Chris’s (horrific!) new shoes dilemma

Good enough for Mick Dundee, good enough for me (note: not the cowboy boots I bought. I prefer the simplistic variety).

Ever since I was a young lad, I’ve always worn and loved just one pair of shoes; that pair took me everywhere, and together myself and them endured all kinds of fun and disastrous times together (like the time my sister Natalie fell through a wooden fence into a muddy algae-ridden pond when she was 8 and I was 6 — a disaster for her, but still truly hilarious if you are 6!). It’s not because my parents couldn’t afford to buy me more, or because I have a shoe-shop-related anxiety problem — I’ve never been in one long enough to develop one — it’s simply because whenever I have more than one pair of shoes on the go, things get complicated. My feet just don’t get along with more than one variety, is the problem. Years of wearing one pair have made them extremely picky, and the result of me challenging this theory is never a good thing.

Last year, though, I started to think that maybe I could do it…maybe I could be like everyone else on this planet and have more than one pair. It took me a while to fully commit to the idea, but once I was ready that was it. I confronted my mission with determination and a real desire to succeed.

It began with my socially confrontational cowboy boots — man boots with heels…boots which went against the grain of everything almost everyone I know stands for (not looking like a cowboy, not wearing heels). My theory was if I’m going to buy new shoes, why not be daring and outlandish with it? I’ll confess, owning genuine cowboy boots had been on my mind for a while, but actually putting down £200 to buy a pair took considerably more bravery than I’d ever imagined. Still, I knew I had it in me, and before long there I was, strutting down the street feeling extremely awkward and self-conscious. It took another couple of weeks to master turning corners while walking, but once I had the technique down there was absolutely no stopping me.

Little did I know that at this time of great endurance and agonising pain — wearing the cowboy boots in was a treacherous blend of blister-inducing-hell, combined with excruciating shooting pains up and down my shins, combined with feeling weird because of the heels, combined with wondering if I had made a terrible mistake — my parents were deviously concocting their very own plan to buy me yet more shoes…

I was presented with my 2nd pair of new shoes on the morning of my 31st birthday, and I didn’t say much when I opened the box and saw that they were shoes. I mean, your mum and dad buy you shoes you actually would have bought for yourself — it’s slightly eerie that they know your tastes so specifically, isn’t it? For me it is, at least. At first, my parents’ decision to buy me a pair of new shoes struck me as deeply unorthodox — crazy on a whole new level I didn’t dare think about. Disturbing, even. Then I smiled and realised that potentially, this was a life-changing moment, all because of them. The moment I became a real person. A person who could choose from a small number of shoes. What an eventful day! I was a grown-up!

But this feeling of elation and parental awe and wonder — lots of wonder, not to mention smugness — was not to last long. Because no sooner had I donned the comfy brown leather VANS and gone for my virgin walk around the village that I developed two of the most comically large and alarming blisters ever to grace Pink family feet. Something to do with the spongy soles and going from hard-sole cowboy boots to soft shoes, I was later to work out.

My problem with blisters is that I am a fighter. Some people sense the arrival of a blister and think now that really does hurt a lot, I’m going to slow down a hell of a lot and walk home carefully. That should help me avoid it. I have never been of this school of thought. Instead, my theory has always been to drive straight through the pain and teach it a lesson. Instead of slowing down, I speed up and walk aggressively, with the kind of purpose only men late for football games really understand. Where most people would fear the arrival of dreaded doom under their feet, I say Let the chips fall where they may, I say be imperfect! (Note: I don’t always say this. It varies depending on the last time I saw Fight Club.)

Months on and I’m still fighting my right to wear more than one pair of shoes, and wondering if going back to my one-pair-only rule is more favourable than a life-time of discomfort and pain. The blisters still appear every now and again, but that’s not going to stop me, i don’t think. I am a grown-up. Chris will fight on!

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.