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Wanted: A Seasoned Shoe Stitcher (Or Canine Feet)

By Christopher Andreae / January 31, 1991



THERE'S a cobbler in the West End of Glasgow (this is a sort of commercial) who is in urgent need of a stitcher. ``They are few and far between,'' he told me.

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So, for that matter, are good cobblers like him. The ancient art of shoe-mending - which one might define as extending the life of a decent pair of shoes to the length it warrants - does seem to hang on by a tenuous thread in our throwaway period. And yet his shop - with its masculine aromatics - is always busy. The need for him, and more of his ilk, can scarcely be doubted. Why, then, are cobblers - and stitchers - in such short supply?

He's been advertising for a man (or woman?) to do his stitching - clearly a specialized craft - for some months now. I know this because I took my pair of shoes to him the other day and he had to resort to glue rather than thread. He had been unable to sew up my overstuffed Filofax six weeks earlier for the same reason. His glue is OK, but stitching is a higher form of repair, and these shoes I have deserve the best. Definitely. The best.

They - both of them - are the first shoes I've had, in quite a number of shoe-wearing decades, that I find truly likable. Indeed, I might go so far as to say - were I inclined to be extravagant about anything below the ankles - that I'm fond of these shoes. Profoundly fond.

Which is odd because by-and-large I reckon that dogs, alligators, penguins, and indeed the animal kingdom on the whole - have a much better time of it, shoe-wise, than we humans. They simply don't need the wretched things. I watch admiringly as our dog charges with reckless and ecstatic disregard through urban grasslands fraught with smashed bottles, discarded barbed-wire fencing, and the remains of defunct transistor radios (not to mention more naturally spiked and thorny hazards like sharp stones, broken ice, thistles, and gorse). His pads remain as pristine and insensible as a fakir's on hot coals. What on earth is it that canine feet are made of that mine aren't. I'd like to know, and why? Why do I keep having to shop for shoes?

Well, I'm glad to say that I think these two shoes I've found could be the final answer to the shoe question. I've worn this pair every day for a good year now, and we get along remarkably well. So well that I find a sympathetic resonance in a reported ``table-talk'' observation of the eminent 17th-century lawyer John Selden. He said: ``Old friends are best. King James used to call for his old shoes; they were easiest for his feet.'' That's it in a nutshell. If we have to wear shoes, then above all they should be friendly and old, but particularly old.

New ones are no help at all. They tend to be user-unfriendly, unaccommodating, narrow, and rigid. They wage a deliberate war of unreasonable conformity on toes and heels. They seem to think their purpose is not to please but to challenge the wearer: ``Yeah,'' they seems to say, grinning grimly down there, ``if you can get through an entire morning wearing us, you deserve a medal. But you won't be getting one! You'll kick us off when no one's looking!''