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.