My excuse is we were all rather impressionable in our younger years, and for my part, I was a complete sucker for ’60s and ’70s fashion footwear.
I’d have been aged eight or nine when these babies made their appearance in the mid-Sixties. I doubt I’d even reached the dizzy responsibilities of Seconder in the Cub Scouts when I first noticed some of the other boys proudly sporting them during Inspection. Actually, I wouldn’t have noticed them at all if it wasn’t for the continuous bragging of those little smart a****!
You see, the uppers bore no real difference to any other run of the mill shoe. It was what lay beneath that made these shoes ‘to die for.’ (Sorry – that sounds just a tad too ‘cub scout camp.’)
Yes, the magic all happened below. Out of sight. On, and wait for it, IN the sole of the shoe. How radical was that?
True, some of the magic was dependent on certain geographical and meteorological conditions being met. It may have proved different for kids living in the more arid regions of southern England, but here in West of Scotland, we didn’t generally have to worry about a dearth of puddles, claggy mud and even snow.
However, the main attraction of these shoes was the small compass, secreted in a special compartment of the right foot’s heel. Genius!
Actually, the real genius here was not so much the design or designer, but the dude who by tapping into the sheer gullibility of eight year old lads, successfully marketed these inherently pointless yet novelty shoes to reluctant parents.
Wait, thinking of it, with thirty-two points on a compass, Wayfinders were anything but ‘pointless,’ but you get my drift.
I mean, seriously, what use was a compass to an eight year old? Unless your mother, in addition to your name, had sewn in the DMS (degrees, minutes and seconds) coordinates of your home address into the collar of your jumper, you’d be stuffed if you became lost.
What could you do? Even had you been awarded the Navigator Activity badge, without your home coordinates, you had only a one in thirty-two chance of stumbling back into your street. And the danger for those who hadn’t paid proper attention during the Pioneering Badge session, was they’d only retain two words: magnetic and north.
I count myself here as one of the stupid ones who would have ended up in Inverness or somewhere cold and bleak that was not really my intention.
But worse! What self-respecting young lad does not carry a bar magnet in their pocket? And that’s not a euphemism. You’d end up in Portsmouth, in a very confused state for goodness sake.
Another thing – what’s the point of animal tracks moulded onto the sole of your shoe? Should Bear Grylls come across an unfamiliar track when out in the wilds, I’m reasonably confident in suggesting he’d use a pocket manual or something to help him identify it – not take off his shoe to compare the muddy imprint.
I did, and still do, enjoy the thought however, of a trail of these prints being left in a snow covered country lane – and the befuddled look on a hungry fox’s little face when he finally realises he hasn’t actually won the lottery and chanced upon a whole winter larder’s supply of food.
Anyway, the concept of individuality was alien to me at such a young age, and like a sheep, I followed the trend. I did actually manage to badger my folks into buying me a pair of these stoaters, even though they were quite dear at the time.
(Sorry – my hands made me type that last paragraph.)
Over the next few years, my head was too full of football and nonsense to bother about fashion of any sorts. In 1971, though through my first winter at secondary school, leather, zipped ankle boots became de rigeur.
Surprisingly, considering the expense, my parents offered negligible resistance to my request for a pair. I was now part of the cool set at school. Deep puddles and wet snow – I laugh in your face.
If puddles and wet snow did indeed have a face, and they could laugh out loud, they would have been in stitches a few days later when they had exacted retribution for my callous disregard of their existence.
Somehow soaked through to my socks when I arrived home from school, my Mum placed the boots in front of the two-bar electric fire. Within minutes there was an acrid, burning smell. And it wasn’t the usual overcooked burning cauliflower scent I had become so used to. (Sorry, Mum.)
I rushed to the rescue of my beloved leather boots and was aghast to see a lava-like rivulet spread down the front of the left one.
Yup! These ‘leather’ boots were made of plastic. These Boots Were Made For Melting.
With a renewed respect for puddles and wet snow, I returned to school the following morning, ready to be slaughtered for unfashionable, fashionable boots. I wasn’t disappointed. Kids can be so cruel, you know.
My final foray into the world of fashion came a year or so later. Inspired by Glam Rock in general, the band, Sweet, in particular, and a distinct lack of personal height, platform shoes were my next ‘got to have.’ Purple ones. Or ox blood, I think was the delightful, correct description. Two toned ox blood ones, in fact.
Now I totally loved these. I looked well sharp and felt five feet tall.
But what is it with shoes, winter and me? Having worn these through the months of autumn, it had escaped my attention that the soles and more so, the heels had worn thin as the first snows began to fall. In fact, the heel rubber was non-existent. Well, what would I know … I hadn’t looked at the soles of my shoes since my last pair of Wayfinders.
Sat in double History, I was conscious of some surreptitious whispers and giggling from those sat behind me. To my horror, I noticed a puddle of water under my seat, just where I’d crossed my ankles for comfort.
The more I frantically pleaded that this was not the result of excitement at the prospect of reading about the French Revolution for the next hour, the more the mirth intensified. Even the teacher cast me some alarmed glances.
It was only at the end of class when I slipped and staggered out the room, leaving behind what remained of two, three inch, heel shaped blocks of compacted ice and snow, that my innocence was proved, and incontinence debunked.
Looking back then, perhaps I should have learned how to make better use the Wayfiinders compass. At least I would have determined at an early stage that my attempt at becoming a style icon would head in one direction only – and that was south.