Magazine article The Spectator

The Slow Conversion of a Masai Worrier

Magazine article The Spectator

The Slow Conversion of a Masai Worrier

Article excerpt

At first I was not convinced. Not at all. As I trudged my daily circuit around Hyde Park in old Reeboks, dog at heel, I would endure the humiliation of being lapped by skinny women friends in black Lycra leggings, barrelling past me like geishas on speed.

'Where's the fire?' I felt like shouting as they rocked past me in those funny black thick-soled shoes, leaving me a distant speck in their pert-buttocked wake. Honestly, it didn't look as if they were going for a walk at all, in the sense that you or I might go for a walk -- they were going at it like knives.

Once or twice I invited myself to join them.

It was never a great success. While they did their power-walking thing in their special matching ugly shoes, and had enough breath left for some serious gossip, I panted and jogged, and panted and walked, to try to keep up with them. Usually I had to give up by the time we reached the Serpentine.

Then I started seeing their shoes -- which I discovered were called Masai Barefoot Technology physiological footwear, or MBT trainers for short -- on everyone, not just in the park. I saw them at school. I saw them in the shops. I saw them in Heat and Hello!

Emma Freud, Jemima Khan and Cherie Blair -- lithe, fit women for whom my admiration and envy know no bounds -- were all wearing the funny orthopaedic black banana boats on the ends of their elegant legs, as if they didn't care how ugly they looked.

So I went to the chemist, and tried on a pair, and then bought them, because I wanted some of whatever it was these women were getting from these shoes. Yup, the chemist. You can't get them in shoe shops.

Why not? Ah. Because, as the leaflet tells me, 'Strictly speaking, MBTs are not shoes at all.

MBTs are highly effective pieces of fitness and exercise equipment.' Among the claims for these not-shoes-atall are that they 'activate' neglected muscles; they improve posture and gait; they increase buttock muscle activity by 28 per cent; they ease joint, muscle, tendon and ligament injuries, increase stamina and co-ordination, burn calories, and so on. By the time you have waded through the list of enhancements to your physique that these ungainly items of footwear will magically impart without either surgery or going to the gym, you would honestly believe that if someone told you that MBTs were also the answer to climate change, global warming and Middle East peace, you'd believe that, too.

Now, before you think I have fallen for some advanced marketing guff designed to part bored Notting Hill housewives from their husbands' money, let me give you the science part.

According to the DVD (encouragingly called 'Step into a Better Body') that accompanied my purchase, the human muscularskeletal system is designed to walk barefoot on soft, uneven, natural ground like soft moss or a sandy beach (shots of tall, dignified Masai warriors stalking across grasslands). The reason the Masai tribespeople have thin, muscular legs (shots of Masai warriors pogoing with spears) is because they are used to walking long distances over natural terrain (shots of etiolated, burnished tribal chieftains wearing kikoi and beads in the sun-bleached bush).

The reason we lardy, osteopath-frequenting Europeans all suffer from back, knee and Achilles tendon problems is, apparently, because we walk wearing shoes that 'support and lead the foot' on hard flat surfaces like concrete and tarmac (grey shots of boring, accountant-type men in suits and specs getting out of cars and wheeling boring suitcases into boring Frankfurt-type airports). …

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