Jim didn’t tell his mum that his shoes pinched. He was ten years old and knew that money was tight, so he said nothing. He was the last of seven children, so it was easy to be overlooked for a while and, anyway, there was no telling what mum would do in pursuit of a bargain.
“Jim! How long have you been cramming your feet into those shoes?”
“Oh, I didn’t notice, Mum,” Jim lied.
Saturday came and he was marched off to get a pair of shoes two sizes bigger. He wanted normal, black school uniform shoes and he didn’t want to stand out from the crowd. Mum had ideas of her own and was drawn like a moth to a flame by red ‘SALE’ signs. Of course she went to the sale display first. Her eyes lit on a pair, greatly reduced and, to her eyes, almost black. Jim’s heart sank. They weren’t almost black, they were dark green and, worst of all, suede. He knew that Mum needed to save every penny so he didn’t have the heart to argue, but he was going to have to live with her choice for a long time.
“Jim Bennett’s got dusty shoes!” Sang the children. Jim’s face reddened. He supposed they would tire of it eventually. He didn’t tell his mum about his embarrassment, nor did he ever mention that the months spent wearing his old shoes when they were too tight seemed to have hurt his right foot. His toes on that foot now bent down like hammers and wouldn’t straighten any more, his big toe bent upwards so that the nail pressed against the inside and he had a pain in his instep.
Through most of his life, Jim’s search for shoes involved compromise. The left foot might fit perfectly but the right foot had entirely different requirements. Often he would leave a shoe shop feeling annoyed and frustrated or he would buy a pair to fit his right foot and wear crescent-shaped inserts on the left shoe to make the best of it. The pain in his right arch, though, never went away. Now, upon retirement and in receipt of his endowment, he decided to compromise no more.
His daughter Julie accompanied him on the train from Ilkley to Leeds and then to London. He wasn’t used to London and The Tube seemed like a nightmare but Julie didn’t seem bothered in the least. She took him to the V&A Museum for lunch and from there she led him to a shop in Paddington Street.
Inside, Jim was shown how shoes were made with proper leather soles and welts, just as they were when the shop was opened over 150 years ago. Then he was shown how each foot was scanned so that lasts could be made which were true replicas. He was shown how the lasts were stored so that other shoes could be ordered without the need for a fitting. Jim was smitten.
Six weeks later, and still accompanied by Julie, he went back to the shop to try on his new shoes for the first time. He wore new socks for this special occasion. The assistant brought a shoe horn and helped him lace them up. He stood and then walked up and down beaming, all pain gone at last.
“How are they Dad?”