When I was a kid we got a big coat each winter, which meant a trip to Bath or Bristol, where the big shops and bright lights were. It was a special time, more for the excitement of strange things than the inevitable argument over the fact that actually a coat that made me look like a Poundland Ziggy Stardust probably wasn’t the best option for a West Country January, let alone a Wiltshire school. What was more rubbish was shoes.
While coats were obviously a big-ticket-big-trip item, shoes didn’t seem to be. Ever since I could buy my own they’ve been more or less of a disaster either in terms of being utterly rubbish, like the three-colour 1970s abominations that made me look like one of Ken Dodd’s Diddymen, or in terms of their cost, like the impulse-buy coming-out-of-a-great-meeting-and-finding-a-sale-rack Gucci loafers. Admittedly, for the conference of Greek shipping tycoons in Limassol I was buying them for they were entirely perfect and seventeen years on still are, but £400 and something in a fricken sale does seem a little on the excessive side. It was the same with the John Lobb black monk shoes from Jermyn Street, again bought in a sale. That wasn’t the time I got bounced out of £100 in five minutes for two ties in Turnbull & Asser, when in any event Your Honour, drink had been taken and after the undivided attention of Young Adam at Trumper’s I was in an expansive mood. It’s entirely possible that I should add that yes, I know lots of people can’t afford shoes, let alone £400-in-a-sale shoes. In my defence, when I was a kid my shoes were crap. Now I can fix that. So I am.
But anyway, fast forward calendar to this week. We’re going on holiday, definitely not by accident. We’re going to be doing a lot of serious up-mountains walking (no, really actually mountains) and at the same time we’re going to be near Capri and we’re not talking Ford, so we need to look at least half-way decent. Due to my advanced years and dated preconceptions I don’t think I can walk in anywhere nice in trainers and frankly I wouldn’t want to be there if I could. There’s a perfectly good pair of Italian Zamberlan walking boots in their box in the cupboard but they don’t look the kind of thing you could go to dinner in anywhere half-decent. So, new boots time.
And this is where the balance thing comes in. Seven years ago I bought a pair of Dubarry jodhpur boots in their sale for £99, half-price. They had a Goretex lining, a bit of a cleated sole and all told they were absolutely perfect for pretty much everything from going to the Saturday Market to tour-guiding to teaching to going for a walk in the fields. I got four years out of them before the sole got too thin to wear, when I took them to the local shoe mender. Who promptly messed-them up. To be fair, they did a brilliant job with a pair of Alfred Sargent veldtschoen boots when they put a Dainite sole on them after only ten years on the original leather, but the Dubarry’s were literally unwearable and got banished to the boot of the car, in case of the kind of emergency when you suddenly need a pair of boots that don’t quite fit comfortably. Falling-in sailing, for example. All of which pointed to looking at the Dubarry website for a sale when it came to new boots with some tread that didn’t look as if I’d just climbed the Matterhorn in them.
In between ordering them online and actually getting them today I found something else online, also half-price. The trouble was that their half-price was literally double the half-price of the Dubarry’s, then a bit more. The Dubarry pair, rather to my surprise, were made in Portugal, where they make good shoes very cheaply, but that doesn’t entirely fit with the hand-made in Ireland story I’d come to expect from Dubarry. This other, putative pair of Dundas 01s were made in Norway. I think. They should arrive tomorrow. This picture, below, shows what got me about them.
Now, at current exchange rates, thanks to the overwhelming prudence and sagacity of this Conservative government, these boots should cost £412. Because I am not as rich as creasote (as Wodehouse put it) I didn’t pay that for them, or anywhere near. But the balance point is this: do I pay £100-ish for boots that will last five years or double that for boots that will last literally the rest of my life, and I don’t mean if I die next Tuesday? I know which I should do. I just don’t know if I will. Let’s see what happens when they turn up tomorrow.