Shoe Horned Into Reality


"THEY make far better shoes today than they used to," says I last night, stretching out my right shank from the top of the barstool. "There is no comparison at all between the mens' shoes of today and those of the past".


"This shoe,” says I, “is four years old, and just look at it. Tis as good as new. You would not get that in the old days.

“The heel is not worn down along the outside edge the way they used to after six months. Look at the glitter of that leather even though it has not been polished for at least a week."

It's a brown leather casual shoe. Slip-on style, no laces. I waggled it slightly from right to left, and indeed it looked in fine condition. It leamed in the barlight as wise men admired it.

Says I, "It was not an expensive shoe either. I did not pay the earth for the pair, maybe about €50 or thereabouts, at a winter sale in Shannon. Standards might have slipped in many areas, but by heavens the shoemakers today are better than ever they were".

And I replaced the shoe on the rung of the bar stool as several wise men nodded in agreement and supped their pints. I did notice that Sonny Brogan, probably the wisest of us, neither nodded or said anything at all. He was wearing a pair of sneakers.

"The shoes of yesterday," says I, "had no life in them at all. They might have been made on a last, but there was no last in them really. You had hardly broken them in before they broke down.

“The heels wore down in three months so you were walking like a Montana cowboy and then, especially if the soles were leather, they started leaking after six months and it cost an arm and a leg to have them repaired.”

Leather soles, said somebody else, might be more comfortable, but they wore out awful fast. They were more expensive too than the rubber sole. Several agreed with that view.
Sonny Brogan ordered another pint of Guinness, shifted his sneakers and said nothing at all on the subject.

He did say to the barwoman that the world's strongest man, a Lithuanian, was coming to
Limerick on June 6 to compete in a strongman contest at the Racecourse against a field that included Ireland's strongest man, the Kilkenny giant Jimmy Fennelly.

That diverted us for a while, but we were soon back to shoes.

Mick Martin said there were very primitive shoes up to about 30 years ago. Things were even more primitive and heavy before that.

He remembered his father getting a new pair of leather boots when he was a boy. They weighed about three stone, and he recalled his father smeared them with goose grease and put them beside the hearth to waterproof them for a week before he wore them at all.

I produced my right shoe to the company again. "It is as light as a feather and it was comfortable from the first time I slipped it on,” is what I said.

"Our feet were destroyed from the badly-fitting and substandard footwear of the past. You never hear any man complaining today about corns of chilblains or bunions. Fair play to the modern Irish shoemakers. They are playing a blinder if you ask me."

And it was then that Sonny Brogan stuck me to the stool with what he said.

"Cormac,” says he, "with all due respect you're as big an eejit as I've listened to all week. The sad truth of the matter is that those shoes were probably made in China, not in Ireland, and they are lasting simply because you are not fit any more to give them any real wear.

“When you were a young wild lad that was the time you were running and walking all over the place, uphill and down dale, rain or shine, frost or snow. You were sowing your wild oats and that was hard on shoe leather.

“Now you are so long in the tooth you can't test your shoes at all. Those ones might last you the rest of your life. When was the last time you walked even a half-mile in them? Don't you drive everywhere just like the rest of us?

“Did that shoe ever get soaked in the rain? I bet it never did. When did you last walk home at three in the morning in the rain?

“You are too agey, you poor old eejit, to knock any value out of a pair of shoes any more, and that's the living truth. So you are talking nonsense."

And he stopped. And then added, "Again!"

Do you know I hardly said another word for the rest of the evening? Because the man was right.

I tucked my shoes out of sight under the bar stool because indeed, more than being mere footwear, they were testaments to the slippage from the plateau of my prime.

I thought darkly that they might just possibly last me for the rest of my life. That was dark stuff in truth.

I deliberately walked them through a gutter puddle on my way back to the car. They did not leak of course, and that disappointed me under the circumstances.

Ye know what I mean?

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