestic purposes this discussion about footwear does not stray far into the topic of women’s shoes, I have always adopted a ‘not my department’ rule. I admire but never query. All the same, my sister had a snigger when visiting us in Maleny some years ago because the town’s shoe store is called Imelda’s. My sister likes shoes and why the hell not!
In season four of ‘The Crown’, which we have begun to watch, much is made of ‘outdoor shoes’ when city guests come to Balmoral Castle in Scotland. Prime minister Thatcher arrives for the weekend in modest black heels and a startlingly blue outfit (which she wears to go stalking deer)..
‘The Crown’ is a curious beast for those of us old enough to have lived through the Thatcher years and Charles’s arranged marriage to Princess Diana. In certain scenes fraught with emotion we feel like yelling out “Look out! He’s right behind you” or “Sir, you are a cad and a bounder.”
But as noted, there are scenes in ‘The Crown’ when much is made of footwear – what’s appropriate and what’s not.
The Queen is frequently seen striding around the muddy Balmoral estate in aforementioned ‘outdoor shoes’, gadding about in an old green Jeep, much like Vera, the grumpy Tyneside TV detective.
As I was saying about the podiatrist, turns out I might have to wait until January for an appointment (unless I drive to the city). No doubt he/she will be wearing a face mask. If I was the one fiddling about with my feet, I’d be wearing a mask too.
I’ll leave you this week with a fine song about shoes, written and sung by Mark Knopfler, whose songwriting career, I believe, outshines his days with Dire Straits.
It’s called ‘Quality Shoe’ and is quite difficult to play (for all you bedroom guitarists out there). Just a suggestion for those who get Scotty from Marketing’s $250 stimulus payment next month, that’s about the right price for a quality shoe.
“Lace ’em up, walk around
I guarantee you can’t wear ’em down
You’re gonna need a quality shoe.”
*bawheid – a person with a big head, or, ‘One who is ignorant and unnecessarily stupid’.