I’ve bought some cowboy boots and I’m not a cowboy and I don’t care what anyone else thinks. So there!!!

You’d never catch me on the back of a horse doing this. Unless it was dead. But you’d really have to prove it was dead first

A few key facts:

1) in my daily life, I have absolutely no need for cowboy boots of any description – especially the quality-stitched, calf-length Mexican leather beauties that I recently ordered from UK cowboy boot specialist Wild Wild Western Wear. I’m a freelance writer, so technically I could probably go a few days without even using shoes, or even needing to use my feet (I frequently spend afternoons sliding about my home office on my small-wheeled chair of frictionless excellence, oh yes). Slippers would probably do me, to be honest if and when I was forced to enter the outside world (for example, I could customise them if need be, and make them a bit more industrial for the odd outdoor expedition). And everyone knows that slippers are the comfiest things around.

2) Adding to the irony, I am scared of horses and not too fond of cows either – slightly less than I am terrified of spiders, but it’s still a very real fear which haunts me every time I walk round the village and pass the field with the two sinister-looking behemoths which are always, always staring at me. Not all horses and cows, though (I don’t want you to get the wrong idea: it’s not like I’m one of these irrational people who harbours a complete distrust of all horses and cows, no matter what kind of look they have in their eyes) but some, and in particular ones who stare just like those children from the Christopher Reeve film Village of the Damned. Personally, I feel that’s a natural fear. Horses and cows are far bigger and more powerful than me, than any human, and I once saw a day-time TV show where a horse kicked a woman and its hoof sliced straight through her leg and almost cut it in two. This is why I especially fear the sporadic wrath of horses. It’s not their demeanour that worries me or even the way they look – I’ve stroked two or three in my time, hand shaking…never again – it’s just the way you never know what in the world they are thinking. And they have a LOT of time to think out there in their fields…some might say too much…Also, now I think about it in-depth, they adore carrots and I absolutely bloody hate them. I’ve never been able to trust people or things which are able to eat a raw carrot, and I doubt that’ll ever change.

3) By now, with all this talk of unconventional things – if you’re reading this anywhere but Texas or South America, at least – you have formed a strong positive or negative opinion about me. Either you’re a bit of a maverick, and you’re coming around to the idea of cowboy boots for the sake of it — congratulations! — or the unease you felt at the start of this post has now manifested into something borderline underlying hostile and you’re laughing at the thought of me slipping those puppies on and clonking my way down the street. Either way, I don’t blame you. As much as I love my new Justin cowboy boots and think that anyone who doesn’t like them is foolish and sad and not worthy of this world, I can see how you’ve come to that conclusion.

And let me tell you: actually doing it — committing and buying the boots — didn’t happen overnight. It took me months to come to my decision. Months, and a great deal of pondering…

It started out as a bit of a joke. I told my brother Matthew — we call him Maff — I liked the idea of cowboy boots, and he didn’t take me seriously. I don’t particularly blame him for this. I often make sweeping statements, and am not immune to making bold claims about what I would and would not like to do (not because I am arrogant, I don’t think, but because things tend to come into my mind and he’s often at the receiving end as they work their way out). Except this time it was different: over the next few weeks the idea of the cowboy boots returned again and again…and I started to wonder: should I actually just do it? Buy some of those ones like what you see in the old black and white and colour films which really would have been better off staying black and white, as the colour was so crap? So I started looking. My first quest saw me head into Cambridge town to peruse the shops in the city centre. In at the deep end…

But the city centre was utterly hopeless. A total let-down. While Cambridge can hardly be considered the most cutting-edge of shopping districts, all the shops were the typical UK fashion-conscious kind that moved with the times, bringing in the latest trend as soon as it was hot and then dropping it the second the new season started. No offense to the people who shop in them either, but the price range of most of their shoes was too cheap to include quality leather cowboy boots. So it was a sad affair, that day — that day which should have been exciting and full of anticipation. Without even walking into more than two of these shops — mainly I just stood outside feeling full of woe at the sight of the dreaded futuristic male Ugg boot — I knew pursuing cowboy boots in real life would be a futile task. OK, so all hope was not lost, some shops did sell boots that, if you had really bad eye-sight and absolutely no nerves in your hands, could sort of look like they were a similar style. But none of the boots I saw had the look and feel (or what I imagined to be feel…I hadn’t yet actually seen or felt cowboy boots in real life) of the boots I had seen in pictures. And it was with that that I returned home, to continue my mission by way of everything online…

