Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Buying, and caring for, Highland brogue shoes.

"The greatest economy lies in buying the best you can afford"

I know that I keep repeating that, but it's true - and SOMETIMES....'the best you can afford' comes cheap!

The British firm of 'Sanders & Sanders' makes the best brogue shoes in the world. I bought a (used) pair in 1978, have put many hundreds of miles on them, and they are STILL going strong.

S&S has a website ( http://www.bdec-online.com/bd-cat32/c320224.htm) but doesn't sell retail. As a 'sole artisan proprietor' I am too small a shop to keep a selection of these in stock.

You can, however, buy a good used pair for about fifteen pounds sterling - with the added advantage of having had the brogues smoothed and polished by their previous inhabitant! (These brogues have a 'pebbled' finish when supplied new.)

There are many reputable firms to choose from , but I put my trust in The Outdoor Store
http://www.the-outdoor.co.uk/. Tell them I sent you, and remind them of my kickback (Just kidding)

Note: now that I've told everyone where to go for these shoes the surplus stores have trouble keeping them in stock - at least in the larger sizes. As of February 2010, only Silverman's (www.silvermans.co.uk/) lists the full range of sizes on their website at 99 pounds sterling the pair.

'Brogue Shoes' ( www.brogueshoes.co.uk) is another source for new Saunders brogues.

A Word about British vs. Canadian shoe sizes: If you consult a shoe size-conversion chart, you will find that British shoe sizes are a nominal 1/2-size larger than their Canadian equivalents - for example, my (Canadian size 10) foot fits comfortable in a British size 9 1/2.

If your feet are anything like mine (beat up from 34 years of 'tabbing' and square-bashing), then select a shoe 1/2 size larger (meaning: order a Britiish size 10 for your Canadian size 10 feet) and then add a quality pair of orthotic insoles.

Now that you've laid out the shekels to acquire a nice new (or good used) set of brogues, you must take care of the things.

Properly taken care of, they will last as long as you will, and perhaps longer.

"Back in the Day" we polished EVERYTHING: the guardroom floor, our brasses and boots, the dustbins, the parade square....most of it with the toothbrush that would be laid out with the rest of our kit at First Parade at "0-dark-early-hundred hours."

Gather the following materials:

-Clean cotton flannel cloth. if it's new, wash and dry it to remove the 'sizing'.
This is MUCH better than pantyhose or T-shirts, as those are more-or-less abrasive. Cotton swabs are OK, but you will use boxes of them and they aren't re-usable whereas you can wash and re-use the cotton flannel cloth for years.

- Black Heelball, aka 'Cobbler's wax', aka 'Black Wax'. A 'Bagpipe Supply Store' is pretty much the only source for this stuff. Buy a couple of new blocks - don't use the lint-covered blob in the bottom of your pipe-box.

-Black Kiwi-brand shoe polish. (extra points if you can find a vintage tin from back when Whale Oil was one of the ingredients)

-A toothbrush, to do the welts and soles with.

-Some drinking water, to keep your spit wet.

-A bunch of friends (or strangers, your call) to sit around polishing with and urge each other on to ever -brighter leather - chiefly through invective and derisive comments.

If your brogues still have a pebbled finish, you need an old spoon to level the pebbles with Better yet, find a clean Beef rib-bone, which is what the old-timers preferred - and why this whole process is called 'boning' your boots.

1. Clean your brogues without scratching the existing finish. When mine get manky, I hold them under a cold tap while lightly brushing with a plastic-bristle brush to loosen the mud.

2. If you have pebbles, heat the spoon/bone over a candle, rub the back of the spoon over the heelball(acts as a lubricant) and then rub the pebbles until they flatten out. This is a suprisingly good workout....

3. Melt black heelball over the areas to be polished, smooth it out with the spoon as best you can .

4. When you have smoothed the heelball out, light it on fire and twist/turn your boot so the (burning) liquid heelball flows evenly across the leather. This will fill those sodding little holes!

Blow out the flames as soon as the heelball has flowed out evenly. Better to blow it out too soon and then apply more than to let it burn too long. The trick is to blow out the flames without spraying hot heelball over everything.

5. When it cools, commence spit-shining. stretch a clean area of cloth over your fingertip, wet it, dip/rub it in Kiwi, and commence swirling circles on your leather. after you've laid a layer down ( it will look 'flat' and maybe a bit frosted), stop and do the other shoe.

The cotton cloth is always stretched over the tip of your index finger, so an old polishing cloth will have many black dots on it.

6.Pick up the first shoe, and repeat step 5, only this time you keep swirling in small circles, occasionally spitting on the area you are polishing, and occassionally picking up more fresh Kiwi onto your fingertip to polish the last layer with. The time to put more polish on is when you feel more friction with your fingertip.

Take sips of water to keep your spit wet and Ph-neutral (drinking coffee will mess up the shine, I can't remember what beer does...)

There is something in most people's saliva that acts as a lapping compound. It works better then plain water except when you've eaten something strange.

Keep shining. switch shoes. Switch to a clean area on your polish rag once in a while. Make nasty comments about the pathetic girly effort of those around you. Smile and say "effin' A-told it is!" when they reply in kind. Explain further that you would use your geaming toe-caps to look up their kilts, but a 'Kiwi' shine doesn't magnify objects and there's nothing effing there, anyway. Refuse to hand back the tin of Kiwi that just bounced off your head. Use the toothbrush to blacken and buff the soles.

Use steel wool to polish the hobnails before inspection. When your hobnails start to flatten with wear, remove them and replace them with Robertson ("Square-drive") pan screws - these stay in your sole yet are easy to remove when required.

Stride about in your glistening black works of art and look down you nose at those effin' bleeders who use spray-on shine.

After a while you notice that the heelball in the holes is developing circular cracks. This is caused by the leather having shrunk, and usually occurs after you've got your brogues thoroughly wet. The only effective cure is to repeat the burning-heelball/shoe-polish treatment.