Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Mr Smith Goes to. (the Arts)

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Mr Smith Goes to. (the Arts)

Article excerpt

In this golden jubilee year, historians have naturally been carrying out research into what someone from the original Elizabethan era would make of the way we live now. As I understand it, if Tudor man roamed the high street, he would flee in terror from the mobile phone outlets and cappuccino chains, before finding a kind of peace in the heel bar.

With its arbitrary combination of two wholly uncomplementary services, namely repairing shoes and cutting keys, this unassuming concern would remind our visitor of the barbershops familiar from the gamy strands of Good Queen Bess's day. When Sweeney Todd still had the striped pole up outside the business, the barber's was not only the place where you went for a short back and sides, but where the man holding a looking-glass up to your crown would tempt you to a leech for the weekend.

The man at my local heel bar is in the olde English tradition of the backstreet sawbones. As he addresses himself to his unresting lathe, he nudges his protective goggles into place like a surgeon adjusting his scrubs. Waiting in line with your buggered brogues, you may overhear the sigh of a man who has seen things that no man should have to see. I don't know if there is an equivalent of the Hippocratic oath for the retreading profession, but I do know that no exotic flowering of the footwear industry, no heeled boot or kittenish mule, nor for that matter the fetching owners of the same, can put a smile on this man's face. The only thing that gives him a kind of liverish pleasure is telling anxious patrons of Jimmy Choo that fashion shoes fall to pieces, practically with their first steps, unless prophylactically shod in a second sole. …

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