Arriving home, my hopes for finding cowboy boots online were not high, and in many ways I didn’t like the thought of buying boots I couldn’t see and try on first. Call me old-school, but I’ve always believed in the try-before-you-buy concept. But once I’d started, I was away and completely consumed with the search for greatness. Soon, I had stumbled across a site called Wild Wild Western Wear, and was excitedly clicking on the Men’s cowboy boots section with a growing feeling of having found my calling after all.

Where great cowboy boots come from!

My God it felt good!

My God, it felt amazing

Down to business. My first obstacle was colour: black and shiny or brown and more traditional? Stitching or no stitching? Traditional or modern? Numerous styles were on offer, from just £70 to a more serious £200 — there were ankle boots, full-length boots, and boots with outrageous designs all up the side, straight out of the wild wild west! Except this turned out to be the least of my worries, compared to my next lesson in frustration: working out what flippin’ size I needed…

This was turning out to be more dastardly than I thought…

I won’t bore you with the details, as chances are you’ll be right there with me on this one. All I need to say is that I have a pair of trainers that are size 12 and fit me snugly, a pair of shoes that are size 10 and are a bit loose, and another pair of shoes which feel like flippers and are a size 11. Obviously there could be various explanations for this anomaly. The first could be that the shoe manufacturers all have their own irritating take on sizes — loving nothing more than to sit back and watch the world of shoes shuffle about in a big chaotic, painful mess, much like the way aliens are said to experiment on the anus’s of some unfortunate backwoods people — and the second could be that my feet are just plain freakish, changing shape from one day and hour to the next. My only choice to move beyond this point, therefore, was to take a serious gamble with my cowboy boot future. To order some on a whim and hope they fitted me right (although the gamble was slightly reduced by the site’s conversion chart, which helped you work out the correlation between US and UK sizes).

Which is exactly what I did. Then, using the website’s online order-form, I made my purchase of size 11 Justin Boot 1560’s — “Chesnut Marbled Deerlite leather upper with medium rounded toe”, no less — and hoped for the best. Then I waited for a few days, wondering if I had just wasted £175 — plus postage and packaging. But still, what a way to waste it if I had, right?

They arrived a few days later, as promised by an email. And they didn’t fit. They did not FIT! After the excitement of unwrapping the spectacularly made boots and taking out the flush cardboard inserts, I slipped my feet in to discover that they were a size too big…it was no good, it was just no sodding good! A cowboy couldn’t wander about with too big boots, otherwise they’d become “sloppy”. I had done my research and didn’t want to end up as one of those laughed-out-of-town cowboy’s with the sad sloppy boots (sloppy means loose fitting, if you didn’t know). My quest had taken a detour and it wasn’t over yet.

I won’t lie to you, sending them back hurt me. Financially, I mean — as well as the emotional turmoil of having to box them up again when they should have been on my feet. Thanks to them needing to be signed for at the other end, and the customary insurance in case a gang of cowboy boot thieves descended, it cost £13 to get them off my hands and safely back to the company. Still, it was one step closer to my ultimate goal, and it had to be done. Bye bye, baby.

Five days later, and after corresponding with the ever-helpful staff at Wild Wild Western Wear, it happened, and once again the dream was alive and well: a package arrived, again, and this time it was guaranteed success all round, yeeeeee-ha! Instead of being easily able to slide the boots on, much like a too-big pair of wellies, a slight push was needed to get my feet in, and the fit was more or less perfect. I was a very happy man. Wild Wild Western Wear had done me proud.

