All I wanted was a new pair of boots – and I was in Keswick, the English Lake District’s walking HQ so it seemed a sure fire successful shopping outing. First of all I sussed out what what on offer: did you know there are 15 shops in the town, all selling outdoor gear.
A bit of background first. I’ve only ever had six pairs of walking boots in my life. The first were a pair of black leather commando soled Tuf work boots recommended by my scout group and when they wore out I replaced them with another pair of work boots which lasted well into adult hood. Foolishly in the 1970’s I was persuaded by a work colleague who was “very knowledgeable” that I needed proper walking gear and on his advice bought the most expensive, heavy, footwear you could imagine, probably more suited to arctic conditions than the summer moorland walking I was doing.
They weren’t really a success, and wouldn’t wear out, so they were replaced by a much lighter but equally ill-fitting pair which I eventually donated to a walking-boot hire shop having replaced them with a pair made of brushed leather and canvas but lined with gore-tex, a breathable waterproof fabric new to the market (at that time). They were the most comfortable footwear I ever had and survived many miles, including the Coast to Coast Walk, before a split let in water.
The next pair were made of the same material, were £20 in a sale; I bought them because they were comfortable from the first day I wore them, served me for five years and have only just been chucked in the bin after doubling as spares for some time.
So, from this limited experience of boot buying my only criteria was that they had to be comfortable the minute I put them on. I had heard good reports about a particular make and learnt from my walk around Keswick, that only one shop, Blacks, sold these.
However it was clear that the assistant in the store had even less knowledge about walking and boots than I did. I explained I wanted a pair that didn’t have stiffeners in the sole – these are put in to help people who climb rather than walk up hills, allowing them to balance on their toes without the sole of the boot flexing. “All our boots are stiff” he said, picking up random pairs and attempting to flex them.
“Well they would be,” I replied, “they’re stuffed with paper to help them keep their shape in the shop”. He conceded the point, but appeared to get shirty when I picked out three different styles and asked to try a size nine and a nine-and-a-half in each, explaining that I wasn’t sure what size I needed. “I can’t carry that many from the stock room,” he said, scowling when I suggested two trips.
I warned him about his attitude by suggesting that there were 14 other outdoor shops in the town, and I was happy to try them instead if it was too much trouble to assist me.
I really liked the pair I finally chose in the larger of the two sizes, and though it gripped my feet rather too snugly, I was persuaded that they would “give” with time and parted with my cash. The shop assistant, now my best friend, pointed out that if I wanted to wear them for a few hours at home, and changed my mind, I could have a refund or exchange them.
You have probably guessed by now that after several hours wandering round our holiday accommodation, there was no sign of the boots “giving” at all, it was likely the only giving they would be doing was to provide me with a cluster of blisters. At this point Mrs P, she pointed out that my last boots were size 10! Disheartened I trailed back to the shop and got a refund.