I have a very clear memory of going shoe-shopping when I was little. I must have been seven, maybe eight. We'd gone to get shoes for the new school year. Mum and Dad had already had years of struggling to find shoes for me and probably dreaded having to go, but I was still excited at the prospect of new shoes. (This excitement has disappeared after decades of seeing lovely shoes in shop windows and them never fitting me).
The shoe-shop had one of those measuring machines where two plates came in from the sides to measure the width of your feet, while a beam of light progressed towards a line of width fittings: A B C D E F G.
The plates touched my feet. The light stopped way short of even reaching A and the shop assistant looked at me and said, "I'm sorry. We have nothing in the shop that will fit you." I was crushed. My sister, with her rectangular feet, hopped up. The light travelled merrily across to G and the shop assistant beamed with relief. "Oh, we have lots that will fit you."
I think any delight with shoe shopping stopped right then. Until last weekend, when I took a rare day off and went to see a wonderful woman called CJ Cobb who makes shoes!
Handmade shoes. Aren't they ridiculously expensive?
Well, yes and no. She's making me a pair of ankle boots (quite possibly she will make me a whole heap of shoes and boots, ultimately) for just under £150. I could spend that much money on a pair of boots from a commercial outlet and then have to wear three pairs of socks to make them fit, so to me, spending £150 on shoes that actually, truly fit is money well spent. If you're in the vast majority of the population who have never had any issues being able to buy shoes from a shoe shop, you won't understand this. But I've never been able to buy shoes that fit me, unless I order from a specialist narrow footwear catalogue (with eye-watering prices, far above £150!). The standard width fitting in the UK is now a D. I'm AA, perhaps as wide as A, depending on the shoe. I own almost no shoes that don't lace up (or at least have a strap to keep my foot in them) as I walk out of slip-on shoes in the first stride.
How did I find this amazing woman? Through the knitting group I go to. One of the women there was wearing the most amazing pair of multicoloured boots and I admired them. She told me they'd been handmade by a woman just outside Pitlochry, and that they hadn't really been more expensive than buying them in a shop. I got CJ's details and arranged to go and see her.
On Saturday, we headed north out of Pitlochry and met CJ. I explained how I'd heard of her and what the problems were. She looked at the shoes I was wearing - about the narrowest pair of shoes I had, but which are still about a C. "Do those shoes fit you?" she asked.
"No. My feet move around in them unless I wear hiking socks."
CJ drew round my feet and took some measurements, and I chose which leather I wanted them made from (from an enormous collection in her workroom). Although she has a number of fairs coming up, she said I should get them well before Christmas. I'll choose some brighter leather for a multicoloured pair when I go and collect them.
|Wooden lasts (though not CJ's)
So, not only did I take a day off, to go up to Pitlochry (and beyond), I should also get a pair of boots that fit without me needing to fill half the space up with extra pairs of socks, insoles, and heel grips etc. And, after decades of absolutely dreading going to buy shoes, I'm ridiculously over-excited at the prospect of some new ones!