And now I shall give you my top list of Things I have learned from my first few days in cowboy boots:

1) Don’t buy cowboy boots and expect to be able to turn corners straight away, because you won’t be able to. Cowboy boots take a bit of wearing in, and while in this somewhat precarious straight-line-only phase you may wish to walk about holding someone’s hand — unless you live in New York or the desert of Milton Keynes, where corners don’t exist.

2) Walking in heels is very strange, it turns your world upside down for a brief moment in time — at least it was like that for me: with a one-inch heel, it’s hardly like wearing a pair of stilettos, but still, it’s enough of a change that it’ll take some getting used to.

3) If you’re worried about getting mugged, you don’t need to anymore: because if you happen to get mugged while cowboy boots are on your feet, you can be sure that putting those boots into (or up) the intruder — particularly where the Sun don’t shine — will make for a swift get-away and howls of pain like you have never heard. Not all cowboy boots are pointed, but many are pointed enough that crowds will feel compelled to part as you make your way across ground.

4) Cowboy boots make a satisfying clinking-clunking sound. There’s nothing quite like it, and it’s a lot more stylish to walk in cowboy boots than strap bricks to the back of your shoes, trust me.

5) You’re going to get blisters while that leather breaks in. No wonder John Wayne walked a bit bow-legged…

6) You will be mocked, and lauded, in equal measure, but take no notice. Just like Mummy used to say when you were 10, “they are just jealous”.

7) You should feel free to wear cowboy boots on the outside of your jeans if you so wish — why not show off the incredible stitching? — but bear in mind that traditionally, men cowboys wear their jeans over the top. Not to mention wearing your jeans tucked in will make whole groups of strangers yelp with amusement. Not that you should care: after all, you look cooler than they do, that much is certain!

Wild Wild Western Wear are open on Thursday’s and Friday’s between 10am and 5pm. Saturday opening is 9am to 5pm.

They can be contacted on 01252 545521.

Note: the fact my cowboy boots were the wrong size to begin with was my fault and not Wild Wild Western Wear’s! Or it was the fault of the global shoe conspiracy I mentioned before. Either way the staff at the company are very helpful and should be able to help you out if you give them a ring before you order your first pair — which is what I didn’t do…

AND…if you enjoyed this, you’ll probably enjoy my debut novel. The Number 3 Mystery Book has received great feedback so far and is available on paperback (from me direct through the official web-site) and from Amazon UK and Amazon US as a digital copy for Kindle, ipad and all them other devices.


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The kindness of strangers

Two of the kindest Hippos you could ever hope to meet. Do some research and you’ll find that’s really saying something: next to human beings who don’t know how to control their umbrellas and bankers, Hippos are officially the most dangerous animals in the world. More dangerous, even, than an army full of machine-gun wielding Meerkats. Imagine that!

Think about it: when was the last time a total stranger did something kind for you for absolutely no reason? For me, it’s happened maybe three or four times. Each remains in some way special, and none will be forgotten.

One of those times sticks in my memory just because of the agonising pain. I was riding the ramp in the next village from me – you may or may not know by now that I rode a BMX for about fifteen years – when I fell awkwardly, put my left arm out and separated my shoulder. And now, I think it’s necessary to explain what, exactly, the difference between a regular dislocated shoulder and a total separation is, because with the former it’s not so bad; at least most of the time. Usually occurring from a sudden impact, the arm vulnerable to harm due to the sudden stunning force transferring directly through the rigid limb, a dislocated shoulder can usually be put back in fairly quickly and is acutely painful only for as long as it remains out of place. A separated shoulder, on the other hand, although occurring in the same way, is ten times worse by comparison. First the bone is wrenched, very abruptly, far out of the socket – so far it sticks out from under your skin like a dull knife trying to break the surface – and then the arm and everything surrounding the bone swells up instantly, preventing the bone from going back in. All the while the pain is exacerbated horrendously with the barest of movements. After ten minutes in this condition, you’re going to hospital, straight into the so-called Pulling Room (named by the nurses) where you will meet your maker. And lots of Gas & Air.

