Sunday, 28 August 2011

No business like shoe business

Lady shopper considers smash'n'grab
I wasn't in the UK during the riots (your honour) but I did see some highlights on the TV when I was in Hungary. It's strange seeing a load of kids in hoodies and balaclavas smashing up and then looting places you know. And it's even stranger to watch these riots spreading across the UK while you're exploring a European city riding the trams, eating ice cream and having a honeymoon in the sunshine.

When I was a kid there were still cigarette machines outside newsagents, and I'm sure in those days looters were shot. It was like glass bus stops: as they started to get smashed up on a regular basis by the angry youth so everything that wasn't nailed down was moved out of reach.

Now benches are chained down. The computers are chained down at a college in Manchester town centre. Barbers' advertising signs are chained down in the suburbs. Why would anyone want one of those? A guy I know on the seafront in Brighton had a huge palm nicked from outside his flat - his basement flat. We played a game in Budapest: "What would an Englishman do?" and most of the time it involved smashing up a place or nicking something and then throwing up in the corner or weeing in the plant pot. (This was before we knew about the riots, incidentally..)

Also before we knew about the riots we came across (above and left) these wall displays outside a shoemaker's: glass cabinets displaying his wares, like craftsmen used to do in Days Gone By. Here you can see his expertise in making boots, or snappy gents' shoes. I think that's even a two-tone pair on the bottom shelf.

Can you imagine how long a display like this would last in Britain? It's a glass cabinet - and it doesn't have shutters on it? What's the shoemaker thinking of? He's just asking for those shoes to be robbed.

One of the amazing things about modern life is that now you could send that shoemaker in Budapest an email ( asking how his love of creating boots and shoes which he painstakingly sews by hand using traditional methods probably handed down over generations squares with the crazy lack of security and the irresponsible cabinet displays that are just asking to be smashed up by a passing Englishman.

But I guess there's one way Britain could retain old-style marketing methods like this, preserving traditional techniques and ensuring craftsmen survive: move all the shoemakers inside their local branches of Waterstones bookshop ... because there was no looting there, was there?

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