PC 82 Footwear

Over my lifetime there has been a huge change in the type and style of shoes, both for men and women, what has become acceptable and what not, so I thought I would scribble about footwear!! This is, I should hasten to add, a predominately male piece!

Unless you joined some institution like the Armed Forces or the Police, it’s unlikely you had any training in how to clean your shoes, for they were nearly all made of leather and that required cleaning. A toothbrush was useful for cleaning the welts and the piece between the heel and the sole needed as much attention as anywhere else. God forbid if, when you placed one leg over the other when sitting, the underside of your now exposed shoe was dirty. Despite the need to polish your own drill boots and George Boots, at the Royal Military Academy we had a batman who took care of the other leather items – Sam Browne’s, shoes etc. Your ‘best boots’ were shined to within an inch of their lives. Polish was applied and a spoon, heated over a candle, was used to melt the polish and soften the slight bumps in the leather; then you ‘bull’d’ your boots, applying spit and polish around in little circles to create a shine – hours and hours of work!!

Of course scribbles about shoes must include the lovely story that illustrates how you see life, the ‘half empty – half full’ glass. Back in the late 1880s, Clarkes the shoemaker decided that they wanted to enter the East African market. They planned to send two people, James who had been with the company a long time and was considered quite senior despite having a mixed track record of success, and a relatively new hire Mark. Recruited against the Company’s competency profile, he had a very positive attitude and was a good match. The pair duly caught the train to Dover for the long overland journey by train and boat to Mombasa.

Despite an initial telegram saying they had arrived, nothing was heard from the pair for a few weeks. Eventually James telegraphed from a hotel in Nairobi and wrote: “Been all over the country. No one wears shoes here. Completely wasted exercise. Returning home” A few days later another telegram arrived, this from Mark. “Been all over the country. No one wears shoes here. Great opportunities. Have opened office and initial order to follow.”

One of the main aims of joining the Army was to wear the traditional mess uniform – actually I joke somewhat but we did enjoy dressing up (overgrown schoolboys I guess!!). The formal attire for dinner was Mess Dress – a sort-of blouson jacket with skin-tight trousers, known as overalls. These had a thick red strip running down the outside and were strapped under the bottom of one’s Mess Wellingtons, a tall boot that almost reached one’s knee and worn on the inside. And spurs! Soldiers who went into battle on horses (before my time, I should hasten to add) used a metal spike in their boot to encourage the horse to gallop faster – to ‘spur it on’!! These accoutrements became part of one’s dress uniform, indoors and out, and they fitted into the heel of the boots in a special box. I was lucky enough to have my step-father’s, which had an old sixpenny piece as the roundel.


In civilian clothes, in mufti, you wore leather shoes, which of course had to be polished to the same standard! I suppose the constant need to have one’s uniform shoes clean meant that when I could relax, I developed a penchant for light brown suede boots – a quick brush and they were good.

Avid readers of my postcards will know that I spent a great deal of my twenties sailing. Wet weather gear was essential and I bought some sailing wellingtons – yellow on the outside, blue on the inside with a sole which gripped on the yacht’s often wet slippery deck. They eventually perished as rubber will– but I loved those boots; I wore them to a party once!

At one time in my life I got stuck on having some red shoes and still have a pair of red Timberland boots. But then in Russel & Bromley I saw these lovely Italian red suede Chelsea boots. One of those ‘I must have these’ moments. I’m sure  Elvis would have been jealous as he had to do with blue ones.


I should say at this point that I take a size 11 or 12 shoe, a size which often is not available in the more fashionable brands. I saw a gorgeous pair of Gucci loafers once and, despite the fact that there were a tad small, I bought them, thinking the soft leather would stretch. It didn’t and on one occasion I wore them on a long flight. Big mistake!! When I walked off the aeroplane I could only fit half my foot in!! They were too narrow a fitting and I would have benefited from using one of those machines that was in pride of place in a shoe shop. You never see them today; you climbed onto the step and looked at your feet in the shoes – in a vaguely green light. Then you could see if they were a good fit or not.

