Times columnist Matt Rudd examines the throwaway society through a hole in his Crocs.
How many pairs of shoes is too many pairs of shoes? A hundred? Definitely. Twenty? Probably. Ten? Five? The answer, it turns out, is two. Two pairs of shoes is one pair too many. It's profligate. It's unnecessary. Who do you think you are? The wife of a Filipino despot?
Before the Full Stop six months ago, I was quite the Imelda. Many trainers. A dubious collection of "you've still got it" statement shoes (lilac loafers and everything). And the painful suede numbers. I don't know why I bought them. A sale, probably. Or a sales assistant. Blisters upon blisters. And yes, I know high heels must be worse.
From March 23 I abandoned my ridiculous midlife shoe fetish and I've worn the same pair of shoes ever since. This wasn't planned. It wasn't an experiment in ungula abnegation. It just kind of happened. On the day the office was abandoned, I had only enough room left in my rucksack for a bottle of whisky or my sensible work shoes. Survival mode kicked in and I took the whisky. At home, in those early weeks, there was education to be mismanaged, loo rolls to hoard and sanity to preserve in the face of remote working on rural broadband. Who had time for lace-ups?
And so the shoes that came to the rescue were a pair of old canvas slip-ons. Crocs, to my sons' mortification. They had been languishing unloved ever since a big toe dug forward to freedom in the summer of 2016, but now they were back, offering practicality, calm and resilience. They looked absolutely awful but, magically, that didn't matter any more.
As the months wore on the Crocs wore away and, on hotter days, ripened, which helped with the social distancing. I grew attached to them, physically and emotionally — and when parts of normal life returned, I resisted calls to banish them again. They had passed unnoticed, newsreader-in-underpants style, during Zoom calls. They had served me well in queues outside supermarkets. They'd been adequate at dog walking, jogging, badminton, fishing, the beach, the pub garden, the floods and the heatwaves. The only things they weren't good at were business meetings, wood-chopping and romance, but there were workarounds for two of those three.
Last month we were forced to go camping in Wales. Of course I packed only one pair of shoes for what turned out to be a week of weather that would break the Shipping Forecast. The Crocs and I battled manfully through two separate 112km/h gales to stop our tent blowing away. We trekked through horizontal rain together along coastal paths, keeping each others' spirits up while the children — in their walking boots! — complained about the deluge. Each night the old faithfuls dried quickly by the cooking stove while everyone else got trench foot. Keep your Gore-Tex.
As the pinstripes, the commutes and the office 360s return, I suspect I'll have to drop the Long John Slipper act. But life with only one pair of shoes has been infinitely preferable to life with a cupboardful. The time I would have wasted digging around for the right pair is mine to enjoy. The cupboard space I would have lost to all the wrong pairs is mine to … what? Buy other stuff?
Please, no. When our world shrunk to our own four walls, when shops shuttered and even Amazon had to chill out a bit, it was a time to appreciate what we've got. To make do and, in extremis, mend. We're told we have to spend to get the economy moving. We've just had a whole mad month of taxpayer-funded eating in confined spaces to prove it. But an economy that relies on throwaway consumerism and on products that are designed to break in a couple of years, months or — judging by the last pair of headphones I bought — hours needs to take a long, hard look at itself. A phone should last for a decade. This summer's wardrobe should be the same as last summer's wardrobe. And one pair of shoes is enough.
Written by: Matt Rudd
© The Times of London