It’s true that nurses really do have some of the best senses of humour going.

The second I’d fallen I knew straight away, without even looking at my arm, what I’d done. Knew because this was probably the sixth time I’d done this very familiar thing, and although I’d only ended up in A & E three of those times, each one was awful in its own unique way. But this time…this was the worst by a long shot. The last time I’d done this same thing, the doctor had looked at my arm and told me that if I did this again, I’d need surgery.

So the last thing on my mind, sitting there mangled up with my bike, was anyone helping me. In that state of mind, I always instantly hated the world and everything in it. It just didn’t occur to me to try and get anyone’s help. I didn’t really know what I was doing, and I didn’t particularly care. The pain was taking over, and I suppose I was resigned to just sitting there and swearing until I passed out and there was at last some relief.

What made it worse – if there was a worse at that point – was not being able to stand up. With my left arm completely disabled and only feeling more painful with every passing second, there was no way I’d be able to move on my own out of a sitting position. More than anything I just wanted to stand up and vent my anger somehow, but that was impossible.

The family had clearly been watching me for sometime. A woman in her late thirties and man of similar age, standing there to the side of the ramp with their boy in front of them, looking at me. I couldn’t hear them but I guessed from their body language that they were discussing very quietly what they ought to do next. Absurdly, what I wanted more than anything was to tell them to piss off and leave me alone. But my anger soon vanished when the woman approached, bending down and reaching out towards my bad arm.

“Don’t,” I said, and she didn’t. Instead, the husband stepped forward, eased my bike away from me, and asked me what I thought I had done. I told them, they called for an ambulance, and I think I remember it alarming them all much more than it did me.

The ambulance men arrived fairly swiftly, although at the time I remember it felt like it took absolutely forever. Their professionalism was both a curse and a blessing. A curse because it meant they dealt with getting me onto my feet a little too efficiently, elevating the pain, and a blessing because nobody with a shoulder that separated is going to want to move anywhere fast.

When it came time to think about what to do with my beloved bike — a bike which although didn’t work as well as many, owing to my complete inability to be good at bicycle maintenance — I was mortified to discover that it wasn’t allowed to come with me. Ambulance policy dictated that all personal possessions too big to fit in the vehicle were simply left behind. I was in the process of mentally envisioning exactly how I was going to kick up one hell of a fuss – one handed, no less – when the family stepped in, offering to get my bike back home and take full responsibility of it, even though they were without a car.

After I arrived home some hours later, my arm firmly back where it belonged and a faint memory of four people wrestling it back in with a bone-crunching click…like a jagged pebble being dragged across glass…the bike was there, in the passage-way beside our house, just like they’d said. There was no note, no way for me to thank them, and I never did get to express how grateful I was for what they did that day.

What happened to old-school human bravery?

The beginnings of bravery: the Midwife (try and ignore the lady’s massive arm, but yeah, I know…it’s a bit off-putting)

According to generations of historic films, it goes like this: in the ancient times of battle and uprising – an aspect of life now largely replaced by IKEA furniture and panicking about your broadband connection’s speed, unless you happen to be a paramedic or a fire-man/woman, in which case you panic desperately about your 3G coverage – bravery wasn’t just an option, it was a way of life; as ingrained as the notion that all witch’s should be burned, or that when night falls, evil spirits lurk and the bras must come off buxom maidens (Knight: “If you remove thy bra, it will protect the village from evilest spirits! Plus I suspect it will also feel quite good.” Damsel: “I’ve heard that one before…). So, when you weren’t trying your damnedest to forge the softest, thinnest make-shift condom you could from the wood of a tree – please…spare a thought for the whores of those first few hundred agonising experiments… – you were eating food which you almost certainly knew would kill you as it had killed many of your relatives and friends, or dabbling in things which magic (now science) said might curse you if you got your toad’s legs confused with your lizard’s entrails. Basically, the moment you opened your eyes, you were locked in a fierce battle not only with your senses, but with everything you could touch or see or hear. About the only time – and this is me purely hypothesizing here – you got any real rest from being brave was when you dreamed about nice things like fields of golden corn and maidens running all smiley through it, the dream climaxing in you both simultaneously defending the maiden from a dragon while making love heroically. Though of course you didn’t ever tell anyone about those particular dreams in such detail…well, apart from the heroic climactic part. That bit you really rammed home. For one they’d think you delusional – have you ever seen someone run through corn smiling, maiden or otherwise? It’s really painful – and for another they’d consider your intellectual interpretations so grotesquely advanced and modern that the friendship would end abruptly. A savage blow to the head, presumably, brains spilling out. Nothing personal of course, that was just the way it was.