Do you remember Winklepickers, long and pointed shoes for men? Or Bovver Boots, so basic and chunky? Shoes with ‘Cuban’ heels for those of us who are vertically challenged? If I wasn’t so politically correct I should say ‘short’! Then there were Chelsea boots, Desert boots, George Boots, Boat shoes, canvas shoes, jellies for a rocky shore, the list could go on and on. Getting my first pair of Rugby boots was a defining moment in my upbringing, but they were black, because all rugby boots were black. Nowadays it’s as if the team wants to dazzle the opposition by the colour combinations of their boots

The only sort of ‘trainers’ were ones you used for sports or tennis and the latter had to be green flash Dunlop. Now, if you are a “Dedicated follower of fashion”, as The Kinks sang about in 1994, you will no doubt possess many pairs of ‘trainers’, for they have become the only form of footwear for the younger generation …… and for some of the older generation too. Mintel’s senior fashion analyst recently wrote that “there has been an increasing trend for consumers to integrate sports clothing into their wardrobe; trainers have become the second favourite item of footwear after flat shoes for women.”

It seems now that the world has turned full circle. From the time at home growing up, wearing socks and lace-up shoes, to our way of life now – the ubiquitous wooden-floored apartment, not wearing socks in the summer months and never wearing shoes inside. Now! Where are my slippers?

Richard 31st October 2016


PC 81 And the buses came along in threes

In England there is an old belief that if you’re waiting for a bus, eventually one will come, very closely followed by another  …… and then another! In reality the phenomenon has some truth to it, and even has a choice of names – bunching, clumping, convoying or even platooning. Mathematically it’s bound to happen if several buses are serving a single route. I mention this as in early September I lived through another 24 hours of amazing coincidences (see PCs 19 & 48 for previous examples).

Albany Villas where we live is a suburban street here in central Hove; like most inner city areas parking for cars is often difficult and the spaces fought over. Outside Amber House is a bay reserved for those drivers with disabilities; a ‘blue badge’ bay. There was often an ancient Jaguar XJ10, in immaculate condition, parked there. The driver, an oldish chap with a white ponytail (this being Brighton these things hardly raise an eyebrow) used it for driving his very elderly and infirm mother about. Seeing them regularly we got used to nodding, saying whatever greeting was appropriate depending on the time of day etc. And then they disappeared ….. completely ….. for over a year. On the first of September we remarked to each other: “I wonder what happened to them? Haven’t seen them for ages.” Later in the afternoon, the car is back. Weird or what?  First Bus!

We had spent the previous evening with Ted and Richard. Ted has taken some beautiful photos, not only of us towards the end of last year and then of Jade and her family, but also some gorgeous ones of our wedding in August. Before going out to a local restaurant for supper, we joined them on the terrace of their large apartment in Palmeira Square, famous for its large terraced houses of the Regency period. Over drinks we caught up with events over the summer and somehow the conversation came around to Scotland and the Orkneys. I hadn’t been so far north but Celina had. And then I mentioned that way out into the Atlantic Ocean is the island of St Kilda. Nowadays the only human inhabitants are Army personnel, manning the radars used to track the surface-to-air missiles test-fired from the range at Benbecula. The soldiers are commanded by a junior Royal Artillery officer and spend six months there. I would probably never have heard of St Kilda if I hadn’t been in the Royal Artillery, and ducked down when the postings branch started looking for the next Officer Commanding St Kilda! It was a posting most of us did one’s best to avoid; if you were an ornithologist it was OK, if you weren’t you soon became one, for there was nothing to do in your spare time, unless you liked counting seabirds and sheep. (This before the age of the internet – and ‘no’, that’s not called ‘The Stone Age’!)

Apart from a rock called Rockall (an original name you might think!!) even further west out into the Atlantic, this group of islands is Britain’s most westerly point, a speck in the North Atlantic more than 40 miles off the Outer Hebrides, over 100 miles from the mainland of Scotland. St Kilda is a place of extremes. It has the highest cliffs in the UK, plunging 1,400ft to the sea. It has recorded the highest wind speeds in the country, 198mph (320kph), which explains why there are no trees!! More rare seabirds nest here than anywhere else in Europe. Not for nothing are these islands described as “the edge of the world”.

The last permanent civilian inhabitants of Hirta, the main island of St Kilda and the only habitable one, requested evacuation in 1930. There were just 36 of them: with numbers of able-bodied men dropping year on year, the people were more and more dependent on supplies from trawlers that might sail past or, failing that, handouts from the Scottish mainland. During the winter months, the St Kildans could find themselves as cut off from the world as they had been in the Middle Ages.


The ruins of houses on St Kilda

Not surprisingly, neither Ted, a Canadian, nor Richard, English as the day is long, had heard of St Kilda. I hadn’t thought about it since the 1980s, so it was quite extraordinary to open the second section of The Times the following morning to find: “A composer, a piano and a concert at the edge of the world”, an article about recording the once-lost songs of the people of St Kilda (Times 2 September 8th 2016). Weird or what? Second bus!

