Monday, April 14, 2008

Natty tread

The most powerful indicator of actual poverty is still footwear or the lack of it. My grandparents used to talk about the kids who went to school barefoot. I have a friend who wore nothing but wellingtons throughout his early childhood. Southside Johnny called one of his albums "At Least We Got Shoes" after something that his grandfather used to say. I was struck by this when watching the London Marathon yesterday. The six Tanzanians who did the race in full Masai fig had shoes made out of car tyres. This is nothing unusual, as I discovered when I visited Ethiopia. Market traders will run you up a pair of Reef-like sandals (above) out of a lorry tire that has run out of tread.

I'm sure there's a thesis to be written about the contrast between this and the boxfresh trainers sported by hip hop stars - and even some people I see on the Tube long after rush hour. There is no flaunting of wealth quite so calculated as the regular sporting of new shoes. This is particularly the case, as a casual viewing of MTV's "Cribs" will attest, when the shoes themselves are trainers, an item ostensibly designed as an unremarkable workhorse. Missy Elliott does her own line for Adidas, known as "Respect Me". According to the manufacturer these are ideal for the start of the academic year, presumably the key time for getting people to admire you because of your gym pumps.


  1. Great post and makes me think that if the typical British childhood returned to a more shoeless state the benefits could be legion. Our national game would surely benefit if kids played in bare feet with perhaps a felt-covered ball (maybe shoes started our footballing decline?). Where hard surfaces are unavoidable home-made car tyre shoes should suffice - the equivalent of the fancy Nike Free trainers which are flexible enough to roll into a ball and allow your feet to strengthen themselves (basically no different to wearing your trainers for much longer than is advised, which I tend to do and without any problems). (Perhaps we'd also benefit if we did away with hard pavements and learnt to cope with mud.)

  2. Apparently South Africans are extremely proud of their footwear and spend huge amounts of time and up to 2 tins of shoe polish a week looking after them.