The kindly cobbler’s advice…

“Shoes are the first adult machines we are given to master”
Nicholson Baker

It is finally time to replace my business shoes. There are now more holes than soles. Still I took them to my cobbler a kindly old chap just in case. He put one hand on my shoulder and broke the news that they were finished.

While he continued with his work we discussed the state of the modern shoe and I couldn’t help but translate our conversation to society as a whole.  My cobbler, lets call him George for arguments sake and also because that is his name, reminisced that when he first picked up the tools of  the trade business was very good.

As a younger man shoes were made by hand. It was a matter of personal integrity for each shoe maker that their shoes could trod many a mile without complaint from the occupant. The cost to produce a fine pair of handmade shoes was such that people were inclined to have their older shoes repaired rather than toss them to landfill. However, over George’s lifetime shoes became the product of the machine. After which the costs and quality fell sharply. In my own case the cost to repair my only pair of business shoes was roughly 90% of the re-purchase price. I had achieved less than two years of wear, which according to George was about 5 times shorter than half decent shoes should last.

“They are made fast and cheap, to be thrown away and replaced as early as possible” he said.

We talked about a range of things that afternoon. At one point I volunteered to come in for half a day a week to learn the trade. A mutually beneficial arrangement I thought as I would learn skills while he gained labour without any requirement to pay for it.

“Wouldn’t trouble yourself” was his reply.

I pressed for a reason which sadly was that in his professional opinion that the cobbler was a near dead trade. He also factored that he had too little to keep himself occupied least he suffer from the boredom of sitting in his small shop with nothing much to do. As we parted company he told me that all in all he’d enjoyed his vocation, but he did wish things had gone differently over the last ‘wee while’. Then he politely shooed me from his shop wished me luck with my shopping, locked the door and went off in search of a date scone for afternoon tea.

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