To keep my little brain from turning to mush, most days I do a very quick crossword in The Times newspaper. The day after the St Kilda article was in the paper, the crossword contained a clue ‘senseless talk’ for which the answer was ‘Twaddle’. (Pretty easy crossword huh!) The dictionary says:  “Twaddle/ Trivial or foolish speech or writing; nonsense.” Such a lovely truly English word, ‘twaddle’; sort of rolls off the tongue after a glass of wine or three, in a speaking sense rather than a nonsense sense, but not one in common usage these days!




I love the author Bill Bryson’s works, especially his ‘Notes from a Small Island’ and the latest update to his amusing observations of Britain, ‘The Road to Little Dribbling’, a book I had been given for my birthday last year. And as part of my ongoing very necessary education, I also got given a copy of Bryson’s ‘A Short History of Nearly Everything’.  In six sections he attempts to explain the why, and where, and how of what Earth is and about life itself. Painstakingly researched and stuffed with amazing facts, figures and anecdotes, he’s traced scientific studies and the development of our understanding about ‘being’. You can plough though chapters such as ‘The Richness of Being’, ‘Cells’, ‘Darwin’s Singular Notion’, ‘The Stuff of Life’. And plough you do, as there is so much information there is a danger of overload; I suspect it’s a book to read more than once. Bryson of course clearly loved researching the very people who have contributed over the centuries, some earnestly , ……. and in the evening of the crossword containing ‘Twaddle’ day, I read …… “some very casually but significantly and some writing ‘twaddle’” Weird or what? Third bus!

Mere scribbles for autumnal reading

Richard 14th October 2016

PS Just in case you are reaching for your iPad, I also got the answer to 20 Across – ‘Walk Wearily’!

PC 80 It sat on the shelf

It sat on the shelf in the kitchen, all forlorn, sort of pulsating and sending out a message …. ‘my shelf life expires in April next year’ ….. ‘eat me’! All wrapped up and pretty, but sad and unloved. Should it be taken back to whence it came or would that be completely ridiculous, as it weighed over a kilo? The packaging looked good and neat; shame to unwrap it.

But unwrap it we did ….. yesterday ….  knowing that over a few days it would be reduced to a few crumbs.

It had been bought with the best intentions, flown for 11 hours, arriving without mishap ……. but the world into which it arrived had emotionally changed and its presence was really not wanted, not then …….. so it sat on that shelf ….. looking at those who went by, hoping that someone would pick it up and make a decision. Returning it to the country where it was bought would have been a little like the reality of that saying ‘coals to Newcastle’. (Ed: Newcastle is a university city in the north east of England. At one time its port would have shipped coal overseas …… and the last thing you would have done would have been to take coal back to Newcastle.) It could have been returned to the supermarket where it was purchased for on the packaging it offered: “Should you not be happy with this product please bring the packaging back to any Waitrose branch and we will replace the item and refund you.” What? Over a year ago? Really?

So maybe we could use it this year? …… Why not now? …… The weather in spring here has been so cold (OK! Tropical ‘cold’, not northern Europe ‘cold’) ……. So it was taken down off the shelf and the instructions read. Microwave or cook properly? Time saving at the possible expense of taste and texture – ‘for best results do not microwave’. What? Steam for three hours? You must be kidding; we’ll need shares in the company who supplies the gas. No! No! That’s what it says …….. in addition to making sure that the water is no allowed to bowl away.

So it was that on the last night of September we had a new pudding, a Christmas pudding. Does this sound ridiculous? Well maybe it does but do you know what away from all the over eating and stuffing both the birds and ourselves and eating rich food and drinking funny drinks and making merry etc etc  it was such a joy to open the cooked pudding, turn it out and smell that gorgeous aroma of fruits and currents and peel and cherries and ….. We didn’t have any Holly, as Holly doesn’t grow in the tropics, or indeed any brandy to ignite …… and actually no brandy butter because you need brandy and we didn’t have any.

Just a small plate …… with a little heap of Christmas pud on it ….. and a fork. Yum! Yum! Yum!

These are seriously inane scribbles

Richard 1st October 2016 Rio de Janeiro

PS There was sadly no Uncle Tommy (see PC 27) to watch our antics but perhaps that was just as well. Any more please?


‘Uncle Tommy’