various writings posted on the internet

The Case of the Boots Not Made for Walking
Natalie d'Arbeloff
posted on BLAUGUSTINE December 5, 2004

It was love at first sight. We mutually winked and twinkled. They were Augustine boots, I had drawn them in my cartoony dreams. I tried them on at once. Perfect: jaunty, comical, bold but not brash, assertive but not pushy, chunky but funky. The problem with the price could be overcome by not thinking about it.

So I bought them and took them home and did not wear them for a month. Finally I could no longer put off the risk of sullying my solemates and I put them on for the private view of the London Artists Book Fair at the ICA. To get there entails walking from home to tube station, down and up some stairs inside the subway, out at Charing Cross Station, across Trafalgar Square and various pedestrian crossings, under the Admiralty Arch into Pall Mall and then a fair distance along the Mall to the entrance of the ICA . If by then my feet were tired it would be normal. They were not tired. They were traumatised. Acutely aware of every single bump and scratch and pebble and dip in the pavements of London.

I met my friend in the ICA entrance and tried to explain the full physical and psychological import of my chiropodic agony. She was sympathetic and gave me her arm to lean against. Putting on a brave face I wobbled up interminable stairs, chatting to strangers and fellow book-artists. Did I pay attention to the occasionally marvellous work on show? Does art matter if your feet are burning and you've been betrayed by boots you believed in?

I had to make the same journey in reverse, on the same feet, to get back home. In the final stretch, only a few hundred yards from my door, I considered sitting on the pavement and howling. But I behaved rationally. I sat on the sofa, took off the bastard boots and examined the soles of my feet. The part where the toes meet the round fleshy bit was inflamed and corrugated as if gravel had been ground into it with a steam roller. Strangely, the pattern on my feet matched the corrugations on the soles of the boots. I put my hand inside the boots and the penny dropped: beyond the fancy designer label (JOCOMOMOLA de SYBILLA) the pretty leather lining was as thin as a slice of Parma ham and about as efficient in protecting the foot during the act of walking on city streets.

You may have noticed that I am good at complaining. So good that family and friends often ask me to do their complaining for them. I am the Cyrano de Bergerac of righteous Indignation. It must be righteous, I won't bother with common or garden whining. I looked at the Customer Service address on the back of the boots' receipt and fired off an unassailable email as well as a copy by snailmail. Against me was the fact that more than a month had elapsed and that I had worn the damn things. But I explained my case at length and ended by asking if these boots had actually been tested on human feet. The reply came quickly and was apologetic, even grateful for my feedback which would be passed on to the buying team. I was advised to bring the boots back to the store for inspection. Essential to the art of righteous complaining is the conviction that you are right, they are wrong, but you're going to be nice about it.

It was in that frame of mind that I returned to the department store in Oxford Street. For the benefit of those who live in a parallel universe and have never been inside this particular department store or others like it, think torture chamber. Their instruments of torture are sound, light, heat and overcrowding. The sound is a brain-crunching million decibel repetitious incessant inane pounding noise known, I believe, as "music". The light is from flashing video screens forcing you to watch said insanity disporting itself live. In between are racks and racks and rows and rows of garments, some quite tempting, fighting for your confused attention. It's hell, the real thing, the genuine Inferno. But, like many people, I go to hell sometimes because you can find bargains there.

I was waiting in line at the refunds desk, desperately hanging on to my indignation whilst the brainwashing audio-visual effects tried to beat me into submission. I handed the boots, my letter and the reply to a pleasant, submissive sales assistant who went to fetch a manager. The manager read the letters, heard my impassioned plea, examined the boots and went to get a second opinion. She returned saying they sell a lot of these boots, no one else has complained and there are no manufacturing defects. I bit my inner child's lip, counted to ten and did not say that most people do not complain because they don't know how and they're afraid to. Instead I suggested that a foot-size 37 sales assistant could put on the boots and go out walking on the street for about half an hour. This and further reasonable remarks from me seemed to have a mind-altering effect and the manager said that she couldn't give me a refund, but as a gesture of good will, she would let me go and choose other things in the store for the same amount.I apologise for the length of this story but even when you know you're right, the sweet smell of success has to be shared.