Philosophy: April 2004 Archives

Shiney Shoes


I have always been informed that if you wanted to get in life you had to have shoes that were so polished that you could see the world in the reflection. I ignored my fathers advice for years. Mainly due to the long hours that I spent out in the back shed polishing every pair of shoes that the family (and extended family) owned. Every Thursday, there would be a family visit of sorts: perhaps just my uncle one week, perhaps the entire West Yorkshire chapter of the Beamers. And every Thursday I was told to shine shoes.

You can get away with just lightly dusting some shoes - well, those that only see polish and never see use - but the majority of the time you have to start from scratch. It perhaps because of these four hours spent with three different colours of shoe wax, six different types of brushes and four different types of polishing cloths that I disregarded my fathers advice as merely an excuse to send his middle son into some sort of slavery.

I remember when I was 14 and 4 months, fed up with the paper-round and milk-round money, that I decided to approach some more respected businesses for some sort of gainful employment. Everybody from Cohen's The Solicitors to Hawks the Bespoke Paper makers turned me down flat on sight, with out hearing a word I had to say. I was plotting some sort of mild revenge on all these people who had decided to rain on my hopes and dreams of more money in my pocket.

It was not until I reached Mr Farringbone's Taxidermists that I understood the reason for my dismal results. Mr Farringbone looked me over casually, in his left hand he held my handwritten curriculum vitae and his right hand he held 'Moses The Magic Stoat' (once of the famous touring circus, 'Al Fonto's Fearless Farm of Fun'). He dropped the CV to his side and let out a sigh of exasperation. "Can I be honest with you son?" he asked me, "Now you're exactly what I am looking for. Obviously a little young, but you're eager and you have shown a lot of nerve and initiative by coming in here, but do you think anyone would hire you with shoes like that?" I felt so stupid. I had ignored my father for all these years and he was right all along. I looked down at my pigeon kickers and wondered how I had ever been so stupid. I had no answer for Mr Farringbone, feeling powerless I just slumped in the nearest chair.

Mr Farringbone looked down at me, he obviously could see that I was crest-fallen, and said that should I ever feel like polishing my shoes I could have a job. I eyed him with suspicion and told him to promise. "I'll shake on it", he said while holding out his hand. I had seen in the cinema earlier that week that real men - like cowboys - would spit in their hand to make a deal or to seal a decision. I pulled it from right at the back of my gut and despatched it on my palm. He looked me in the eye with a certain amount of disgust. "For the first polish", I weakly said and shook his right hand with a clumsy left hand. Then instantly dropping to my knees to try and dislodge the inhuman phlegm from the palm of my hand with the heel of my shoe. I knew that I would look ultra keen by cleaning them there in front of him for a while. After a minute of wrestling my palm with my heel I upped and headed home for the first major session of shoe cleaning for the month.

I worked in Farringbones for a good number of my youthful years. All thanks to my shiney shoes. From that point onwards I understood that a man is made by the degree of shine and depth of reflection in a mans shoe. If your shoe can refract light then you are close to having the near perfect polish. If you think that you could push your hand through the blackness and reach nothing then you are even closer to perfection.

Few people understand that shining shoes is a complete science all to it's own. There are methods and materials that some professionals use that you would never dream of using in untrained hands on a precious leather upper. I have travelled the world and witnessed some skilled men make light of heavy work by using techniques that the tradesmen are keen to keep secret and as a member of the brotherhood of shiners I must deny you knowledge too. However, one thing that any shoe shiner, and the greatest shiner of them all - my father - will tell you is that the world with it's obstacles and your enemies will accept you more readily if you can show a shine in your shoe.

There is occasion when you experience less of the usual express visit and more of a prolonged stay that is seldom organised or prepared for. These ill-prepared moments can often leave you staring into walls and making shapes, faces and words in the pattern of the cork board or artexing (I am not religious, but I could swear that in the toilet in my flat in Warrington there is an image of Christ in the cork-board walling that was just beneath the bamboo rimmed mirror). Irritatingly, in public places, this lack of material to hold the attention leads to the seemingly male dominated sport of picking the nose and flicking it onto the wall or door of the toilet cubicle door.

When engaged in the "movements"/"motions", I have often found myself being completely bereft of reading material while executing a prolonged piping. This has lead to reading the labels on the back of every cleansing product and beauty aid on all the reachable shelves. And there are only so many "directions for use" that you can read before you either lose the will to live or the feelings in your legs.

I would always recommend that you keep a publication or two in the toilet. Preferably something that requires little attention, but has significant interest. An example would be a book of lists that could be read in no certain order and could occupy the mind for minutes or hours. Obviously, I am not an advocate of sharing such materials with flat mates or family members. I believe in a singular publication being used by the same person on each visit.

