Monday, April 23, 2012

Shoes as art

These are my new shoes.
I'm seriously tempted to leave it at that and sign off. Because look at them! They speak for themselves, don't they. Yet I'm equally compelled to speak, not for them but about them. Or, rather, about me in relation to them. No, wait, not even that.
Sorry, I'll start again.
On Saturday I bought these shoes at Minx in Otaki. Because the sight of them made my blood race in the same way a wonderful photograh does, or the sound of the bandoneon in tango music. I haven't worn them outside the shop yet. The point is, I hardly need to wear them. I bought them so I could bring them home and look at them as often as I like. Like buying art. So there they've sat - on a stool in my bedroom, rather as on a pedastal - and each time I see them, I'm flushed with pleasure that they exist.
For the more practical minded, I'll add that they came within my purchasing power because they were reduced from $256 to $180. The blood-red element is wonderful hairy cowhide. And I'm not the only one to fall for its odd charm - Cheryl bought a dark green version, and Fern, ankle boots in cobalt blue.

Saturday, April 21, 2012


A few days later, also in  Balaclava's Las Chicas, I met Monique. She was leafing through a pile of new glossies and, assuming they were supplied by the cafe, I asked if I could have one she'd finished with. In fact they were hers, but she was still happy to lend me a Marie Clare. The text turned out to be in Chinese, although the pics spoke a universal language. Before long I asked why.
Monique designs and sells handbags, which retail in Australia and New Zealand. She sources her leather in India and was combing the magazines for inspiration. She gave me a booklet, showing off her designs.
That's one of her bags on the table - a classy dark green leather. And here's another I'd love on my shoulder.

No, not him, silly. He's far too deep a thinker to be any fun.
This talk of accessories reminds me of one of the most famous lines in theatre - "A handbag?!", as spoken by Dame Edith Evans, playing Lady Bracknell in Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest. A line my friend E (no, not that E, the other one) delivered in a school production, in a less OTT manner, but nevertheless freighted with aristocratic dismay. The high point of her acting career, she says, when she experienced all the power of holding an audience and making it laugh.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Easter Bunny with attitude

Spotted on Monday at Las Chicas, Carlisle St,
Balaclava, Melbourne.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Meawhile, nine out of 10 don't give a rat's arse

An English woman named Samantha Brick, variously described as an ex-tv presenter, a journo and a columnist, but more probably someone who's famous for being well-known, has caused a storm by, in the first place, publishing an article whose theme was that there are "downsides to looking this pretty", then by appearing on tv to back up her claims that "10 out of 10 men" fancy her, while women hate her because of her beauty.
Thousands registered their outrage by email and text. I can't discover the main thrust of their missives, only that they were, to use Brick's word, "bile"; nor do I know how many were fired by men and how many by women. I'm guessing, though, that a good number of both would have taken issue with her self-assessment, and given her robust feedback of their own on her looks and their appeal to the opposite sex.
While it's tempting to be similarly snarky, I'm reluctant to take any woman to task for believing she's good-looking enough  Most of us are painfully insecure, and that insecurity causes no end of problems - from spending small fortunes on doomed and/or inadvisable ways of becoming more beautiful, to anorexia and bulimia, and clinging like limpets to the wrong man because we think no-one else could possibly love us.
And, since it turns out Brick lives in France, what she says about the way women freeze her out might have some truth to it. My informants - one native-born French woman, plus a New Zealand man and a New Zealand woman who have each lived for a long time in France - tell me that many French women do indeed see themselves in competion for men, and treat attractive women accordingly.
So that said, would I, if given the chance, enjoy having Brick at my dinnertable? Er. no, thanks. Rampant narcisissism makes dull company.            

Friday, April 6, 2012

Look, Janet, look – Clarks shoes!

Janet and John, 1949

Prompted by previous posts about Clarks shoes, Peter Cross of Auckland recalls being a Clarks guinea-pig.

