A last pair of shoes

How do you buy shoes that last?  My grandfather always seemed to wear  the same shoes. Not the same pair. Like all things, they eventually needed replacing. Each pair got demoted when the new ones arrived. Sunday shoes, well polished, lived by the front door. From there they began a slow march through the kitchen to the back porch and out into the shed where the oldest lived in a box, occasionally to be selected for digging potatoes. I started a little like this – searching online for another pair of the dusty brown ankle boots I so love wearing, comfortable, easy on the feet.  But, two pairs in, both now letting water in at the bottom, (and squeaking) the second hand sources seem to have dried up. In need of some inspiration of where to look next I thought of Lloyd, a friend and colleague who died suddenly last December.  I don’t really want a trail of discarded shoes. What I really would like is a pair that would last and be able to be repaired.  When someone dies and the true sense of loss begins to dawn, hopefully too the legacy of the person who died begins to show through more strongly.  Lloyd’s legacy to me, so far, is a pair of shoes. Or, at least, the inspiration of how and where to look.   He was fastidious in his research from beloved cars to pairs of jeans the latter made in Wales to last – the Hiut Jeans no-wash club meant that in Lloyd’s freezer amongst the frozen peas you may have found at least one pair of Jeans. Products designed to last or be repaired (and for free from Hiut). 

So with Lloyd’s inspiration I began the search.  It didn’t take long to find a company in Machynlleth RED, Ruth Emily Davey, who by hand, make shoes to fit your feet. They are made to last and be repairable.  This was not going to be a fast transaction click and collect.  Arriving at RED in the town of Machynlleth I felt a rather nostalgic wave of ‘small boy outside a toy shop’ nose pressed to the window soaking up an image of the all too wonderful things that were within but, out of reach. Entering that space, the world slowed, the colours more vivid somehow than the bright morning out of which I had just stepped.  With tea and gentle conversation we reflected and shared stories of loss. Mine of Lloyd who’s inspiration had brought me here. Ruth’s of Alan, mentor and friend who had died earlier in the year. Feet were duly measured, leathers and linings chosen from those carefully displayed around me.  I’m too soon for the local leather, grown and tanned not three miles from the centre of the town. Perhaps I’ll have to come again for a truly Welsh pair. However, I break from my dusty brown. The new soft leather drab green boots are enlivened with a flash of colour in the stitching and lining and will be ready in around five weeks. In honour of this timescale I should take the bus to collect them, or perhaps the train. If we’ve learnt anything over the past year it is that hurrying life onwards does us no favours. If the economy is to recover then those businesses who promote local skilled workers with repairable products ought to win our trust.

On a warm showery day at the end of June I return to collect two pairs of shoes. The first a repaired pair of the old dusty brown. I couldn’t quite let them go. So it seems they will have a new lease of life with repaired sides and new soles. I’m offered the new boots wrapped within an elegant box. Ruth’s smile that of creator, curator of a moment in which Christmas and birthday unwrappings are found wanting reminds me of gifts from children eager to see the reaction to what they have made. Within are a beautiful pair of feet shaped boots. I always thought I had wide feet – I don’t particularly.  I have feet shaped feet and Ruth’s shoes are built to match. The leather is soft, these are not work boots but for occasions when you want your feet to be cradled comfortably within. My hand knitted socks catch on the new suede lining. I’ll need to unlace and lace these properly I hear my grandfather’s voice telling me. Once within though the close fit is quite unlike wearing shoes at all, more like a part of me through which I can feel the ground, yet at the same time be gently protected. I guess they are an expression of the wearer a drab green exterior with a little of the colour within exposed. I’ll wear them with the top eyelet open, to allow a little more of the brightness out. ‘Will you wear them now?’ Ruth asks. Of course!  I leave the shop in new shoes with the old pair tucked away in the box destined for potato digging and recycling in the shed.