Although this is hardly the worlds most earth shattering advice or the most erudite of philosophy, I think you'll find that you feel a lot more satisfied and a little more intellectually challenged when you leave the arena dedicated to this particular solo sport.

Damp Towels


I have never understood why men find a damp towel hanging in a kitchen such an obvious weapon of choice. Even the image of a wrist twisting the fabric into a hellish whip of venom and menace fires me with fear and dread.

It's long since Marcus O'Sullivan whipped a chunk of my buttocks from it's familiar position on my rear, but the scar remains and still causes me pain on particularly cold evenings. He regretted it of course: ones fingers trapped in a heated oven door and then battered with a wooden spoon is obvious and genuine retribution. However, Marcus is not - and never will be - the only man to make such an effort with a passive damp cloth.

My philosophy on this is simple: the cloth is for dishes not for twisting, flicking and inflicting pain. Mess with the dish dryer and ruin the karma of the kitchen.

The philosophy of revenge is something that is seldom sweet and based in bitterness, but can fire you with a quick shot of satisfaction that is about as worthless as a dodgy note. That said, when someone ate Boris Wye's lunch on board 'The Clevedon Rose' - a canal boat on the Leeds-Liverpool - there was hell to pay and we all enjoyed the vicious retribution.

It turned out that Mike Plainer, a nasty little shit of a security guard, had given Boris's steak and pickle butties to his illiterate dog, Hamlet. It didn't take long for Boris to work out who had taken his lunch as Mike was keen to crow about it. That night as Hamlet was given a bran and wheat supper with a little bit of laxative, Boris entered 'The Lord Byron' and headed to the snug where we all sat. Mike was in the bar, his three striped shirt and clip on tie looking a couple of sizes too small. He laughed with his pack and ordered more drink. His bald head greased with sweat.

Keen not to be noticed, Boris crept into the toilet with Mike's hat. He had been talked out of leaving a pipe in the hat and instead opted for something with a little more staying power. He had borrowed some permanent dye from one of the factories on the canal and had mixed it with some Vaseline. Using a wooden spoon he smeared the inside of the hat with the mixture, careful not to discolour his own fingers. He crept back to the bar and left the hat back. No one noticed as there was visibly nothing different: Mike's hat was always full of grease.

That evening, Mike pulled his cap tight over his head and went to get Hamlet who was wimpering like a child. The wolf dragged him all the way home: Mike working up a sweat, continually wiping his brow and running his hand over his head. The dye now sinking into his scalp, his forehead, his hands, the back of his neck, the middle of sweating, pores open back, down the crack of his arse, between the cleavage of his manbreasts, around the sunken belly button and along the elasticated mid-drift of his pants.

When he awoke he looked like a fat berry. Purple is the colour of revenge.

Where I grew up, all I can remember is a grey sky that seemed to go on for days upon months upon years. I only ever read stories of the sun in the books about Gods and Monsters, and even then some Greek bloke had flown too close to it and fell out of the sky (why use wax when you've got Bostick?). Given that, I never felt the glow of the sun on my skin. My great Aunt Vera was the first in the area of have a sun-lap, but I was never allowed to stand in front of it, but it was my job to hold it for hours at a time for a packet of sweets and a penny for my trouble.

I used to dream of the sun, but never saw it. I therefore grew up a boy with little knowledge of whether I would be anything or little knowledge of what I could see in truer light. I think that that made me the man I am today. Back then I had nothing to break my heart. I seemed not to want for something that I could never get. I didn't think that I wanted to fly like the Greek because he had tried too hard and had fallen from the sky. Having fallen from Uncle Garth's backyard wall near the railway I understood what it was to fall from the sky and I didn't want it.

I remember it being my tenth birthday and I was taken to Liverpool to meet my Dad's family and see the famous Anfield. I didn't care for football and never have, but my Dad made it sound like an adventure. When we arrived in to the town, we headed down to the docks to meet my Uncles and waited under the Liver Buildings. It was then that I saw the sun. it broke through the maddening, angry black cloud that seems too hang only over the shore side towns. It broke through and hit me sending a thrill of warmth. I closed my eyes and lost myself in the bright blindness. That same day my dad bought me my first atlas and I saw places around the world that I wanted to find the sun in.

When the sun didn't shine from the sky, I opened up that Atlas and let the sun from the pages warm my face and fill my head full of dreams. It never brightened outside my house, but within the light was so bright that you had to cover your eyes. People have always said that I have had a sunny disposition and that is why. Always an optimist... whether some-ones pissing on my chips or it's raining on my parade I'll look for something bright in it. Even if it is the slow warm and quietly ungratifying sense of revenge.

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This page is a archive of entries in the Philosophy category from April 2004.

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