Back in Castle Cary, Somerset, in the early 60s, there were two shoe shops. An upmarket establishment run by Hubert Laver, next door to Parker’s ladies and gentleman’s outfitters, and a downmarket cobbler’s shop run by Les Cleal and his grown-up son. Both have long since gone. As far as I recall the Cleals concentrated on repairs, but sold boots and Tuf shoes on the side, while Mr Laver only sold shoes, mostly Clarks.
Clarks produced the sort of footwear that was popular with grownups, and for good reasons. “Clarks” were hard-wearing, comfortable and timeless – in other words, old-fashioned. The sort of shoe sensible middle-class parents would buy for their offspring, and working-class ones if they could afford them. Typical of their range was their T-bar sandal, the sort of footwear worn by Janet and John in those dreadful early readers, and by kids depicted in Ladybird books, where earnest boys and girls explored a rock pool or something equally worthy.
For a time Clarks made a feature of measuring the width of your foot as well as its length, and their products came in widths ABCD. So if, as in my case, one foot was slightly wider than the other, you could get a size 3C left and a 3D right. This innovation was much publicised at the time but was probably quietly dropped as the commercial implications became clear. I’ve never seen anything like it since. 
My old mum, never one to hoard things, had possession of her grandmother’s wedding shoes. They’d only been worn once and were still in the box. I guess they would have been made in the 1880s and remarkably they didn’t even have a left or right foot but two identical ones. Clarks had a shoe museum in Street and she loaned them to the firm, and, as far as I’m aware, they must still be there somewhere.         
In a sense Clarks dominated the local landscape in that their Glastonbury Tor trade mark was visible from the town, and their headquarters and main factory was in Street, a dozen miles away. And between the mid-50s and the early 90s, a satellite factory manufactured insoles in Cary itself, employing 200 people at one stage.
The only footwear that interested me and most boys then was football boots. Kids would spend all year talking about the sort of boot they anticipated getting as their main Christmas present. A continental boot (more a shoe really), made with soft black leather without a toecap and perhaps a flash of colour, was talked about a lot.  There would be a brief honeymoon period when the new boots would be admired and cherished by their owner, before  he started to covert another model; perhaps ones with removable studs.
Although indifferent to shoes, I’m sure I wasn’t the only boy to feel pissed off when Clarks started using some of the girls at our school as guinea pigs for their new products. It was overseen by Marion “Fanny” Felix who taught needlework and was also deputy head. Every so often a guy from the factory would arrive at school and fit out volunteers with various shoes. While still at the sensible end of the spectrum, these shoes could occasionally be more daring than a schoolgirl was supposed to wear. This guy would return from time to check on the shoes and there was a threat that some would be taken back to a lab and never returned, but in reality mostly they were given back for keeps.
Then one day it was announced that Clarks would be bringing along boys shoes, and I got my one and only pair. Brown suede they were, and for a day or two my pride and joy. Within a week, however, the sole had started to distance itself from the upper: no doubt protesting against playground football. Apart from experimenting with new designs, they also tested new components, in this case glue. And so like everyone else I wandered around in them until they broke up and I went back to shoes made by a competitor, no doubt with a reputation for making a less durable product.
Despite Clark's size, it remains a private company, with 81% shares owned by members of the family and the rest by employees. They are also a Quaker company and like others, for instance, the big chocolate families Cadbury’s, Rowntree and Fry’s, were model employers and philanthropists. My parents were members of three public libraries and got through a dozen books a week between them, but their favourite library by a long shot was the one in Street, which had been paid for by the company. The public swimming pool in Street, a huge outdoor job, head and shoulders better than the rest, was another donation. The company owned houses they built and rented to their staff. On the downside, for many years Street was a dry town, so residents had to go to one of the outlying villages to get a drink. And I recall hearing that the husband of a woman I knew called Christine Pitts lost his job at Clarks when the couple got divorced.
Mind you, everyone in the manufacturing side of the business has lost their jobs in England now. The factory in Castle Cary closed in 1992, and well before this, production had begun to move overseas. The family continues to prosper, making a profit on sales of 125 million pounds in 2010, but the shoes are now made, according to the same entry in Wikipedia, in India, Cambodia, China, Brazil and Vietnam. Charity may have started at home but it hasn’t stayed there.  
Ladybird Books' Peter and Jane