Today it’s fine to dream about anything. Dream it, do it, everyone else is, why should you be any different? In fact, dreams now play second-fiddle to CGI — as well as philosophical apes and films so realistic that there really isn’t any point in getting excited about eating chocolate anymore – it’s far easier and less taxing to just watch a sultry Galaxy commercial. That’s not to say that bravery isn’t still an integral part of every-day life, it’s just that things have changed. There is no going back. I really can’t see the average supermarket trolley boy dying with the same amazing dignity that William Wallace exhibited on that stone when his number was up (unless he or she works at Morrisons or Londis or a Poundstretcher with a particularly spacious car-park. Bred into a constant struggle to do better and work harder than almost anyone else on Earth, these down-trodden, resented-by-society workers are, from a very early age, made to contend with things like run-away trolleys and impossible to live-up-to sell-by-dates, not to mention the whole country constantly saying how they will never be as good as Waitrose etc, which would be enough to fuel the fire of even the slackest career-minded person. Which tends to explain why the previous supermarkets have both a much higher suicide and success rate – you tend to go one way or the other).

Try and be brave, go on, I dare you. Take a walk down the shops. Deliberately get in the way of those mums who always gang up together and block the entire width of the pavement. See what happens. I’ll tell you what’ll happen: one of them, or two of them, or all of them, if you’re really unfortunate, will tell you to Piss Right Off – right in front of their children, who are all more than capable of displaying their hatred for you with their small fingers. There will then be a moment when you think I’m not having this! I have every right to this pavement as well as you do. But you won’t do anything about it. You’ll then suddenly think of Google. Or Bing if you prefer to champion the underdog. The point is, without the internet you don’t know what to do. Really, without the internet what do any of us know what the hell to do? Think about a skinny black child growing up in the worst drought of our time in Somalia right now. He never thinks of Google. He’s more brave and daring every time he breathes than any of us out here and you know it.

Aside from all that, it’s probably true that for most of us, being brave has just got boring. As a people we are over it. A few thousand years of bravery is enough to break the backbone of any civilisation, and we’ve just had enough. Really, what’s the point if you don’t actually have to? We don’t need to be brave anymore, for the most part. Usually there’s a way to prevent us having to experience this daft archaic emotion, a way to get around the problem with technology. Being brave is what we used to do before the age of the internet; now we sing “I’ll catch a grenade for ya,” without really thinking the idea through properly (are modern boy-bands – sorry, ‘male groups’ – actually aware of what a grenade’s purpose is?). Unless you want to try and actually get out of your comfort-zone without the internet, of course. But why would you want to bother? It’s much easier just to talk about it – that’s what Facebook is for, after all.

Despite my ranting, we all know I’m missing a lot of modern-bravery out here: the mid-wives, the Policemen, those that risk their lives so we can continue to live our lives – all of these people exhibit incredible bravery which is hard to comprehend by engaging body and soul in Loose Women (the TV show…you’d probably know true bravery if you engaged in enough loose women…). Next time you hear about someone doing something brave, planning something brave, even if it’s dangerous, especially if it’s dangerous, spur them on. Make it clear that they have to do it (unless it might actually kill them, in which case back off a bit). It’d be nice if bravery continued to exist in a thousand years’ time, I think. And we are not going to get there by watching The Only Way Is Essex, that much is certain…

Note: I watched The Only Way Is Essex for the first time the other night. It was better than I expected. Some of the stuff they come out with…