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Design for living

My favourite local cafe makes a terrific latte but its magazine choice is dire. According to the nice young owners, anything worth reading, like New Zealand Books or Vanity Fair, mysteriously vanishes out the door with their oh-so respectable customers. So on days when I have no-one to talk to and no mail to read, I comb through an aging pile of huntin', shootin' and boatin' publications, and usually end up with Cuisine. I like to cook and eat, but I'm not into food fetishism. Still, I can usually cadge or recipe or two. This morning Vogue Living came to light. But after a five minutes or so of inspecting glossy rooms designed and - so they would have us believe - lived in by even glossier people, I decided the damn thing is a mental health risk. These people "live" in a manner that sooner or later will make any normal person want to creep back to the cluttered little hole in the hillside they call home. and lock the door. It's generally accepted that pornography, along with women's and fashion magazines, inflicts social/psychological damage. Well, so do these "life-style" bibles. It's only a matter of degree.
And, just to cap off my disdain, round about page 325 I came across the gushing phrase "high-end collectibles". Sounds impressive, doesn't it. Until a moment's reflection tells you that all it means is "costly crap".
All this has reminded me of a 1950s song by the marvellous Flanders and Swann, with the same title as this post:

We're terribly House & Garden at number 7B,
We live in a most amusing Mews, ever so very contemporary.
We're terribly House & Garden - the money that one spends
To make a place that won't disgrace our House & Garden friends.
We've planned an uninhibited interior decor,
Curtains made of straw,
We've wallpapered the floor.
We don't know if we like it
But at least be can be sure:
There's no place like home sweet home.
It's fearfully Maison - Jardin at number 7B.
We've rediscovered the chandelier:
Très, très very contemporary.
We're terribly House & Garden though at last we've got the chance.
The garden's full of furniture and the house is full of plants.
It doesn't make for comfort but it simply has to be
'Cos we're ever so terrible up-to-date, comtempo-rar-ary.

And winding up:
Oh, we're terribly House and Garden
As I think we said before,
But though Seven B is madly gay -
It wouldn't do for every day -
We actually live in Seven A,
In the house next door!

Flanders and Swann

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Country Road leads up the garden path

This is the 92% linen, 8% nylon top that caught my eye in Country Road this morning. I loved the hot colours (which aren't at their best in this image), the fine knit, and the length. Tried a couple on, decided on the SX, and handed over my $64.90. Went home well-pleased to have something cheery to wear for Easter.
But oh no, on unwrapping it from its tissue I spotted a hole in the sleeve/bodice seam, where the fabric had given way. Right where it showed. 
Since I still had my jacket on, I marched down the path, jumped in the car and drove back to town. Slipped $1 in the meter on Lambton Quay and strode into CR with the offending item.
The woman behind the counter was pleasant. She inspected the hole and went off to see if there was another SX on the rack. There was. And that one had a hole in it too, at the back this time. Pleasant Woman made a phone call to track down any others. There were none.
By now, I wanted the damn thing really badly. I asked if she could knock down the price and I'd have a go at fixing it myself.
No, she couldn't, she said, because she wasn't the manager.
Could the manager then?
No, because CR didn't like to sell imperfect goods.
Excuse me, I didn't say, but you already have.
The two items would have to go to a "tailor", she said. And, still pleasant, went about organising my refund. No apology, though. Which surely ought to be de rigeur when faulty goods are returned.  Or is it CR policy to leave quality control to their customers?
So an empty-handed return to the car, to find a $12 ticket under the wiper for an expired meter.
Happy Easter!